(Last updated on: 06/04/2020)
When doing a big piece of work like a dissertation, thesis or research project, it is important that you plan ahead. As a serial planner, this is something that I am pretty good at- I did complete my PhD part-time in three years, after all (for more on how I did this see this post- how you can write your PhD faster). Today I will describe how to plan your time for a research project.
How to plan your time for a research project
Have a schedule
You will probably be given a reasonable time-frame within which to complete your research project. At Bucks New University, for example, we give students the entire academic year. The problem is, however, that the majority of students do not use this time wisely! In fact, once they have submitted their research proposal (a common dissertation element amongst most universities), they tend to give themselves several months off before starting to do any serious work on their research project.
The most dedicated students, who are often also the ones who achieve the best grades, will be able to advise you on how to plan your time for a research project. Chances are that they worked to a schedule, whether this was formally organised or not.
I recommend that you plan your time right from the start. Consider each chapter of your research project and plan when you should complete a draft of each section. Work backwards from your submission date to now- this will help you to plan your time for a research project. I have developed a handy research project plan template that you can download for free to help you, just sign up below.
Plan regular meetings with your supervisor
Your supervisor is there to help you and they can also help to plan your time for a research project. They may offer guidance on meeting length and when you should submit drafts. They will also let you know of any times that they will be unavailable, for example if they are or leave. This is important for you to know- I had a student who got cross with me last year during my Kilimanjaro climb… how he expected me to help him from the side of a mountain is beyond me!
I’m a realist and I know that you won’t always get on with your supervisor, or agree with what they say. BUT sometimes you need to play the game… they will most likely be marking your work so I advise you to grit your teeth and go with it, I doubt it will do your grade any harm, whereas not getting their feedback potentially could do!
Work around other commitments
You will have other things going on in your life during the time that you undertake your research project. It is therefore important that you know how to plan your time for a research project taking these things into consideration. Think about:
- Assignment deadlines for other modules
- Holidays that you have planned
- Special events e.g. birthdays, weddings etc
- Work commitments if you have a job alongside your studies
- Times that your supervisor will be unavailable
- Times that the university will be closed (especially if you require use of equipment/resources on campus)
Allow time at the end for formatting and final edits
Too many students will rush their research project towards the end, resulting in silly formatting errors, typos and grammatical mistakes. This will cost you marks and it is unnecessary. When you plan your time for a research project it is important that you allow extra time for formatting and final edits.
Writing a contents page (and getting all of the page, figure and table numbers correct) can take time- don’t underestimate this. Making sure the margins are the correct size and printing and binding your project can also take time.
You might find that you need to amend parts of your project too. Perhaps some of your findings that you discuss do not relate to the literature, in this case you might need to amend the literature review to allow for the new findings to be appropriately discussed. Perhaps your supervisor has given you major edits to undertake. Or perhaps you were ill and fell behind schedule. All of these eventualities should be accounted for.
I hope that this post has helped you to plan your time for a research project. For more inspiration on writing your research project you might also be interested in my posts how to write awesome aims and objectives and the difference between a research question and a hypothesis. I also recommend that you use some of the excellent research methods books available to you- I recommend Social Research Methods by Bryman and Research Methodology: A Step by Step Guide for Beginners by Kumar.
Do you have any tips for how to plan your time for a research project? Leave your comments below, I’d love to hear them!