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Getting your project from start to finish

As the new year begins, many of us take it as an opportunity to revisit our scientific or career ambitions and set new goals. For some, it may be making good progress on a challenging project or submitting their Ph.D. thesis. For others, it could be initiating a career transition away from the lab. In all cases, though, the hardest part of achieving success is not making good resolutions; it is maintaining the momentum to see your projects through.

Making progress toward your goals on a long-term basis requires day-to-day effort and good project- and time-management skills. It also takes a large dose of focus, stamina, and resilience. However inspired you may be, the way to success is a long road. As biologist Lothar Hennighausen of the National Institutes of Health once beautifully put it, “Without passion, we would not take on new challenges.” But “[w]ithout planning and focus, we would not stay on track. Without tenacity, we would not finish.”

So, how do you go about developing that lofty goal and the many smaller goals that will be necessary for you to reach along the way?

—David G. Jensen

To help you reach your objectives this year and the following ones, Science Careers has put together some tips and tools.

Setting and pursuing goals

Goal-Setting Strategies for Scientific and Career Success
by Cynthia N. Fuhrmann, Jennifer A. Hobin, Philip S. Clifford, and Bill Lindstaedt, 3 December 2013
myIDP (which stands for Individual Development Plan) is a free online tool that will help you chart and execute a game plan toward meeting your career advancement and skills development goals while also making progress on your research projects.

Mastering Your Ph.D.: Setting Goals for Success
by Patricia Gosling and Bart Noordam, 15 December 2006
If you’re in a rut, try stepping away from the bench and spending some time writing down your short- and long-term objectives before diving into yet another experiment.

Mastering Your Ph.D.: Running in Place
by Bart Noordam and Patricia Gosling, 10 November 2006
The research objectives you sketched out for the coming year seemed reasonable on paper, yet the gap between your plans and your actual progress is growing wider every day. Here are some tips for redressing the situation.

Positive Focusing: Become a Goal-Driven Career Strategist
by David G. Jensen, 17 November 2000
So, how do you go about developing that lofty goal and the many smaller goals that will be necessary for you to reach along the way? Here are some suggestions.

Project- and time-management skills

Getting to the End of Your PhD
by Career Doctor, 26 August 2005
Career Doctor advises a Ph.D. student worried about finishing his dissertation on time about how he can evaluate what remains to be done and bring it to completion.

Academic Scientists at Work: Where'd My Day Go?
by Jeremy M. Boss and Susan H. Eckert, 09 April 2004
To accomplish the smaller tasks that you need to do on a day-to-day basis to meet your long-term objectives, you need to take control of your time.

The PhD-Doctor: The Modular Dissertation
by Herman Lelieveldt, 30 January 2004
As the years pass, many Ph.D. students go from thinking there is an infinite amount of time to get the work done to feeling nervous about how much still needs to be done in so little time. Here are some tools to help you get your dissertation done in a timely manner.

The PhD-Doctor: The Art of Finishing Up
by Herman Lelieveldt, 10 October 2003
There are three important enemies of getting your dissertation done: not knowing when to stop, distraction, and the seduction of a new job. You can conquer them by following these tips.

Time Wasters: Managing Your Most Precious Resource
by David G. Jensen, 20 December 2002
If you find yourself wondering where your time went when you get home tonight, consider analyzing your day to find more time for the truly important tasks.

Project Management and Discovery
by Rob Austin, 13 September 2002
Rather than executing one long sequential plan prepared in advance, adaptive project management helps you to move through a complete planning and decision cycle for each stage of the project.

Project Management in an Uncertain Environment
by Stanley E. Portny, 23 August 2002
Scientists can benefit a lot from applying a few basic project management principles.

Take Your Worst Estimate and Double It: Project Management for Postdocs
by Rich Price, 15 March 2002
Successful projects depend on thorough and continuous planning and goal reassessment.

Time IS on Your Side: Maximize Your Output to Minimize Your Stay
by Mark Sincell, 25 May 2001
Time management becomes especially crucial when the burden of your daily tasks starts getting in the way of your progress toward your Ph.D. Here are some recommendations for how to do it.

Transferably Yours: Masterful Multitasking
by Phil Dee, 15 December 2000
If you doubt that you can complete your thesis on time, this advice on how to up your multitasking game may change your mind.

Resilience and stamina

Bounce back to stay in the game
by David G. Jensen, 16 September 2015
Resilience is a key ingredient for success—but its importance is often forgotten when it comes to finding your next job.

Learn how to cope in grad school
by Rachel Bernstein, 20 August 2015
A free massive open online course called How to Survive Your PhD recognizes that, in order to finish your Ph.D., you have to be not only smart but also emotionally resilient.

Breaking the Class Ceiling
by Elisabeth Pain, 22 May 2014
Students from working-class backgrounds may face additional barriers in academia, but the fortitude they have already demonstrated in getting where they are is also a powerful advantage.

Life at the Bottleneck
by Ruth Müller, 26 October 2012
After studying how the academic landscape influences the working practices of postdoctoral life scientists, Ruth Müller has increased her resilience to career anxieties by keeping an open mind and considering a variety of potential fields of work.

Mind Matters: Resilience
by Irene S. Levine, 10 June 2011
There is a growing body of research and practical experience that suggests personal resilience is one reason some people succeed while others don't.

Home Stretch to Graduation
by Elisabeth Pain, 18 April 2008
You may have submitted your dissertation to your examiners' committee, but coming away with a feeling of closure and enthusiasm for the next challenge requires dealing with lots of annoying distractions and carefully traversing some uneven emotional ground. Here are some tips for handling these hurdles.

The Ultralong-Distance Quest
by Lothar Hennighausen, 02 November 2007
To Lothar Hennighausen, the factors that govern success in a 1200-plus kilometer cycling race are similar to those that govern success in a research endeavor: Passion, focus, organization, and tenacity.

Mastering Your PhD: Dealing with Setbacks
by Patricia Gosling and Bart Noordam, 16 February 2007
Setbacks happen in the lab. Recovering takes time, ingenuity, fortitude, patience, and—occasionally—the courage to make a major change.

When You Run Into Brick Walls: Coping With Frustrations In The Lab
by Irene S. Levine, 2 December 2005
Career success is often determined, in great part, by how well we cope with the curveballs that are thrown to us.

Developing Resilience
by David G. Jensen, 18 November 2005
If you've suffered from a lack of resilience, here are some ways to develop the thick skin it takes to survive in science.

You Are Not Alone
by Mark Sincell, 28 September 2001
The competing demands of advisers, colleagues, and a student's own high expectations almost inevitably breed anxiety and depression. Turning to a therapist or support group can help.

The Single-Minded Pursuit
by David G. Jensen, 13 August 1999
Some people achieve their career goals faster and with less agony than others, thanks to the ability to focus and make a single-minded pursuit out of their mission.