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Rally Your Resources

Getting your resources in order as you prepare to start working on your dissertation.

March 3, 2019
 
 

Brady Krien is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature and an MLIS student at the University of Iowa where he works in the Grad Success Center. You can find him on Twitter at @BradyKrien and at his website.

In the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about project management. Partly this is because, since passing my comprehensive exams at the beginning of February, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how best to tackle the looming project that is the dissertation. But I’ve also been talking with quite a few grad students who are concerned about how to address and frame project management in their professional documents. A lot of employers are looking to hire people with skills in this area and quite a few of the graduate students that I’ve chatted with have expressed concern about a lack of project management skills.

Part of this can be addressed, as I wrote last month, by translating your experiences for potential employers, but grad students can also work to intentionally develop their skills and experiences as managing projects at every step of their graduate career. The reality is that, as grad students, we deal with major projects all the time. Whether we’re working on seminar papers, running series of experiments, gathering and analyzing data, or working to maintain the ongoing venture that is an undergraduate classroom, we are constantly immersed in the process of completing involved, extended projects. The key is to consciously practice the competencies that make the major undertakings of a graduate education easier and more streamlined and to hone them over time. There are a lot of ways to do this, but the best place to start, in my experience, is with mapping out and rallying your resources.

First, a clarification: I’m talking about resources in the broadest sense of the word. This includes campus centers, professional organizations, useful listservs, journals, and people ranging from advisors to research librarians to colleagues. This is not to say that you should think of people like librarians simply as resources to be tapped (you absolutely should not), but rather that it’s important to recognize and remember all of the different places that you can turn to for help within your network.

Identify the Tasks
The first step in managing your project is to identify the tasks. Walk through your project in your head and imagine each stage in the process. What is going to need to happen? This includes everything from major components like completing research, preparing samples, and writing a syllabus to the pesky administrative items like proofreading and making copies. Don’t worry about trying to think of everything (you can’t), but instead try to create as complete a list as possible with the knowledge that the list of tasks is actually less immediately important than what they reveal about the project as a whole.

Map Out Your Categories
Once you’ve figured out what major tasks you have to complete, start to map out the different types of support that you’re going to need or that you might find helpful. For my dissertation project, these included expertise in the disciplinary areas that will be incorporated into my dissertation in some way – the environmental humanities, periodicals and print culture, and digital methods. It also included general research and writing help, and administrative support for the process of navigating the bureaucratic hurdles that will one day be involved in getting my dissertation approved and deposited. And, of course, I included one of the most important categories: air support, the emotional support and cheerleading necessary to “put air in your tires,” as my brother would say. Physically chart these out in a big list, a large grid, a pie chart, large Post-Its on the wall behind your desk, or whatever way makes sense to you.

Populate Your Categories
Once you’ve identified the main types of support that you will need to complete the project, start writing names down. Some names may appear in more than one categories because some advisers may have expertise in multiple areas or may also be really supportive when you need a pick-me-up. Some names may be of individuals and some may be of resource centers, organizations, or even listservs (there are a couple of great academic listservs that I fully intend to pester when I’m struggling to identify the location of an archive). Try to be as exhaustive as possible and don’t be afraid to add additional resources as you learn about them or connect with them. Similarly, don’t be shy about eliminating a resource from the list if it doesn’t seem like it’s going to provide you with the support that you’re going to need during the course of your project.

Rally Your Resources
Once you have a list of all of the people, places, and systems that you think can be helpful to you in the process of completing this project, connect with them. Set up meetings to bounce ideas off of them. Email the listserv (sparingly) with your questions. Form a writing group. Review the journals and connect with the centers. Get input and feedback and learn about new resources. Over the last month, as I have chatted with faculty members, librarians, and colleagues in my department, I have honed my ideas and learned a lot about additional resources (including an incredibly responsive and welcoming listserv) that may prove instrumental as I move forward with my project. I also, naturally, got a lot of reading recommendations. The point is that, as I went out to selectively gather input and advice from various people and places around campus, I gained a much better sense of my project and the types of support that I can connect with at various points of my project. I also came back to my office with a renewed confidence in my ability to complete my dissertation because of all of the people on my side.

These are all forms of project management. Visiting the Writing Center to get input from a trained writing coach, seeking expertise from your adviser or another faculty member, and emailing a listserv are all forms of rallying resources in the service of larger project outcomes. Knowing where to go for help and, most importantly, knowing when and how to go are the foundational skills of project management that will not only serve you well as you work to complete your dissertation, write an article, or teach a class, but also when you enter the job market.

What strategies have you developed for managing your projects and connecting with resources in graduate school? Share with us in the comments or on Twitter - @bradykrien and @GradHacker.

[Image by Unsplash user Jo Szczepanska and used under a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication.]

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