New Blog Series: Project Management For Academics

Summer is here, which means that teaching has wound down and research work is gearing up. A quick overview of my week thus far:

Monday (Memorial Day): Finalized grant application for new recovery study, including writing 3-year budget with grants manager. Reviewed contract-for-service agreement and returned to funder. Researched thorny question about RA compensation for travel. Exchanged numerous emails with collaborators about upcoming workshop.

Tuesday: Finalized hiring for new RAs for our mobile home park study. Wrote and circulated a job advertisement for another RA position on that project. Held all-team meeting. Met with human resources officer to discuss extending student employment into summer. Wrote and gathered feedback on a college proposal for new research space. Wrote close-out report for 2018 internal grant.

Wednesday: Scheduled all-team meeting for mobile home park study. Met with RA on pre-disaster recovery planning research. Met with collaborator for historic resources and flood risk study. Brought new RAs into project management platform. Submitted receipts for RA travel to conference. Submitted my receipts for travel to conference. Wrote email to college IT support asking for hardware costs to add additional computer screens. Traveled to attend project workshop.

Notice that actual research does not appear? After 8 years on the tenure track, perhaps the biggest surprise has been the amount of time I spend on project management. I write budgets, maintain schedules, negotiate overhead rates, research hardware/software needs, hire/manage/fire research assistants, build relationships with collaborators, and write project reports, among a dozen other tasks that don’t include reading, collecting data, or writing peer-reviewed publications.

Given the reality of life at an R1 institution, it is shocking how poorly prepared I was to manage projects coming out of graduate school. To be honest, my experience with project management has been mostly sink or swim, with too much sinking.

To help learn some new tricks, I am planning to write a blog series on project management in academia. But I need your help. What topics would be most helpful to you, as a reader? My initial ideas are:

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  • Project scoping

  • Establishing and maintaining project schedules and timelines

  • Writing and maintaining budgets

  • Mentoring and supporting research assistants

  • Hiring (and firing)

  • Software tools and platforms

I plan to read and learn about project management from the many resources available from the business and non-profit worlds, and interpret them into an academic and social science setting. I will also share some of my own experiences and project management documents.

If you have thoughts or suggestions, or just want to express your interest in the series, please contact me.