I'll be honest and say that I maybe don't know what I'm doing that lets me keep up with the AI, at least on Very Hard difficulty. There are times that my research goes from +100 to +200 in the course of a decade when I wasn't aware of having done much, so maybe what I think I'm doing isn't actually what is giving me wins. Its a complicated system and feedback is obfuscated in places. While I nearly always prioritize techs that upgrade my Mining Networks/Powerplants (and planetary capitals) over other options, I often sit on the upgrades for a very long time. I think I'm chasing down all the +3 and some of the +2 mineral slots before any Mining Network gets upgraded. Another odd habit I've taken to is the outscourcing of Unity and Science to my new colonies while the capital overbuilds on the food and energy to keep them running. I'll match the building of a Heritage site, Gene Clinic and Basic Sci to their pop development and just skip the basic tier of food/min/energy as they feel like wasted minerals to me. There is no discount for upgrading the basic tier to regular. I also always take the Prosperity opening perk as my first non Expansion pick, even if I delay completing Prosperity until the endgame. -15% on all min costs is nuts.