Heilmeier’s Catechism

A friend posted a link to the following article “Phd Students must break away from Undergrad mentality.” I don’t have much to say about the article, accept that it mentioned something called Heilmeier’s Catechism. The author stated that he had his students go through this when they had an idea. I had never heard of this before, so I looked it up. You can read about it on wikipedia (:)). Essentially, it’s a set of questions that a researcher should go through when proposing a new research project. I’ve copied the questions below.

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What’s new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares?
  • If you’re successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks and the payoffs?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the midterm and final “exams” to check for success?

I’ve thought about most of these questions over the course of my project. The only one I don’t think I’ve ever considered is how much will it cost. But I’ve probably never put enough thought into the risks/payoffs question.

Since I’ve been working on my dissertation (in pieces) coming across this was kind of nice. Because I think I’ll take those questions and sketch out my introduction question by using those. Even if I don’t end up using what I write, I think answering that set of questions should help me determine how all my work connects together and what the underlying ‘story’ is. I’m also hoping by answering them (and finding any parts that are difficult to answer) I will know what I’m missing in my research. I’m not really sure what I’ll find at the moment, so it should be an interesting experiment to perform.

Anyone else in?


One thought on “Heilmeier’s Catechism

  1. Thanks for pointing this out. I’ll pass this on to my colleagues&students. Very good things to think about. I considered those at some point during my PhD work, but might have been good to consider them earlier… I think you’re right that they’ll help to identify what’s missing.

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