118 votes
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Why are many obviously pointless papers published, or worse studied?

Some poorly-run institutions pay people to publish papers. The pay is not based on the quality of the papers, only the number and possibly other useless information like the indexing of the paper. ...
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97 votes
Accepted

Can I get a PhD for developing educational software?

Generally speaking, you need to do more than develop software (any software) to get a PhD. Even creating a new Operating System isn't quite "enough". But the reason is subtle. An many people base ...
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  • 270k
88 votes

Is it normal for a PhD candidate to be dissatisfied with their PhD thesis topic, if the field is not hot?

From your question it seems that the only reason you chose computational mechanics was because it was "hot", and you are now regretting your decision because the field is no longer "hot" and thus it's ...
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  • 6,532
81 votes

Why are many obviously pointless papers published, or worse studied?

I used to laugh about a pair of pointless papers. The authors had (independently) proved that Polish notation not only makes formulas of propositional logic unambiguous without needing parentheses but ...
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73 votes

Why is novelty mandatory for a Ph.D. degree?

Novelty is a basic requirement in research because without novel results, the work is of at best limited usefulness. It's not useless - review papers are useful - but it's less interesting to the ...
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  • 105k
64 votes

Can I get a PhD for developing educational software?

This might be a good research topic for a Ph.D. in mathematics education, which is a thing that you can get a Ph. D. in (see for example this list of schools offering that degrees). However, it would ...
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  • 4,537
62 votes

How to convince my supervisor that he is wrong?

The whole point of scientific debate is to refine our knowledge. Go into the discussion with a mentality to learn, not to win. Keeping this in mind will help you keep the discussion not adversarial ...
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  • 21k
59 votes

Why do so many pure math PhD students in the USA drop out or leave academia, compared to applied mathematics PhDs in the USA?

Only my personal experience, but I hope it will help you a little bit: I am almost in the exact situation you describe in your question. I finished my PhD in Algebra (coding theory, lot's of linear ...
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  • 7,734
56 votes

My personal views and my research work kind of collide. What can I do?

The fact that some projects lead nowhere is natural to research. That is not "wastage", it's investment. If something works, it can be scaled up and benefit humankind. You can try and ...
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45 votes

A professor commented that my research is too simple as compared to my colleagues. What does that mean about my future prospects?

Perhaps the best route is to split the difference. Note the concern of one professor, but take heart from the support of your advisor. There are a lot of possible explanations. Perhaps the professor ...
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  • 270k
45 votes

Why are many obviously pointless papers published, or worse studied?

Let me propose two counterpoints to your question. First, what one finds silly someone else doesn't. I'm amazed that my most cited paper is basically aspirational and does not contain any strong ...
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  • 20.5k
41 votes
Accepted

How should I deal with critical comment that may affect on my research path?

"Insulated" is a strange word to use there, but that reads for all the world like "This was a one-off project for me I don't really work on anymore". Many academics end up having those. It doesn't ...
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  • 51.2k
41 votes

How can a layman easily get the consensus view of what academia *thinks* about a subject?

Good question! If you are a total layman popular scientific magazines or blogs like the Scientific American from Nature Publishing Group or scienceblogs.com are a first source to spot which kind of ...
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  • 4,211
40 votes

A professor commented that my research is too simple as compared to my colleagues. What does that mean about my future prospects?

A single point of feedback says nothing about your future prospects. There are just too many possible sources of noise in the data. Maybe the professor had a paper rejected, or a scoop of his favorite ...
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39 votes
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What are characteristics of a "good" thesis topic?

I completely agree with ff524's criteria, but here are some further considerations: A good thesis topic should not be all or nothing. Instead, it should accommodate a range of levels of ambition. ...
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37 votes
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Is it possible (practically, in real life) to pursue two very distinct research interests (e.g. in AI and theoretical physics)?

It is possible (even “practically, in real life”) to do all sorts of things that are very difficult to do, like: publish five bestselling novels; climb the highest mountain in every continent; win a ...
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  • 171k
36 votes

Why is novelty mandatory for a Ph.D. degree?

This answer will be a bit different and not limited to the sciences as the other current answers seem to be. It will also apply to many similar degrees not designated PhD. I'll use the term "doctorate"...
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  • 270k
35 votes

Is it normal for a PhD candidate to be dissatisfied with their PhD thesis topic, if the field is not hot?

My take on this: yes your feelings are normal, but Hotness is overrated (by definition). Researchers who are only passionate about "hot" topics are, many times, not good researchers scientifically, ...
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  • 9,640
33 votes
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Got stuck with overambitious master thesis

Your situation is quite common with MS theses (in the US at least). There are several people who are given ideas from their advisors which either turn out to be dead-ends or take up much more than the ...
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28 votes
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How does a professor know when a research project will get expected results?

The interaction between student and professor should not be a one-shot set-a-problem. Instead, they should be talking frequently, often once a week, and adjusting the nature and direction of the ...
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28 votes

How can I tell if my research interests are trendy?

Just a thought on your premise: It seems that for publishing papers, it's better if the topic is a trendy topic. That's a problematic assumption. You only know what's trendy after it has been ...
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  • 34k
27 votes

Can I get a PhD for developing educational software?

I think you need to do some reading up on the path towards getting a PhD. In general, an idea that you have on your own based on knowledge you acquired during your undergraduate studies is extremely ...
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  • 171k
26 votes

Advisor ill, out all year... how should I proceed?

Your best option, in my opinion, is to discuss it with him. You may need to wait a bit until he feels well enough to think about it, but you really need his advice about how to proceed. He may be able ...
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  • 270k
24 votes
Accepted

How to avoid plagiarism when working on an idea not developed from a student who quit the PhD program?

It is easy to discharge your ethical obligations here: you treat the unpublished paper like you would any other source, i.e., citing it carefully and making sure not to rewrite sentences or rehash ...
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24 votes

Why are many obviously pointless papers published, or worse studied?

In my view, there are three main reasons: Academia is an economic institution where money flows in and papers flow out. Just in the US, the annual budget of NSF, NIH, DARPA, DOE and many others ...
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  • 365
23 votes
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How is a research direction determined between a graduate student and their advisor?

Any of the scenarios you describe can happen, in practice. (I am in the United States; this may differ in other countries.) It depends on the student's interests and abilities, the advisor's interests ...
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  • 107k
23 votes
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How to find research topics and publish more?

You're thinking about this the wrong way; if do not have a topic you want to write about - then don't write. I'm not being flippant: You should write and publish something if you feel it's important ...
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  • 37.5k
23 votes
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How do I orient myself to the literature concerning a research topic and not be overwhelmed?

Start with well-written review papers. These are designed to do exactly what you ask: to orient a reader to the state of knowledge in some field. If you are working on something multidisciplinary you ...
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  • 70.1k
22 votes

What are characteristics of a "good" thesis topic?

A "good" thesis topic is one that's a good research topic in general (moves the field forward, publishable, etc.), interesting to you specifically (you'll be spending a LOT of time on it), a topic ...
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  • 107k
22 votes
Accepted

As an undergraduate, how can I explore research topics that may interest me without having a background?

This is a good question and I'm sure you're going to get a lot of "try doing X" style answers - however, I think it's important to zoom out for a second and remember that there are two forces which ...
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