I've been lurking through that game a little and thought you were doing fairly well, despite a couple mistakes as you mentioned. 2 per city should get you aesth easy, trade for alpha (after 2-3 turns of self research), build research, get currency, build wealth. Going to war and capturing wonders or forested capitals to chop/build wonders/fail gold. And not to mention capture gold of course (my favorite). In the first place, in general I prefer creative leaders (spiritual leaders also awesome). quick libraries to whip easily in every city, plus the obvious benefits of spreading culture automatically. Universities, are rarely difficult to simply build/chop/finish with whip, even with non philo leaders. switching to caste is extremely situational, the timing of which is highly game dependent. For me, I do it during any Golden age and then switch back, or depending on the bulb requirements for Lib. If I need to bulb, more than whip I go cast. Otherwise, start adding forges and markets or grocers if you have early rep to run other specs. even without rep other specs have a lot of benefits. trade routes as vranasm mentioned and trading for techs of course. Also don't neglect multiplier buildings,capture gold, failure gold, bulbing/academy or demanding tech as tribute/begging from friends... Everything combined fuels your research, that's why it's versatile and balanced. me 2 , It is micro intensive, but the rewards are outweigh the burden IMO.