My five year plan

During my Ph.D and postdoc I’ve been challenged to think about the kind of research program that I would undertake when I assume a tenure track position.  Partly this is driven by the need to write up research statements for my applications, but it’s also an effort to put some of the ideas I’ve had into a reasonable flowchart so that I can think about how the individual parts all flow together into a cohesive research program.  This example was produced using the software package DIA, but it looks a bit clunky, I might try to jazz it up in Visio, or some other software package.

Figure 1.  A five-year research plan, showing proposed products from a focused research program, with a concentration on the Pacific Northwest.
Figure 1. A five-year research plan, showing proposed products from a focused research program, with a concentration on the Pacific Northwest.

As a personal development project it worked out fairly nicely.  By thinking about which data products I would need, what sort of intermediate steps I would have to consider, and how I would partition the work between graduate students, undergraduates and post-docs, I wound up getting a better understanding of the complexities of a long-term research program.  I also had to consider how things might work if portions of the program weren’t funded, and how I would finish projects if dependencies didn’t work out.  It’s also great to think of the kinds of collaborations that could come out of something like this.

As far as the model itself, the left most column represents data sources.  In the upper box you can see data that would need to be collected from the field, while the lower box indicates data sets that exist already (either publicly or requiring data use agreements).  The central pink box is the sort of work that would need to be undertaken in the first two years.  The final documents that arise from these projects are listed in the rightmost box, in part because they could be part of either M.Sc projects or Ph.D projects, but there is a clear place for undergraduate training in the research program.

Some of this is fleshed out further in the research statement that I include in my job applications (obviously, tailored to each job!), and this is just a sample, and not set in stone.  Regardless, it is a good opportunity to look forward and think about timelines for research projects that I might be interested in writing proposals for.

What do you think?  Have you done something similar, what are your suggestions?  How helpful do you think something like this is?

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Assistant scientist in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Studying paleoecology and the challenges of large data synthesis.

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