Most work is done by groups. You likely begin your career working on a PIECE of a project in some
SUBFIELD. An adviser may have given you your task and will know it is doable with the resources at
hand, is worth doing, and can help with debugging/troubleshooting if you run into trouble.
After a few such efforts and a lot of reading of the literature you will be able to choose and perform
experiments relatively independently. Your need for the help of others will decrease.
You should first work to become an expert in your particular subfield. This may take typically perhaps
5 years. You should try to maintain frequent contact with coworkers both at your institution and
One would slowly expand his study to encompass much of his entire subfield and then even explore
other portions of the parent field (but being careful not to spread yourself too thin).
An ideal job would give you the time and freedom to do these things as well as laboratory facilities,
libraries, funding, etc. (Some time may be required just to secure such a position!)
One will typically keep files on his own work organized by project, subfield, and field. Similar
reference files would be kept containing the work of others organized following the same system.