I have come to realize I like the idea of free form researching with concepts being needed for application. It isnt as complicated on the players end; the player can give us and end goal and we together come up with what. Anatone needs for application. If the game is pm secrecy oriented anyway, then im pretty sure we wouldnt mind talking with you to help come up with the reasonable steps.
Like, if I were to use an example of my herblawre tech, I would have to first have studied farming (for ingedient gathering) biology (for knowing the properties of the plants) and chemistry (for mixing stoof.) All of these would take time and resources, something thats not as expendable in early game, but would add more realism that it takes many years, ideas, and failures rather then come up with ideas -> make it happen
Also note that sincr farming, chemistry and biology are such broad ideas, that I can then chain them into other great applications. That could potentially help with stuff like my mahjavians and whatnot (biology for bookaoo bodily understanding, and chemistry to help with the potion used to turn.) Anatomy and mahjarrat magicks would be the othetr two or so examoles of what I need next, but at least I have two of many others, saving me a bit of time in the future.
Also, concepts should not be player exclusive like applied techs are.
On that note, I want to see that final products that are potentially imperfect or not exactly what was originally planned. Thats how research works - it takes a long ass time to get it where you want it exactly. The prime example of what I don't want happening is the process of making the citadel. While it was an amazing idea, and I get what made it happpen, I don't like how we basically put puzzle pieces together and made a floating region when we didnt have anything else otherwise. We didnt have a process of starting with basic levitation, advanced levitation, sustained levitation, floating siege, small floating fortress, large floating fortress, and floating city: Not to mention alll the geomancery that would be involved with floating a chunk of self sustaining landmasses - we had put them together and a bippity boppity and look out we have a perfectly mad, fully finctional citadel that flawlessly jolds unlimited troops.
.... uh. I dunno what they were, but those are my thoughts on the research situation