Sunday, July 30, 2006

An abundance of research riches

UPDATE: Thanks to all of you for your suggestions! I've decided, as many of you pointed out, that writing is the best use of my time right now, so that's what I'll be concentrating on for the rest of the summer. First, because if I do decide to leave then more pubs will make me more marketable (and if I stay, it will help my tenure case). Second, I realized yesterday that it's much easier for me to get the tasks that the side project requires---writing scripts, analyzing data---done while teaching, so I'm more likely to make better progress on that during the term than I am on writing during the term. So the plan is to get one conference paper done and ready to submit, along with at least a very rough draft of the journal paper (which will mainly entail cutting and pasting pieces of conference papers together), by the end of the month. We'll see how it goes!

Original post
On Sunday nights, Mr. Jane and I have this ritual where we ask each other what our plans are, work-wise, for the week. Usually, I have a ready answer for the question, because usually I'm in the middle of something. But this time, I didn't have an answer. I've just finished writing up something I've been working on for a while, and the "problem" (it's a good problem to have!) is that now I have three or four different directions in which I can go. All of the options are equally promising/intriguing, and I don't have a clear vision as to which one I should tackle first. I'm hoping that blogging about it will bring some clarity.

One possibility is writing up another conference paper, or two, on results that at most will require 1-2 additional short experiments or analyses. The ideas for the papers came up as I was writing up the last conference paper. There are things that were left out of the paper for space reasons and for topical reasons that I think can be turned into 1 or 2 additional conference papers rather easily (and I think I've found appropriate venues for both). Pros: More publications, more lines on the CV, potentially. Cons: the summer's ending quickly; should I instead be spending my time doing experiments and collecting data? (i.e., is writing the best use of my limited time?)

Another possibility also involves writing: I definitely have enough material and results for a journal paper, so I could spend some time getting a draft done and possibly submitted by the end of the summer. Pros: Big publication points for journal articles--I'm doing well in that category but could always use more. Plus there is an increasing amount of interest in my work, so strike while the iron is hot, as they say. Cons: see above.

The third possibility is to spend more time on this little side project I started earlier this summer, which at some point will play a much bigger role in my work but for now is more exploratory in nature. It might lead to a paper, but it's not guaranteed. But it definitely needs to be done at some point. Pros: Finishing this will clarify where I go next with a crucial part of my research. Plus, it's been on my mind for a while, so finishing it will be psychologically freeing. Cons: The payoff is not immediate; this is definitely longer-term work.

So that's my current dilemma. I realize that I can work on a subset of these simultaneously, but for my own sanity I need to feel like one of these is *the* number one priority. Otherwise, I'll just flit from task to task and not accomplish anything. What to do??


Anonymous said...

Do whatever will make you the most marketable in the short-run. Even if you're not ready to solicit offers right now, you may feel differently in 6 months.

There's no more satisfying revenge than leaving for a higher ranked department and thriving!

Lisa, Paper Chaser said...

anony is probably right here--pick the one you are either most excited about or you think will pay off the most (I hope they are the same one!) and begin outlining.

Anne said...
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ScienceWoman said...

I agree. Unfortunately, it sounds like the side project will have to continue to be on the side while you continue to crank out some pubs.

slg said...

I go for the 'psychologically freeing' option, whatever that is. Since the semester is rapidly approaching, choose something you can reasonably get done by then, and that will give you a sense of accomplishment/satisfaction, so you can check something off your list...

Anonymous said...

Get FreeMind software (it's free) and do a mindmap of your problem or make a Gantt chart to see how all the variables might dovetail best together. Or do a simple Ishikawa chart ("fishbone" diagram) to help you see the problem better. Even go and get "How to Solve It" by G. Polya to help you think through the problem. You can find links to these at my blog under "Websites" in alpha order if you wish:

Michael Flessas

P.S.- Yes, there is a link to your blog on my blog. Best wishes to you in your research.

Wicked Teacher of the West said...

My sense is that the writing is worth your time. First, big publication points for either journal or conference entries. Second, I know if I don't write things down, I forget them, so you may not be able to wait and do it later unless you write up good notes/outline, at which point you might as well just write the whole thing. (Or that's how I write!) Third, the research is important, so you'll manage to prioritize it higher at some point, while you might not prioritize the writing higher - right now they're all equal.

My friend said yesterday that for us busy people, the trick is getting each thing high enough on the priority list to complete significant work on it - there's always too much to do, it is just a matter of juggling priorities.

Of course, it is summer, so really I'd say do whatever seems like the most FUN!

Jane said...

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone! See the original post for an update on what I decided to do.

Michael, thanks for the software/procedural suggestions! I'll check them out.

GK, I totally agree with the priorities thing: just the act of saying "this is worth my time and energy" is often enough to propel me to actually do it. Your friend is very wise!

Saoirse said...

It sounds like you have a really good plan. Good luck.