Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Why should you care about project management in academia?

I promised I would start this year on a more positive note going back to the original goal of my blog, learning how to manage a research laboratory. I was inspired by a discussion about Project Management on Twitter a few weeks ago. I've been obsessed with learning more about Proect Management for over a year now and I thought I'd share what I found out.

Design flowchart (Wikimedia Commons)
What is Project Management? I will do what we tell students not to do, cite Wikipedia. "Project Management is the practice of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at a specified time."

This should sound familiar to anyone who has ever published a research paper or written a doctoral thesis...possibly with the exclusion of "at a specified time". What many students and postdocs don't realize is that, in general, Project Management is one of the most important skills acquired during a PhD that is directly translatable to industry or to any other job.

Project Management has evolved into a discipline with certifications and Master's programs, and Project Managers (PMs) are a now critical part of most projects in various industries. In conversations with friends in PM roles in banking or IT, I have been amazed by how similar our issues are, and how easily we can share tips and concerns about managing people and tasks in our respective fields. While scientists usually develop Project Management skills on the fly, having some idea of the type of approaches that have been tried and tested in different industries may help streamline project development and performance. It's also a very useful skill to mention early in your resume when you are looking for a nonacademic job, and it's absolutely critical when running a lab.

To take the time to go through different aspects of adapting PM rules to research, I thought I'd run a series of posts providing info and useful links to additional materials:

1) General Project Management rules and how they apply to scientific research
2) Different types of Project Management approaches to chose from depending on your personnel and project (guest post by Duc Phan, UCI grad student and PM aficionado)
3) Managing your own project vs. managing several projects in a lab
4) Managing different people to make sure they perform as necessary and are invested in the project

Stay tuned! Links will be added here as the posts are published. Also, if there is something specific you are interested in, write a comment. We would be happy to elaborate and add more posts.


  1. Thank you for this post it comes in at a very timely manner!

  2. Have just started thinking about this as I start up my group. I'd be really interested to learn about project management software/web apps and perhaps some reviews or comments about what works/doesn't work. Would love to know if something like Bandcamp/Asana/Slack is really useful for running research groups.

    1. On it. I'll expand on a future post, but the answer is yes and no. It completely depend if you can get people engaged in using those tools. That's the hardest part.

  3. Awesome. After 4.5 years I feel like I am increasingly running out of control because there is just Too Much To Do.

  4. Looking forward to this series! Thank you!!!

  5. This is an awesome post.Really very informative and creative contents. These concept is a good way to enhance the knowledge.I like it and help me to development very well.Thank you for this brief explanation and very nice information.Well, got a good knowledge.
    Project Management Apps