As mentioned in my previous post, I spent a lot of time over the past week with I, a new graduate student. Interacting with her is reminding me of a number of little things that I have learned over my time as a scientist. A lot of those little things are obvious, in retrospect, but I always have to wonder if I would have spent less time flailing around if I'd known about or thought about many of them earlier in my career. A few examples:
1. Enter in your data as you collect it. (this is what I'm working on today, which is what made me think about this entry)
2. Along those same lines: Clean up as you go along.
3. While writing manuscripts, keep a text file with a "to do next" list. Actually, this should be started even before you start writing a manuscript. For me, it has been the simplest way to put down a project and then be able to pick it back up with minimal fuss.
4. When meeting with other people, put as much as you can into writing, but keep it simple. To have a focused meeting, have a goal for the meeting and put that at the top. Do you want feedback on a specific piece of writing? Do you want help with the experimental design? Do you want help figuring out the holes in your logic? Are you trying to figure out who to put on your committee or who to include in the project? The sooner you can get concrete specifics in writing, the easier it will be for others to help you make progress.
5. Have a plan for analyzing your data *before* you collect the data. You might change your mind later on, but this will save you many potential massive headaches. This means having a thorough outline of your experiment and its dependent variables. Is it frequency data? Continuous data? How many treatments are you comparing? How many figures in a paper will this translate into?
6. Consider keeping annotated bibliographies for projects. I don't know about you, but my brain and memory are small, and the amount of literature I need to be familiar with is large, and covers a wide range of themes. Annotated bibliographies are a shortcut for organizing your thoughts about the literature, and for staying on task with #3. I just keep mine in text files. No need to get fancy.
7. There are a lot of other useful sources of information that might be helpful. Don't skip over them. Read them in the evening before bed. This book
comes highly recommended (although I haven't read it, I suspect if I read it I would do a lot of nodding). For academic writers in all walks of writing, I've found How to Write a Lot
8. For keeping the different parts of a research project organized, here's an idea of how I structure my files. I'll come up with a short name for the project and will make a directory (folder) for it. Within the directory, I'll have subdirectories for: datasheets, raw data (as it is entered in to the spreadsheet), figures, R scripts, and the manuscript. I'm not good at throwing things away, so whenever I generate new files, I make a directory within a folder, label it "Old," and stick the previous version in there.
9. I like Zotero
as an open-source browser plugin for keeping track of references. I still download pdfs of references into a big (separate) folder, and label them with the authornames, year, and a few keywords. Note that this is completely separate from my annotated bibliographies.
I suspect I'll think of ten more pointers somewhere further down the line, but this should be a good starting list.
What work-organization insights have you wished you'd had at an earlier stage?