Rat Race: How to Pick Your Research Projects-Part 2

In my most recent Rat Race post I discussed how to pick a research project regarding the topic you want to spend time on.

Girl Studying

In this installment, collaborators, peer editing, time management and importance of the research project are on my mind.


  • When approaching a research project it is important to keep in mind what goals you have set for a final result.  If you will be conducting research as a team, before picking partners you should verify that you have a similar objective in mind. 
  • Also, make sure the person(s) you work with is professional, that you do not have any possibly sticky personal issues with, and that you have comparable schedules. 
  •  It is also helpful to make sure you have compatible work styles and work ethic to make things run smoothly. 

Peer Editing

  • It is always important to have multiple proofreaders that are reliable and trustworthy for any major writing that you will be submitting for schoolwork or publication.. 
  • When picking a proofreader keep in mind that the reader should be familiar with your writing style, framework and the goal you are trying to reach with your project.
  • One option is to join a writing group or to be a reviewer for a journal, as then you can read lots of varied pieces and that will help you shape your own style, discern what you’re comfortable with in terms of method, technique, tone, and will give you general insight into how others approach their process. A writing group that is collaborative also gives you feedback on your writing from multiple people who are probably from differing perspectives, which is invaluable.

Time Management

  • Before starting any project it is beneficial to plot out a time line. This is a variable that can change of course, but it’s good to know what you’re shooting for. If you have a project you want to do “perfectly no matter how long it takes” that is a legit timeline. Another option is to say that you’re getting two things completing every six months or so (for example) and while you work to that goal you also understand that sometimes you just have to call it a day on a project and realize there is no defined “perfect” and that you can revisit topics over and over form new angles. Sometimes no timeline can kill a project in endless limbo as so many of us are deadline oriented.
  • Also do not set your goals astronomically high and make sure they are obtainable in the allotted amount of time you have. As mentioned, you can chop a large project into smaller do-able chunks, and work on them bit by bit. This is something admittedly I struggle with, as I’ma big picture kind of person, but there is huge value in dissecting smaller portions of a work, and trying to get many publications/presentations out of it. It’s probably easier for the audience to digest, plus honestly it gets you way more CV building and experience. Also, it’s simpler to knock out a smaller piece that is manageable, rather than a beast of a project that you’re wrestling with and cannot see the end of anytime soon.
  • It is important to keep in mind that you cannot do everything and to not always say “yes,” because you want to make sure your outcome is polished and professional. I struggle with this as well, as I hate to miss a good opportunity, and, I always want to try to help others out. But, a “yes” when you don’t really have time doesn’t actually do you or them any favors, as the work is shoddy and the communication even worse (often). It’s best to decide what you can really give some serious time to, do that, do it well, then move to the next thing. This is something I see people in every stage of their career dealing with. Doing things in stages, rather than all at once is really the best option, when possible. I’m a big fan of multi-tasking, but everyone has a point where the quality diminishes, which defeats the whole purpose. Don’t forget, relationships, both professional and personal are relevant to consider regarding maintaining quality….

Research Importance

  • Evaluate which projects you will enjoy the most and get the most out of personally and professionally and prioritize those. Research projects take seemingly forever! If you don’t have your heart in something, particularly as first author, you’ll burn out and not finishing, or put out bland-o-rama work that reeks of being uninspired. Got to have some serious interest in something you’re going to invest so much time in. You rarely would take up a hobby you don’t like, and we all have a friend or ex- we don’t understand why we spent so much time and energy on, well professional research is the same and more so because this is the work that will get you to your next work, it’ a building process, and so you don’t want to go down a path you cannot feel stimulated by.
  • Although some projects may not seem as appealing, figure out what is the potential for learning and hands on experience. These are great ones to be 3rd or 4th author on. Help out, get some research an editing experience perhaps in areas you need to grow (we all do!), maybe presentation. Get a few CV lines and even citations in others’ work, but you don’t have to give it all of your time. It’s pretty win/win for you and those you’re on a team with, as long as it doesn’t over-run your first author stuff.
  • Oftentimes, smaller projects allow you more creative freedom and opportunities to grow as you’re not stuck spinning your wheels for a long time.

Hope these tips are useful to you. I need to remember to re-read them myself from time to time! If you have any more please add them into the comments.
*Thank you to our Intern Ariel for helping me get this post in motion!

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1 Comment

  • india March 14, 2011 06.01 am

    good, sound advice. suspect i should read this post more frequently to remind myself, too…


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