I debated between asking this question here and in the Academia stack exchange, but decided Computational Science was the most capable of answering the question.

I'm a new graduate student (~1 semester now) and would really like to make a push to be the best I can in my field. My undergraduate was a top 5 engineering school. However, my graduate school is top 50. So I'll need some really good research to get noticed. I have an excellent advisor who is very supportive of whatever I'm working on, so I can somewhat guide the "kind" of research I'll be doing further down the road. And I also have excellent access to any kind of computational resource I need.

Right now I'm doing molecular dynamics simulations and am spending time learning about quantum monte carlo on my own. I also collaborate with an experimental researcher, thus my work has a tie-in to experimental results.

I've been reading journals in this field, but I'm not sure whether "huh, this is an interesting article" matches up at all with what other researchers consider a top-tier contribution. Again, I'm still new at this.

My question: So, as of early 2013, what are the cutting-edge, hot topic, highly-publishable research areas in computational science? I really just need a starting point so I don't go off in a rabbit-hole of research that is interesting to me but that nobody else cares about.

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    $\begingroup$ Nick, welcome to SciComp! Your question is a really good one...that I'm not sure is a good fit for this site, because it's broad (highly-publishable research in computational science spans a lot of disciplines that intersect with computational science), and subjective in a way that may invite short answers (exascale!) when your question really demands long answers. That said, subjective questions can be really good (see good subjective, bad subjective), so I would like to hear from the community about this question. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 6:31
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think there is a meaningful answer to this question. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ I think the issue is that computational science is utilized in such a wide variety of fields, that there isn't one cutting edge, there are dozens (if not hundreds). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ On a side note, I'd like to mention that I've become a little bit frustrated with Stack Exchange lately and what now qualifies as a "question". This is a recent trend. I believe my last 5 or so questions on SE (very roughly) have been deemed "not a good fit" or some other strange term. Honestly, there's no where else to ask the questions I have to the type of audience I want to ask them too. I wouldn't ask these questions if the answers weren't going to be of great use. I will of course seek out many other avenues for advice, but the collective online community $\endgroup$
    – Nick
    Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Nick: In any case, I have left the question open because I do think there should be some place for some subjective questions on the site, for precisely the reasons you mentioned. I agree with DavidKetcheson here and question whether there is a meaningful answer to this question (at least as far as where computational science is concerned) because it is broad and highly dependent on opinion. Even funding agencies don't necessarily give clear answers to this sort of question (replace "hot topic" with "research the agency wants to fund"). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 22:18

2 Answers 2


This is not an answer to your question. But if a student came to me asking this question, I would ask him or her to read these articles:

And a warning: jumping into a "hot" subfield as a student is very dangerous if your advisor is not at the front of that subfield. You're very likely to get scooped or end up doing something irrelevant.

  • $\begingroup$ Sigh... the things I wish I knew before I started graduate school! :) $\endgroup$
    – Paul
    Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ That talk by Hamming is a really good one to bring up in this context. $\endgroup$
    – meawoppl
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 6:59

First, an attempt to just answer the question. My (personal and subjective) feeling is that many jobs and funding opportunities right now are tied to applications in biology and energy, and that the hot research topics are in "multi-scale" and "multi-physics" phenomena, as well as uncertainty quantification. However, in your case you need to know what will be important in 5 years or so, which is much more difficult.

Second, some ideas of where to go to find your own answers to the question. You could browse some listings at mathjobs.org for an idea of what kind of specializations employers are looking for, and nsf.gov to get an idea of the grants and funding opportunities that are being offered. You could also browse some recent issues of SIAM Review to try to see what research is attracting attention. Big conferences (for example the 2012 SIAM annual meeting) often have two type of invited talks: established researchers surveying a career worth of contributions, and young rising stars talking about their exciting new discoveries. The latter are working in areas that are "hot".

Finally, some advice not directly answering the question. We do not know what the hot topics will be in 5 years, and we don't know what the funding landscape and job market will look like, and most people who expect a research-heavy academic job do not get one. I recommend working hard on some research that is interesting to you, building teaching experience, and at least considering what will happen if you need to look for a job outside academia. My recent experiences on the job market depended much more on my teaching experience and my programming experience than it did on whether I was in a hot research area.


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