On starting a new project…

I design, plan, execute and complete projects on a regular basis for quite a number of years now. As a researcher, it is an integral part of the job. I often notice in starting grad students that the concept of project planning is not always well-developped (and doing a PhD certainly has some planning phases).

When starting a new research project, I ask myself two very basic questions at first:
  1. Is it cutting-edge (for the field)?
  2. It is going to be fun, exciting (life is short after all)?
If the answersto any one of these is no, it might not worth the effort. Your own basic questions might be different then mine (such as: will this contribute to advance my PhD thesis?) but do you have them ready and do you use them?
If the answers are bothyes. I might consider next:
  • How it fits with all of my other projects and responsibilities) ?
  • Do I have all the needed resources (time, $, …) ?
  • Should I reach out to other researchers (it is a collaborative project) ?
  • What would be the measure of success of this project (envisioning the best possible end result) ?

Notice that to answer the first question, you do need to know about all of your other projects and responsibilities. If fact you should take the excellent habit to keep an up-to-date list or inventory of ongoing projects and related tasks. If you think you have none, you should stop now. Your are missing too much information to make a good decision about the new project you’d like to start.

All of this can happen in a few minutes or over days / months depending on the scale of the project. However, it is essential to do before putting resources into it. Skipping the fundamentals could mean a never ending project or a half-started project (or both!), a general waist of effort and potentially frustration, in particular if you are not alone working on the project. The time invested in getting answers to these simples questions (and I am sure there are a few more…) is time well spent, that will pay off down the road! Furthermore, they act as a filter that allows you to say no with conviction…

Do not hesitate to ask your supervisor about the nuts and bolts of project planning. I will put them on the stop here: he (or she) should be able to help. If not…well, you may need to ask yourself more important questions.

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