Letting data linger in our labs is very common in academia.
Most, if not all, Principle Investigators have data that may never see the light of the day. Do you wish you have more time to write scientific papers? In this present post, I’ll share some tips on how to get control of your time, and how to use that time to turn unpublished data into papers.
Track your time and review your commitments. What are your non-negotiables? Weekly lab meetings and seminars? Weekly Journal discussions? Determine what yours are. Track your time hour by hour, day by day. Then, give some thought to it. Do you really have to attend the lab meeting or seminar every week? Chances are, once or twice a month, there are seminars or lab presentations you don’t have to attend.
Are there tasks you can delegate to technicians or students? Reflecting on several years spent in academia, I can say for certainty that every academic postdoc can find 1 hour each day to pursue better goals like researching gaps in knowledge and writing manuscripts.
Getting better control of your time starts with planning. Just a few minutes a day, at the beginning of your day or after your day’s work, write down key tasks. As a freelance consultant with my own business, I not only have to look for prospects, I also have to run the business, completing tasks like bookkeeping and marketing. It takes planning. Do you find yourself keeping two or more planners?
To maintain optimum productivity, keep one planner. You are more likely to complete a task if you keep one planner. Personally, I still like the paper planner. For some reason, I am mentally involved when I am writing things down on paper. I feel more committed to finishing the task.
It also motivates me to start other writing projects. True, it is easier to go digital and have the info on your computer synced with your smart phone. Both work.
Along with a paper planner, I enter key writing projects (eBook manuscript, business plans, professional letters, career coaching files, blog posts, etc.) in my phone calendar. The alarm reminds me when to start a project. I try not to leave it to chance. To successfully complete writing projects in industry, you must be acutely aware of time. You may have the best technical skills required to complete a project, but if you miss a deadline, those skills seem irrelevant to your client.
You must deliver high quality work on time, every time. It starts with planning. Now that you have freed up some time, what do you do with it?
Ask your Principle Investigator for unpublished data. Every Principle Investigator (PI) has some data lingering somewhere. Regardless of how old the data is, it may still benefit the scientific community. It is a win-win situation. You get to be the first author, your PI gets senior authorship, except if he/she defers to another collaborator.
No PI should have a problem with this. You are asking for data that may never see the light of the day. Even if an additional “control” or two is required, it is time and resources well spent.
Make a writing schedule. It does not have to be chunks of time. If you utilize the suggestions stated earlier, you should have 3 to 5 hours a week for writing. This is time that will not affect your current projects or commitments.
Use your time only for activities related to writing. If you do have to answer the phone or respond to a text or email, be brief. Just say you are working on a manuscript. Finding the right journal to publish in can be a difficult task, even for published authors. So, invest some time to find a good match for your manuscript. It may not be Nature, but you never know what impact that published manuscript will have on your career.
Getting control of your time will not only lead to more papers, it will also prepare you for industry. In future posts, I’ll discuss some other soft skills that are just as important as technical skills.
Until then,“Happy Reading”
Christiana W. Davis, MD
Owner, Consult To Aspire