Comments on the nature of TCS Research
by Oded Goldreich 
Revised extracts from an
Special Topics, January 2002
On difficult professional periods
In my field, difficult periods (say months) are more common than
difficult moments, and accordingly the difficulties tend to be deeper
and less dramatic. Difficult periods are long periods in which one is
searching in the dark for something of which one only has a very vague
idea. In addition to the intellectual difficulty of conducting such a
search, it also tends to be emotionally exhausting. Specifically,
often for a long period, one does not get any feeling of progress and
this is very frustrating. Only in retrospect, can one sometime realize
that these "bad periods" were actually periods of progress, although
one did not realize it while living them. My advice to other
researchers in the field is to realize that progress depends on
ability to survive these unavoidable "bad periods."
On the satisfaction that some achievements bring
I am most satisfied by discoveries that either reflect or carry along
a deep understanding of fundamental phenomena. In particular, I find
it most satisfying when a discovery is made based on such an
understanding (rather than emerging by chance). I am also very
satisfied when feeling that I have contributed to the understanding of
other people either through my own work or through exposition of the
work of others.
On the unexpected nature of our discoveries
Many research discoveries in my field have an unexpected flavor.
This is probably due to the fact that the field is built upon
abstract ideas and is only limited by inherent truth
(rather than by experimental facts).
On the impact of our research on practice
Although some of our research does lead to commercial products,
I consider the indirect (and hard to trace) impact of theoretical ideas
on practice far more important. I refer to the impact on practice
of conceptual frameworks (which are often taken for granted).
The same holds with respect to basic research methodologies
and to some extent also w.r.t well-known feasibility results.
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