On biting off a little more than you can chew

by Lorie Kloda
Assessment Librarian, McGill University

Advice requested: Currently writing two manuscripts, one from a sabbatical that ended two years ago, and another from a recently completed research study. Also, data analysis from a third project is almost complete, and just began data collection on a fourth. Grant application for a follow-up study due in a month. Recently attended a conference and connected with a stellar researcher who wants to collaborate on nation-wide survey in an emerging area. Is a sixth research project one too many? Asking for a friend.

Sound familiar? Or perhaps unimaginable? For some, once the research bug hits, it can be hard to stop. For others, the idea of working on multiple research projects seems impossible. I find myself in the former group, always saying yes to new opportunities, starting a new research study before the current project is wrapped up. Sometimes I stop and ask myself, why am I doing this? Am I not just adding to already busy workload? Can I really do good quality research if I am trying to manage several vastly different projects simultaneously?

I decided that, yes, for me, having multiple research projects on the go is possible, and even ideal. I will try to present the case for taking on as much as (or, maybe a little more than) you can handle, when it comes to research.

Learn from your collaborators. Working on research with colleagues, including fellow librarians and other researchers, from within or outside your organization, can lead to a lot of new knowledge and skills. It’s also an added opportunity to learn how to work with different teams, sometimes in very different time zones. You can use the knowledge from one project to inform another.

Learn from, and about, yourself. Different stages of the research process require different abilities. Working on a project solo, or being responsible for an aspect of the research allows you to discover how you work best – be it that you prefer writing in a quiet, dark room late at night, or that you do, in fact, like making graphs and tables. You can then take this knowledge into other aspects of your work, and other research projects.

Experience with different methods and different topics. The more projects you get to work on, the more experience you obtain with different methods, and on different topics. This guarantees that you will not only increase your expertise over time, but that you will not likely get bored.

Contribute to the evidence base. Some individuals lament the dearth of high quality research in librarianship. If research is as important for practice as we claim, then we need to make the time to do the research that could inform our practice. As suggested by Pam Ryan and Denise Koufogiannakis in Librarianship and the Culture of Busy, “If something is important to you, make time for it.” Many research ideas arise because they are timely ¬– to the profession, not to your schedule.

All of the reasons above are good reasons to conduct research. But why get involved with multiple projects with overlapping timelines?

Research takes a long time. Anyone who has conducted research knows that there are times where the project stalls or is delayed: waiting for research ethics board approval, waiting for responses to a survey, waiting for a draft manuscript to be returned by a co-author. And, some stages of the research can be more appealing than others. When managing multiple projects, it is more likely that some aspect with engage you at a given moment. Use this momentum to push you in your other research projects. Because some research can take a lot a long time to complete, shorter projects can also provide a rewarding boost to one’s sense of accomplishment. Beginning a research study is a daunting undertaking, but being able to experience different stages of the research process at the same time can be stimulating.

In the grand scheme of things, juggling several research projects may not be the best strategy for everyone. But for some, it may be just the thing to get motivated. If you’ve had an idea bubbling away on the back burner for some time, or if you’ve been tempted by a colleague’s invitation to collaborate but always thought you should wait until that older project is finished, I would encourage you to reconsider.

My “friend” is still accepting advice, by the way.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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