New Year’s Research Resolutions
Dr. Joe Licciardi, Professor, Earth Sciences Department, UNH
It is that time of year when we reflect on the past twelve months and start to think about goals for the coming year. You may be pondering what accomplishments you would like to achieve in the new year, or you might be facing a requirement to enumerate those goals as part of an annual performance review. Regardless of your motivations, it can be daunting to come up with goals that are realistic, achievable, and strategically formulated to advance your professional development and keep your research group productive and solvent.
If this resonates with your current end-of-year frame of mind, read on for some advice and guidance on how to go about setting goals for your research enterprise.
Reflect on the past year: A good starting point is to review the goals you set last year. How did you do with the goals you made for yourself? Is there still a lot of unfinished business carrying over into the new year? If so, ask yourself why you did not achieve those goals. Were they not as important or essential as you originally thought? Did your plans change in unexpected ways? Or do you need to work on improving your time management skills? A little self-assessment can go a long way toward strategizing your list of new goals for the coming year.
Be ambitious but realistic: It is an admirable quality to be ambitious, but if you set goals that are unrealistic or simply unachievable within the allotted time and/or available funding, you run the risk of creating unnecessary stress that can lead to a decrease in productivity. Instead, formulate goals that are within reach of your time and funding limitations. Also, if you are preparing to tackle a major endeavor, break it down into smaller tasks and set goals for completing those one at a time.
Prioritize wisely: Which goals are the most time-sensitive? Do you have goals that are mandated by your funders and have hard deadlines? Are some of your goals more aspirational or voluntary in nature? Are any of your goals intertwined with those of your collaborators, and might hold them back if you don’t follow through? It is very important to think about these aspects of your various goals and prioritize them accordingly. For instance, you will want to give highest priority to goals that have strict deadlines and mandates from your funders. Other goals that are important to you, but go above and beyond the expectations of your employer, can generally be given a lower priority.
Publish and propose: To keep your research group thriving, it is important to devote time to writing and publishing papers, and to preparing and submitting grant proposals to fund future research. These are time-consuming endeavors, and it can be tough to strike an appropriate balance between writing manuscripts and proposals. Think about the most strategic use of your time, given the current needs and plans for your research group.
Strategize your publishing plans: If you are an early-career, pre-tenure faculty member, it may be wise to invest more time in getting papers out. In particular, if you are sitting on a considerable amount of unpublished data, it is advisable to invest a larger proportion of your time into bringing those unfinished manuscripts to fruition. Depending on the nature of your research outcomes, and perhaps the expectations of your position, you may want to prioritize one or two submissions to high-impact journals. Alternatively, if your employer expects you to produce a certain number of peer-reviewed papers per year, it might be more appropriate to focus on a succession of submissions to well-respected but lower-impact journals with higher acceptance rates.
Secure funding: If you have been keeping your publication output flowing but your funding portfolio is getting lean, you might want to devote more time to aggressively pursuing proposal solicitations with high success rates. If you are more established and already well-funded, it could make sense to lean more strongly into high-risk / high-reward undertakings.
Be ready to adapt: Some of the goals you set for yourself early in the year may be subject to unanticipated changes that will occur later in the year. As such, be flexible and ready to modify your goals to finish the tasks at hand. As an example, you might be presented with a professional opportunity that compels you to set aside or de-prioritize other parts of your workflow in order to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Give yourself a break: Remember to avoid setting unrealistic or tremendously challenging goals, which can be counter-productive to achieving them, and recognize that most tasks take longer than originally anticipated. Be sure to look back at what you accomplished in the previous year and use that as a guide for what you hope to complete in the coming year. Also, be mindful that some goal-driven achievements such as submitting manuscripts and proposals involve lengthy review periods, and publishing and funding decisions could remain pending into the following year.
The Main Takeaway
A thoughtfully formulated and prioritized set of realistic, achievable, and worthwhile professional goals for the coming year will ensure that your research group will stay on a positive and successful trajectory. Make sure to keep these tips in mind as you set about making your New Year’s research resolutions.