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How do I as a solitary student with no guide and no research lab and limited access to research material and books perform research that is of good quality? The field I am interested in is AI, NLP, Generative Art and Artificial Life.

I know the single, simple answer is "Just Do It!", but my undergraduate college had absolutely no focus on research and sadly, even my current post graduate course is turning out to be the same. Hence, I have zero experience of what it is to do research. Moreover, I'm from India, where Meet Ups, Research Groups, etc etc are virtually non-existent. Point is, assume that I'm really all alone.

I plan on applying for another Masters / Ph.D. after I am done with this one, but most admissions need "Research Experience". So, I decided to do it on my own, with no mentor in sight. Any recommendations / work cycles / words of encouragement that you guys and gals can offer me?

PS: Is there any way I can find a mentor online?

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    One way to gain research experience it to join a research group as a volunteer (or similar capacity). – Bitwise Oct 21 '17 at 9:20
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I don't want to sound discouraging, but I think that wise people would generally agree with the following two observations:

  • If you were try to do research on your own, without a mentor, you would almost certainly be wasting your time. It would be very difficult for you to do work which would be published in a reputable journal.
  • Trying to find a mentor online is also very difficult. Good mentors are usually extremely busy, and most of them are already supervising PhD students and postdocs. Why should they commit some of their limited time to helping you, a total stranger?

I feel that it would be futile for you to try to do research at your current life stage. If you are serious about doing research, my advice to you would be to "骑驴找马". This is a Chinese proverb which means "ride a donkey while you are looking for a horse." The figurative meaning is that while you are looking for something better (the horse), there is no reason not to make use of something mediocre (the donkey).

Although you did not gain any research experience during your undergrad and post-grad studies; however, hopefully you would have acquired some employable skills in the course of your study. You should put these employable skills to use by working in a job that matches your skills.

If possible, as suggested in SystemCalls' answer, you could find work in a company which does research-like work, e.g., Google, Microsoft, IBM. You could start out as a software engineer, doing purely software engineering work, and after a few years transition to research-like work. Eventually, you may be happy with the research you are doing in industry, or at that point you have good references if you were to decide to apply for a research Master's or PhD.

All the best!

  • No problem at all. The truth can be bitter, better face it now than later. Besides, turns out there are quite a few research groups in a college near my college. I'll try contacting professors there for guidance! Thanks for the proverb though, it is something I'll keep in mind for other trying times :) – Shashank Gargeshwari Oct 21 '17 at 16:34
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How do I as a solitary student with no guide and no research lab and limited access to research material and books perform research that is of good quality?

Unless you have plenty of experience, you most likely cannot.

PS: Is there any way I can find a mentor online?

You can study online (distance university), where you will get a mentor when you reach the point of doing research.

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You could look for a position with a private company doing their own research in an area you find interesting and try to get into one of the groups doing that research. You could look at large companies known to be working in those areas (Google, IBM etc) or find a smaller company by looking at job posts listing the sort of skills you wish to acquire. Job posts are broad and list many skills. If you have enough of the secondary skills they may take a chance on you. Now you are doing entry level work in that area under a Principal Investigator who can mentor you.

It's bit of a longer plan but you could also take a general SW Development position with your selected company, continue to take courses and express interest in moving into that area with the company.

  • Thanks! That does sound like a plan! I'll see what I can do. – Shashank Gargeshwari Oct 21 '17 at 16:32
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I think I Like to Code's answer is spot on, and I would like to reinforce that it is a strenuous path and potentially frustrating goal to perform research independently without any formal training on how to do so.

I would like to add, however, that a realizable path is to attempt to do (voluntary) work in another institution for some period of time. That could be done, for instance, during your vacation time (summer/winter). If your institution is unknown and you have nobody to vouch for you, it may be difficult to convince a professor to take you even for a short period of time during the summer, but that's far less unheard of than becoming a successful lone researcher. We've had several undergraduate students from local colleges work with us during short periods of time. Many ended up being co-authors in papers we published and/or were successful in securing a good Master/PhD.

Better yet would be to organize with your current institution to spend part of your studies in a research-intensive institution (3-6+ months). Even if that's not explicitly encouraged or allowed, there's always the possibility of you trying to convince them that this would be something you desire and believe would be useful to your career in the future. You can also try to convince them to give you credits for that (replacing elective courses or something like that).

If you can secure a formal research position, even if only for a short period of time, it's much more likely that you will be able to continue working from home, potentially following up on what you started on the formal position, especially if your research involves only pen/paper/computer.

As a data point, I did exactly that during my undergraduate. Even though my undergraduate institution is relatively well-known and research intensive, I went to the US as an exchange student and worked with a famous professor for a short period of time. Upon returning to my home country, I joined another professor's lab but continued to work remotely with the US group. I ended up publishing two papers as first author with the US group in very good journals before I even finished my undergraduate, and presented my work in an international conference.

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    +1 for the volunteer angle. That could be a good way to get your foot in the door – SystemCalls Oct 21 '17 at 21:04

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