If you plan to run a marathon in six years from now and if you want to do it really well, you need to plan your training schedule carefully based on your yearly and weekly goals. If you are a natural long-distance runner or if the marathon race that you are running is not that competitive, you may choose to just run whenever possible without careful planning…..in my case, I am not a super researcher who can collect lots of money and crank out high-impact papers. And from what I see and heard, tenure decision at Bucknell is moderately challenging; the retention rate of assistant professors is something like 50% including those who decide to leave, and once you pass the fourth year review, most (~80-90%) would get tenure. These numbers might be a little off but these are the ones that I remember from the new faculty orientation. Anyway, these circumstances meant to me that in addition to excellence in teaching I needed to develop a research plan for the coming six years. And, in order to plan well, I needed to have long-term and short-term goals. With the current competitive job market, I believe that most assistant professors are in the same boat.
Setting long-term goals
Your long-term goals depend on the expectations from Department Review Committee (DRC) and University Review Committee (URC). These terms may be specific to Bucknell but I assume that every institute has a similar system. Obviously, you want to set your bar higher than the expectations. My goal in terms of publications is to have at least six publications by the time I am up for tenure in six years. I also aim to have at least a half of those publications to be first-authored by my research students. After all, Liberal Arts colleges are teaching institutes that emphasize the teaching component of your contribution, which I like and value too. Intrinsically, I want my research students to grow as scientists through such experiences of being the first authors (how exciting!). This comes with an extrinsic reward from the review committees who value your mentorship and our students’ achievements. So it is important to have some publications with student first authors.
In the excel file named “Takahashi Lab Research Plan”, I listed eight projects that we are working on or plan to do so in the near future. In each project, I listed collaborators, target journal(s), and progress goals of every 6 months until the end of the second year so far. And I update the progress of each project at the end of each 6 month cycle. It is so easy for us to get caught up with teaching and put off your scholarship during semesters. With these long-term goals, I feel much more motivated about research and also feel relaxed about going up for tenure because I know that I would be fine as long as I stick with the big plan.
Setting short-term goals
Short-term goals are weekly goals. I have a google doc shared with all my research students (7 in total, 4 credited, 3 non-credited auditing). In the google doc, everyone including me has to 1) set weekly research goals, 2) assess your progress in relation to the goals you set, and 3) hours that you spent for research. During a weekly meeting, I go over those goals and progresses in front of everyone and talk about how everyone is doing. This obviously helps me keep track on students’ progresses. Students also learn to manage their time. But the even greater benefit is that you get your work done. As a PI and model scientist, I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of my research students. So I try my best to achieve my weekly goals (this blog post is one of my goals this week!). As a result, I have done much more this semester than I would have without this system. I also think that my students appreciate the fact that I treat myself in the same manner as everyone else gets treated. I am one of the lab members and I am not a perfect person at all.
This pair of the wheels (long-term and short-term) is running well for me. I have been also keeping (almost daily) diary for the past three years and put down daily goals in the morning when I have enough time. Setting layers of goals have become part of my life , which I feel good about. It really doesn’t take that much time once you develop your big plan. And I got excited. when I developed mine, about foreseeing how my research group will grow in the future.
I hope your semester is winding down nicely…. – MT