One research project, or twelve?

There have been a few occasions where I have made the mistake adopting more than one research project – that are in the same phase of production – simultaneously. Each time, I try a new approach to divide my attention…and each time I return to the drawing board. I do not claim to be an expert on multitasking, but here’s what I’ve learned…

As a PhD student, there will come a time when you’ll be asked to take the reins of more than one research project at a time. For most, the obligation to teach will be the first taste of switching between important obligations with rigid deadlines. However, I would argue that these are inherently different because teaching (lecture, lab, grading, office hours, etc) is nothing like research.

In my experience, bouncing between multiple projects is manageable as long as those projects aren’t in the same phase of development. That is to say, attempting two literature reviews simultaneously is an exercise in futility. I believe the same can be said for constructing two models or analyzing results from separate projects. That being said, it seems much easier to switch between projects that are both in the writing/revisions stage of publication.

Obviously, my perception of this academic hurdle is shaped by my experiences as a computational biologist. I would imagine that experimentalists are more comfortable multitasking because they’re often awaiting data (be that a from an upcoming field season, future experiments, additional funding, etc).

So what are your experiences with managing two projects simultaneously? What works and what does not? Have you ever turned down a prospective project…or did you kick the proverbial can down the road?

About ellscubed

A computational biologist whose passions lie at the nexus of evolutionary theory, epidemiology, and public outreach.
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One Response to One research project, or twelve?

  1. britdodson says:

    For me, managing multiple projects is easier if they’re at different stages, even as an experimentalist. The reason for this is because I enjoy variety. It’s more stimulating when I can split up my day with a little writing, reading new literature, and experimental work. However, it does depend on the project. Some projects are often the “hurry up and wait” type; I do a lot of work at the beginning or end, but wait for days in between before I harvest time points, so I can have multiple experiments running at the same time.

    My bottom line is: “variety is the spice of life.”

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