Of all the skills and experience you can gain as a researcher, which will be the most valuable to your career? The ability to create surveys, perhaps? To design experiments? Run focus groups? Or even to finish your PhD?
Like most researchers, I’d say all those skills and achievements are valuable. As are many more areas of expertise you may acquire, regardless of your research field(s).
But what will potentially have the biggest impact on your career prospects? We all know the uncertainties that exist with research careers, particularly the lack of jobs in academia and the anxieties caused by continually trying to secure your next post. Given that these uncertainties are unlikely to go away any time soon, it is a wise researcher who develops their most transferable skills. And, the ability to manage a research project is surely one of the most transferable of all.
1. Managing a project gives you a broad and highly transferable skillset
Whether you work in academia, industry, government, or wherever, project management skills are much in demand. Why? Because they take time to develop and not everyone does them well. Employers need people who can communicate clearly, solve problems, make decisions. When you manage a research project you apply not one but eight key skills. So whether you’re one of the 40% of researchers who stay in academia after your PhD or the 60% who work elsewhere, these skills are an amazing asset.
2. Makes you focus on what is important
Doing research gives you the freedom to explore all kinds of interesting and worthwhile things. It’s why many of us are attracted to research in the first place. But it also comes with a myriad of tasks and demands. You may be expected to collect and analyse data, write, teach, look for funding, comment on proposals, organize and attend meetings, supervise student work, develop other people’s research skills, often in the same week. To manage research successfully, you must be realistic and focus on what is crucial. Employers need someone who can prioritize effectively to help them achieve their goals. That someone could be you.
3. Provides evidence you can do what you set out to achieve
We all have good intentions. Not everyone sees them through. Completed your PhD? Got that research paper published? Facilitated that new workshop? Such achievements look great on a CV, but even rejections can provide evidence of worthwhile achievements. Think of the (often collaborative) effort it takes to write a funding proposal. Even if your application doesn’t get funded, you still submitted it, which already sets you apart from those who didn’t. Chances are you learned plenty from the experience. Recruiters and promotion boards will want to hear about it.
4. Shows you can get things done within constraints
Sponsors and employers want results. If not yesterday, then now. Whether your research project is meant to take six months or six years, it shows your capacity to get things done within a set timeframe. Do it without going over budget and you’ll prove to sponsors and employers you are someone they can trust with precious resources.
5. Showcases your effectiveness, organization and productivity
Building your project management skillset, focusing on what it is important and achieving your goals with limited resources makes you a more effective and efficient manager. That means becoming more organized. This, in turn, has positive effects on how you manage your time and, therefore, on your productivity. Your reputation for professionalism and reliability will grow as a result. Who wouldn’t want you on their team? Or leading it?
6. Gives you a repeatable system and process you can use anywhere
Once you learn how to manage research projects effectively, you will have a process or system you can refine, repeat and use anywhere. With any kind of project (research or not), in any setting, organization, just about anywhere in the world. How’s that for transferability? Another great thing is you can start right now, building your project management skills and experience with every step of your research.
What will you do today to enhance yours?
For an easy way to get started, why not explore the eight key skills every successful research project manager needs to develop here on our free online course: Getting Started with Research Project Management.