A First Glimpse at Research

Winter 2017

Liam Lawrence

Schulich Leader at McMaster University

I’ve had my first glimpse at research, at its challenges and rewards. This Fall, I began my graduate studies in electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo. My area of specialization is control systems theory, the mathematical study of methods to enforce desirable behaviour in a system. The functionality of the thermostat in your house, the cruise control in your car, and the automatic flight control in the airplane you rode home for the holidays are all described by control systems theory. I’m happy to say I’m now involved in expanding that body of knowledge, even if I am only just starting to appreciate how challenging it can be.
What makes research so difficult --- and exciting --- is that there is no way to know whether or not a line of thought will be fruitful. There is no guidance in what route to take, because no one has walked these paths before. In addition to the uncertainty, research also involves hard work: in particular, a truly enormous amount of reading. It’s almost impossible to make progress if you don’t know where others have already explored and what tools they used, but gathering this knowledge is a project unto itself. I’ve spent much of the past semester working through textbooks and papers, slowly learning this background. Despite my struggles, I am looking forward to continuing next semester: there are few greater pleasures than discovering something new.