This is post #2 in my mini-series on organizing your research (also, here is #1 and #3). If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have read about my Low-Key System for Managing Academic Projects. This post is an update to that original concept as well as some general advice about creating project pipelines. There are already a good number of excellent blogs on developing a research pipeline (one, two, three, four, five, six). Also the first time I read about strategizing your research projects was in The Professor Is In (the “5-Year Plan”). They all more or less agree with the concept of having a pipeline of projects in various stages of completion so that you aren’t scratching your head wondering what it is you should be working on or what should come next.
Ideally you are thinking about your pipeline as connected to your Research Themes or “buckets.” Each research area has a pipe with projects moving through it. Sometimes your projects straddle two pipes (not to sound too dirty lol), but the basic idea is that everything you work on is related to one of your major research areas and that there is movement, however measured and slow, in each pipe at regular intervals.
Keeping an eye on the status of these pipelines is key to uncovering blockages. Each of the professors above have some kind of system for handling this (a gantt chart, whiteboard, kanban system, trello, etc.). If you read my “Low-Key” post linked above, you know my preference is for an adaption of a gantt chart using GoogleSheets. I have since revised the layout to make it even simpler:
Before, I organized the projects in groups based on the type of project it is (grants, conference presentations, WIP, etc.) but this made the list too long. It was also easy to add projects to it that didn’t necessarily align with my designated research areas. This new system organizes projects based on which research “bucket” they are in. This way, I can see at a glance what I’m doing for a given area of research and what the status of that effort is at present. My old chart had dates across the top so I could make notes as I progressed through the calendar year on any action taken for each project. However, I never looked back at the old milestones for a given project, so I’m not sure how useful it was to track that information. Now, I just have the current status listed next to each project. It’s possible I’ll add a third column with “next step” action items and a fourth column with “due dates” so I can try to forward plan some of these projects, but for now this system is working.
Whatever system you develop, keep the following advice in mind:
- Look at Your Pipeline Regularly
Schedule a regular period when you consult your pipeline so you are updating the status of each project and so you can see if you’re making progress or not. If a project remains stuck in your pipeline for years, it might be time to let it go. Every time you are presented with a new opportunity, look at your research plan to see if a) you have time/space for it in your current pipeline and b) if it fits with your existing research interests (or if it means adding a new research interest to the mix).
2. Schedule Time to Think
I’ve written about this before, but it is always good to set aside some time to envision your research trajectory and revise or update your pipeline accordingly. For instance, in the next few months, I will need to set aside some time to see what other grants I can apply for since I’ve exhausted my institution’s internal options for faculty of my rank. Your thinking time could include grants, but also what conferences you’d like to attend in the future, or what books you’d like to write, what talks would you like to give, what classes you want to teach, etc.
That’s it! Now time to go tackle your projects.
Do you have a research/project pipeline? What system do you use?
Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page). ALSO, I am happy to announce that I recently launched a biweekly podcast called Vita Abundantior in which I conduct interviews with awesome women and ask them how they go about living such abundant lives (avail on all major streaming platforms).