An important part of managing your research project is setting your own clear and achievable objectives. This is a valuable exercise as it will help you focus on the things that matter to your research and future plans, help you build a comprehensive set of skills and experiences that you can articulate. This section describes a strategy to help you set and achieve these.
What do you want to achieve?
What it is that you actually want to achieve? Completing your degree is a complex problem with a number of non- complementary goals that need to be satisfied. Look back at, or formulate your research question or research proposal as a starting point. As your research progresses you will amend the objectives of the project as you uncover new knowledge. You will also add objectives which relate to your personal and career development, if you have not done this already you may want to add them now.
Try writing out all of your objectives and then consider the following:
- does each look possible?
- is the number of objectives realistic?
- do any suggest other objectives or sub-objectives?
SMART: A tool to evaluate your objectives
SMART can help you critically evaluate the objectives that you have set yourself. For every objective confirm it meets the following criteria.
- Specific: in both meaning and focus
- Measurable: so that you know when you are achieving progress and can declare success
- Advantageous: what's in this for you? How might you report it in your CV? If you can see no personal advantages, don't waste your time; you won't be seriously motivated towards success
- Realistic: make sure that you are being realistic: you can get feedback to help you do this. Setting learning targets in this way will, through experience, gradually improve your ability to manage your own self-development and learning
- Time limited: set deadlines and 'milestones', times when you will sit down and reflect on and review your progress.
Turning your objectives into a plan
Once you have identified what you want to achieve you need to start the process of turning these objectives into a plan. Look again at your objectives and ask yourself:
- what is stopping me from achieving this objective?
- what/who will help me to achieve this objective?
- why haven't I achieved it already?
Answering these questions will help you to put together a viable project plan, not just for doing the research, but for developing the skills you need to complete it successfully. For more detail, see the project management section.
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