time management

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time management

Postby researchwoman » Apr 12 2011 9:11 pm

Hi
I was reflecting on effective working styles at research, considering that it involves a combination of working at the bench, to reading, writing, reflecting, networking, thinking etc etc...I guess each person has their unique approach to how they prioritize and manage the different activities. I find that some are more action-oriented while others tend to reflect more and do lesser physical work at the bench as compared to the intellectual/intuitive work.
I wish to learn how different researchers prioritize and balance between these activities, what worked and what didn't over the years, working and planning strategies etc...it might help open up ideas about the 'softer elements' of biological research...
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Re: time management

Postby CrowSan » Apr 13 2011 10:17 am

Hi - an interesting topic! I tend to be very lab orientated but I also find that this shifts depending upon what stage of the project you are at. For example at the begining of a project one tends to read a lot of papers and spend only ~20% of time in the lab (preparing regagents, running pilot experiments etc). Later, as the project gets going then this naturally changes.
In an average day I spend around 4- 6 hours in the lab, and the remaining 2 -3 hours I either spend writing stuff (lab book, papers etc, this newsgroup 8) ). I also spend around 30 min in the morning (over coffee whilst waiting for media to warm up etc) going through what I am doing that day. As I have no real memory to speak of I also write a lot of post it notes reminding myself of any time-lines I need to be aware of (e.g. TUESDAY - MAKE PFA FOR WEDNESDAY GELS!!!). For long term reminders I use my e-mail calendar.
As scientists one of the things we have to develop is the ability to do multiple things in the same day. i.e. set up a H2O2 concentration experiment in the morning and whilst wailting for the end of the 4 hour exposure time, set up antibody staining on any slides we have, cell culture etc etc etc. I am currently working on about 4 projects, writing 2 papers and trying to help develop a novel assay system...whilst maintaining my sanity....still it keeps me out off the streets.

What works for me: Drafting out a weekly plan (mostly in my head) and then drawing up short range (1-2 day) work plan.
Early morning (~ 8.30 - 9.30) going through what I need to do that day, Late afternoon - writing up lab book and making notes on what needs doing tomorrow.Any spare time doing quick literature and google searches on any interesting topics. Also I would recommend the MIT review bulletins in "what's new" in the sciences.

What does not work:
Jumping into an experiment without having clearly drawn up what you need to do - what results you might expect and how this will be achieved (number of controls, materials and time required and how much it will cost).
Also not checking the literature to see if the work has been done previously. One person who used to work in my lab spent a long time looking at the effects of pH on the growth of Fibroblast cells. Work done in th 60's by Eagle!!!

The major dangers in any lab work are pressure, panic and distraction/inattention.
When one has a lot to do it is easy to panic - which causes people to "rush" something which can leads to mistakes, more panic and more mistakes. Take it easy and take your time. Make sure projects your working on don't clash time wise (time courses etc). If a boss is asking for the results (as they always are) if a work plan has been developed you can point to it and say "this is what I have planned, this is when the results are expected. If you want them sooner then I will have to change some of the research priorities".
Distraction and inattention are harder to control. Often more mistakes are made doing tasks that you have done many times before (the mind drifts and before you know it ...ARGGHG!).

Phew... this turned out longer than I expected (waiting fo a -80 to be serviced so time to head back to the lab and see what's on the slab!).
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Re: time management

Postby relaxin » Apr 13 2011 1:50 pm

I agree with CrowSan, planning is very important. Most experiments take more than one day to finish, you can write down what you have to do each day on a monthly desktop calendar. Every morning, prioritize the tasks for the day and do them according to the time each task takes. You will be amazed that you can finish many tasks and yet are able to go home by 5:00 pm. Some mental planning can be done at the end of day (in the lab or at home), so that you will not spend the whole morning next day on thinking of what to do.

There are down times. This will be time to replenish all buffers, reagents and lab supplies (e.g. autoclaved pipet tips, tubes) you have used up. It is also time to catch up with reading and writing papers. Writing on lab notebook should be done as soon as possible before you forget the details or the data on paper towel get lost.
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Re: time management

Postby CrowSan » Apr 13 2011 2:01 pm

CrowSan wrote:Writing on lab notebook should be done as soon as possible before you forget the details or the data on paper towel get lost.

hahahaha! I learnt that one early on!
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Re: time management

Postby researchwoman » Apr 13 2011 3:39 pm

Great inputs...very helpful...I do some of the same, usually doing the planning, reflecting and critically reanalyzing my strategies in the mornings and writing down my notebook at the end of the day. I do chart my to dos in a rough lab notebook which also works as a 'working pad' while at bench. I copy down the details from that and any remarks ( power went off for 5 min during step X of experiment etc...).
My actual lab notebook is more presentable for someone new to my work and I write sentences, page numbers, the aim and results.

I learnt over time to do a 'work review' either once-a-week or twice a month to see the project from a larger perspective. I go through my final notebook and read it like a story book to see what has been happening. It often gives me more confidence, captures what works in my project, potential mistakes, errors or limitations that were missed and the future directions.

I have been tremendously helped by networking (including this forum).

This is what I've learnt. Would love to hear more...
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Re: time management

Postby relaxin » Apr 13 2011 4:03 pm

Yes, "work review" is also important. This will help you to find the direction of your project and "missing figure(s)" that you need for publication. One thing I learned from my postdoc mentor is "paper-oriented research". Before you begin your project, think what is Figure 1, Figure 2, and etc. Then design your experiments to get the data for those figures.

I knew one very hard working postdoc who produced lots of DNA sequencing film (in the good days, we used X-ray film for DNA sequencing gels) without analyzing them from time to time. At the end, she could not figure out which film was for which sequence (she must have a bad labelling system). By the time she had to leave the lab, she was so frustrated. When I took over her project, I had to start all over from square one. In the old days, we did not have computer program to handle all the those data.
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Re: time management

Postby CrowSan » Apr 14 2011 8:09 am

Ouch! Poor record keeing is the death of results. That is definitiely one thing above all others that I would stress to anyone in research to do - keep good records! (and as Relaxin said write it up as soon as possible).
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Re: time management

Postby relaxin » Apr 14 2011 12:57 pm

Good record keeping is also essential for your career. I heard of a story of a researcher who was forced to retract her paper. She was accused of data falsification by one of her postdoc. She could not find proof of her innocence from her lab notebook. She said she was a lousy data keeper.
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Re: time management

Postby Barry Preuett » Nov 07 2011 5:37 pm

Writing on lab notebook should be done as soon as possible before you forget the details or the data on paper towel get lost.


I have so done that many times! lol
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