A brave new world: Learning project management as an academic researcher

As many academic researchers I have found that sometimes the only way to pursue a grand idea involves a very large project, which also involves a shift from working in the way we are trained, as lone workers, to becoming a mixture of academics and project managers.

An in-house project management training at my research centre  has provided a very nice opportunity to reflect on my own projects and experience and to hear from others on what works, on the pitfalls and on how to avoid them. Here are some of the key messages I am taking home:

  • Make sure the lessons learnt don’t become lessons forgotten.
  • Everyone working in the project should have a good understanding of what the project involves and of their own role and expectations. A colleague explain she produces a four page note for each member of the team setting that out.
  • It’s all about the planning. The picture below explains it beautifully. We were asked to describe a large, multi-centre research project with stickers. The yellow ones represent, in yellow, the stages of a large multi-centre research project. In bright pink we identified the potential pitfalls. In blue are the steps we could to avoid such pitfalls. Notice the distribution of the stickers. The pink ones are mostly toward the middle/end part of the project. The blue ones, mostly before the project even starts. Thankfully, we managed to place a few blue stickers towards the middle and even the end of the project (which is reassuring, being in the middle part of a four year study!).

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