The choice of the direction of a scientist's research is a critical and important decision for a variety of reasons. First, research is expensive, and funding agencies and sponsors increasingly demand justification for the proposed work based on the potential impact of the research results. Second, given the time and effort that individual scientists and their students and staff spend to collect and analyze data, a wise choice of a productive and high-impact line of research will advance one's career more quickly as well as open doors to new opportunities.

“High-impact” research can be defined in a variety of ways. One definition is founded on the number of citations from publications. However, a more meaningful measure of the value of one's research is the relevance to those engaged in aquaculture production as a livelihood. Thus, high-impact research must consist of sets of studies that offer effective solutions and improved practices of benefit to aquaculture producers. How does one identify and then choose such a line of research in aquaculture?

For new scientists, an expeditious approach is to identify a line of research that continues the type of scientific investigations performed in their student days, often the research that formed the basis for a dissertation. The young scientist should be very familiar with the relevant scientific literature, be well versed in the most current analytical methods and approaches, and have experience working with the species targeted during their student days. However, is this really the best path to design and produce high-impact results of aquaculture research?

While many aquaculture technologies and species farmed today are new, aquaculture itself is not, even in the Western world. Many still refer to aquaculture in the USA and Europe as a “new” discipline; however, the reality is that many aquaculture farms in the Western world are more than a century old. Aquaculture in Asia, of course, has a history of more than a thousand years. Aquaculture producers know a great deal about producing and selling their crops and routinely solve many problems on their farms. Indeed, many of the key advances that have been made in aquaculture were the result of discoveries and technologies developed by aquaculture producers themselves. Problems and bottlenecks that have not been solved by producers often are complex, difficult, and require in-depth attention; yet these are the types of opportunities for research that can result in high impacts and recognition for scientists.

How does one identify the most critical problems and bottlenecks for successful aquaculture development? The simplest way is to engage with aquaculture producers in discussion of their most important problems. Such discussions often focus on short-term problems, but the more visionary producers will have thoughts about long-term issues that are likely to arise in the future. Scientists must listen carefully to producers and give serious thought to how their unique skills might effectively address their most important problems. Scientists who do so will inevitably develop novel and innovative lines of research. If problems and bottlenecks are addressed in a systematic and comprehensive manner, productive careers and long-term recognition of the positive impact of efforts will follow.

Asking producers about their key problems must be complemented by investment of the scientist's time to observe and understand farming operations. Scientists occasionally bemoan the lack of adoption of their research findings by producers, but very good reasons exist as to why those findings are not implemented on farms. One reason may simply be that the research was conducted exclusively under laboratory conditions; producers know well that performance under farming conditions may differ from that achieved under laboratory conditions for a wide variety of reasons. Given the level of investment required for operation of an aquaculture farm, a producer is wise to not adopt new research findings until proof of the intended results has been demonstrated under full-scale production conditions.

Aquaculture researchers can learn about aquaculture farming conditions through visits to farms, collaborating with extension aquaculture personnel to design and conduct verification trials and on-farm research studies. These efforts will probably reveal what might or might not likely work on an aquaculture farm.

Think about those aquaculture scientists for whom we have the most respect: They are not likely to be individuals who simply publish many papers. Rather, they are likely to be those scientists whose research has systematically and comprehensively addressed key bottlenecks and problems in aquaculture. When a scientist develops comprehensive data through a series of studies that address the many factors that can affect whether a new technology will be successful on farms, adoption by producers is much more likely to occur. A technology that is adopted by and spreads throughout an industry as an improved practice generates the type of high-impact results that are validated through industry growth, job creation, positive contributions to the economy, and vibrant local communities.

The Journal of the World Aquaculture Society (JWAS) is committed to the growth and development of all scales of aquaculture. Publishing research that focuses on the most critical problems facing aquaculture, both short and long term, is an overriding priority. Therefore, JWAS welcomes submission of results of studies designed to account for the types of conditions commonly encountered on aquaculture farms. Equally critical to the generation of strong impacts on the growth and development of aquaculture is research designed to account for effects on farm production costs, marketability, environmental sustainability, and social responsibility.