Let me remind you that I am an expert on graduate school, having dropped out of two of them...
In many academic fields, when one is starting to investigate a research topic, the literature survey is an essential stage. It involves hunting down journal papers related to the topic, reading or skimming them for important results, and studying any potentially-useful techniques the author has developed. A researcher who doesn't do this thoroughly risks the frustration of having a paper rejected because her results were already published by someone else, or because a known technique would make her results trivial. Basically, you have to become really familiar with what's been done before in order to confidently contribute something valuable and original.
For the last several weeks, I've been doing something similar with knitted shawls.
I got it in my head that I'd like to design some knitted shawls and shawlettes, but I've made (read: finished) surprisingly few of them, notably Haruni, Traveling Woman, and Sunbird. I'd already done a good job of filling my Ravelry favorites with interesting candidates, but I hadn't studied how they were constructed, or how the stitch patterns interacted.
Late last week, I finished Melissa Lemmons' Fountain of Diamonds. (I'm not going to branch off into a pattern review, but I will say that I knit this pattern exactly as written, right down to the placement of stitch markers.)
The three-triangular-panel construction gives better front converage than the common triangle or semi-circular shapes, yet doesn't overpower a short person like a long triangle can.
I also tried a beading method I hadn't previously used, at least not with success (there's an Evenstar shawl shoved in a bag in my nightstand, with only the beaded edging unworked). Be warned: the Clover steel crochet hooks with the comfy handles are sized much differently than the Susan Bates hooks. The Clover size 13/14 I had on hand was .50 mm, compared to the .75 mm Bates size 14. Beading went a lot better once I got the correct-size hook for my size 8 beads.
So if anybody asks, it's not recreational knitting, it's a literature survey.