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Does minimalism have a place in research?

2024年4月18日

Alison Bert, DMA

Elsevier graphic depicting the concept of minimalism in research

Minimalism is a growing trend in life and work — but can researchers benefit from the approach of “less is more”?

Minimalism is everywhere these days. What started as art(在新的选项卡/窗口中打开) pared down to its essentials in the early 60s soon travelled to the world of music (think Steve Reich and Phillip Glass). More recently, minimalism has emerged in the popular trends of decluttering and Swedish “death cleaning” — and for some, it’s become an all-encompassing lifestyle based on the belief that “less is more” and that by eliminating unnecessary possessions and distractions, we can focus on what truly matters.

But contrary to the term, the trend is far from minimal. Perhaps we’re overwhelmed by the busyness of life and our ever-growing to-do lists — or those documents we spend hours searching for when tax time rolls around. Plus many of us are concerned about our impact on the environment. Whatever motivates us, we’re a captive audience: Minimalism is infiltrating all aspects of life, from the way we shop and eat and dress to how we organize our work and social calendars.

But could those same concepts be used for research? And should they?

I asked that question to two early-career researchers recently and was surprised by what they had to say. Both considered minimalism to be part of their lifestyle and beliefs, and both found applications to research. But their experiences were distinct.

From asceticism to humanoids

As a PhD student at Maynooth University(在新的选项卡/窗口中打开) in Ireland, HM Kamrul Hassan(在新的选项卡/窗口中打开) is researching how humanoid service robots can be used in service industries like food service and tourism to help people make decisions and be more comfortable while interacting with machines. He’s also an Associate Professor in the Department of Marketing at University of Chittagong(在新的选项卡/窗口中打开) in Bangladesh.

For Kamrul, minimalism relates to his Muslim faith, and he has also been inspired by the simple lifestyle of Islamic ulamas and ascetic monks in Bangladesh and Thailand. “I found that the people there were living with very limited resources,” he said. “The people are very humble, down to earth, and they don’t need too many things to survive.”

He believes a minimalist lifestyle is better for the world:

“In my religion, we believe that the less you buy, the more you will receive peace. You are not ruining the resources of the world, so you are keeping (them) for the next generation.” Instead of buying too much and wasting it, he would like to see “equally distributed resources all over the world.”

HM Kamrul Hassan poses with a humanoid at Hajime Robot Restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, where robots take orders and serve food. He visited the restaurant as part of his work with humanoid service robots.

HM Kamrul Hassan poses with a humanoid at Hajime Robot Restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, where robots take orders and serve food. He visited the restaurant as part of his work with humanoid service robots.

For research, Kamrul also applies principles of minimalism. “Obviously, you want to consider all the information out there,” he said, “but you will get overwhelmed if you consider everything.”

Lately, he’s been using Scopus AI(在新的选项卡/窗口中打开) to streamline and simplify the research process. “Currently, I’m working on my literature review using Scopus for data collection because Scopus has a very good collection of journals, papers, book chapters, and conference papers,” he said. “So in this case, when there are a lot of publications, Scopus AI will help you to sort out the topic that you’re looking for.”

You can find papers with common terminology and other factors, he explained, and visualize the information on a concept map.

A concept map on seismology generated by Scopus AI.

A concept map on seismology generated by Scopus AI.

Interestingly, by narrowing his search to more relevant information, AI is also making his research “more diverse” and more “in-depth” by pulling in ideas he may not have thought of that are related to his field.

“AI makes the research more refined,” he said. “Previously, you had diverse information, but you didn’t know how to sort it out, how to filter it, how to make it more relevant and specific. AI is helping you to make it more related (to) your own field.”

Beyond that, he believes AI is enabling people to dive deeper into their fields and expand their thinking.

“People will think now more in depth because of AI as you have a lot of access to different types of information,” he said. Instead of focusing on a single viewpoint of your research, he explained, “you can think from different perspectives.”

So far from replacing thought, he said, AI can help people think even better.

“Scopus AI will bring innovation to research.”

HM Kamrul Hassan

HKH

HM Kamrul Hassan

Maynooth University, Ireland 的 Doctoral researcher

His advice to AI users comes from his experience studying people’s behavior with humanoid robots: Talk to AI as you would a real person.

“When people are telling me that AI is not user friendly, it’s true — it’s not user friendly because you don’t use it as a friend.”

Don’t treat AI as an object and order it around, he said. “If you consider it as an expert, as a friend … then the reaction is different.

“As people are considering AI as an opponent, I’m thinking that AI might change the world in a positive way.”

“It lets me get straight to the point.”

As a PhD student and researcher at the University of Aveiro(在新的选项卡/窗口中打开) in Portugal, Fábio A Matos(在新的选项卡/窗口中打开) is focusing on environmental science and engineering. He considers himself “a relatively minimalistic person” who buys only what he needs and is “not really a big small-talk person.” Like Kamrul, he’s finding many ways to apply minimalism to his research.

“I think minimalism can mean many things and be applied to many different topics in the context of academia and science,” he said. “Minimalism can be beneficial not in the sense that little information is given, but in the sense that only the necessary information is given.”

“Many times when I have conducted literature reviews in the past, and many times after reading a couple of papers on the same subject, the introductions are always the same and they drag on for too long, sometimes explaining concepts in too much depth.”

Fábio A Matos is a PhD student at the University of Aveiro in Portugal,

Fábio A Matos

“Minimalism can help the reader understand exactly what they’re reading about without giving too much unnecessary information and detracting from the actual point of the paper or study.”

Fábio uses Scopus AI several times a week and finds it especially useful when he conducts a literature review about a topic that’s not in his area.

“It’s allowed me to very easily and very effectively look up certain terminology, such as methodologies and terms for scientific topics that I’m not as familiar with, giving me succinct descriptions and very useful studies — usually three to four references that are really useful to dig a little bit deeper into the topic. These are usually recent studies, which is always a good thing, with a certain number of citations, because I know that Scopus AI attempts to give the user something that has been deemed worthy by the academic community.

“So in that sense, it just provides a clear and good explanation of what I need, and then I can further my research by reading the papers.”

Fábio also uses it to find the exact citations he needs.

“Sometimes I don’t necessarily remember which study said what, and I want to find that correct citation that I can use. Let’s say I need to say nature-based solutions are effective at dealing with, say, water quality problems, but I don’t remember which paper I read says that. I can ask that in Scopus AI, and Scopus AI will give me a couple of references, and I know at least one of these two or three references will say this. I can just incorporate those citations into my study without having to go back and read through the introductions of several different studies that I had been looking at before.

“So it’s minimalistic in the way that it gives me that (information). It lets me get straight to the point and get what I need.”

As for when not to use minimalism in research? “It needs to be very well considered and used precisely because too much minimalism can lead to lack of information. In this sense, I think minimalism is a good thing when writing an introduction for a study. … I don’t think minimalism is a good thing when writing the results section.

“When you present your results in a study, I want to see all of them — I don’t want to see some results omitted and have to check them in the in the supplementary files or just omitted outright. Sometimes that can be done if the amount of data is just too much to be assessed, but I think it needs to be tempered — it needs to be taken well into account and not be overused.”

As for the impact on science going forward: “I think the advances in technology nowadays are amazing and that Scopus AI is a is a testament to that.”

“I think with time, a lot of our work as scientists and academics will be improved and streamlined, and these tools are a great, great help for all of us. ... We spend way too much time reading through literature and trying to find specific bits and pieces of information. Having the computer do that for us so that we can more easily just get what we need and do our work — I think thats a huge quality of life improvement for everyone in academia.”

Fábio A Matos is a PhD student and researcher at the University of Aveiro in Portugal.

FAM

Fábio A Matos

University of Aveiro, Portugal 的 PhD student and researcher