About the author: Beth is a rising senior undergraduate in Pre-Veterinary and Animal Biosciences at the University of Delaware. She is a student in the University of Delaware Honors Program and is a member of the UD Equestrian team. Beth has been involved in research in the Killian Lab since 2016 and is a Delaware INBRE Summer Scholar. Her research interests include investigating the injury and healing processes of rotator cuff tendon entheses via in vivo experimental designs.
If I could travel back in time and tell my newbie researcher self one thing it would be this: keeping organized and having a research plan is half the battle of setting a project up for timely success. Regardless if a project is in the nascent or final stages, I have found that organizing two fundamental aspects of a project, timelines and data, to be facilitative of project productivity.
To begin, keeping timelines organized and up-to-date helps the entire project team stay on track and keep in mind the big picture of a study. Using group calendars, Excel sheets, and chats can make it easy to communicate with project members. Before each week in the lab, constructing goals for the upcoming days can help make a big project less intimidating and achievable in small segments.
Do’s and Don’ts for organizing timelines:
- Communicate with lab members regarding a project timeline
- Utilize all organizational tools that help you create, and stick to, a schedule
- Be specific with goals
- Consider extra time needed to troubleshoot a task
- Be flexible to change as a project evolves
- Rush an experiment or take shortcuts to keep a deadline
- Alter timelines without consulting the lab members the changes impact
- Create an impossible schedule that a project team cannot realistically upkeep
- Tolerate drifts away from the schedule due to procrastination or unproductive lab time
By using project managing tools, such as dapulse (used below), organizing a project timeline and keeping all team members informed of progress becomes a manageable task.
Next, organization and management of data is incredibly important. All data should be backed up in at least two places. After obtaining data, one of the most useful things a researcher can do is take detailed notes on how the data was obtained and how it will be accessibly organized. Carefully recording this information will save hours of digging for it later. Similarly to storing data, protocols and notes should be kept in at least two places including a lab notebook.
Do’s and Don’ts for organizing data:
- Create a naming system for data files
- Share with your lab what your system is/ where information can be found
- Take the time to carefully annotate how data is collected/stored – you will thank yourself later!
- Have lab mates look at your system to evaluate its effectiveness and practicality
- Assume that data has been backed up
- Label data with ambiguous titles that do not accurately depict its content
- Only store data/ protocols/ notes in one place and hope that it will be OK
- Delete or modify original data
When all is said and done, taking the time to properly organize and manage a project from the beginning will prevent future stress and ensure a productive project timeline.