Some lessons from The New Yorker‘s profile of MacArthur Fellow and mathematician Yitang Zhang:
1. Immerse yourself in the research literature of your discipline. Zhang spent years reading mathematics journals about alegebraic geometry number theory at the University of Kentucky, and keeping a low profile: he had published only one paper, in 2001.
2. Choose a focal point or meta-question for your research program that will have a significant impact. Zhang focused on ‘bound gaps’ about prime numbers.
3. Organise your life’s tasks in order to pursue your individual research program. Zhang worked at a Subway and in New Hampshire in order to have more time to write and pursue his research program on his own terms.
4. Streamline your publication track record to focus on publications in high-ranked journals. Zhang submitted “Bounded Gaps Between Primes” in late 2012 to Annals of Mathematics after years of work.
5. Understand how the referee process works for journal articles. Zhang benefited from reviewers Henryk Iwaniec (Rutgers) and John Friedlander (University of Toronto) who were critical yet sympathetic to Zhang’s study, and Annals of Mathematics editor Nicholas Katz.