Following on from a previous post that explored the notion of “academic” in academic projects, I now turn to the keyword “project”. In the Meliorist Model, a project is a set of actions leading from a current state to a desired goal. Within the context of academic projects, the existing situation is the current state of knowledge in a discipline. The desired goal is to extend the current state of knowledge in the discipline. The set of actions encompasses everything in the research process, or at least anything that directly relates to our goal. It’s almost a certainty that we would need to conduct a literature review. How else would we bring ourselves up-to-date with the state of the art in our chosen area? Like death and taxes, we can’t escape the project proposal. Sooner or later, we need to draft a project proposal outlining:
- our aims and research questions;
- previous work relating to what we are proposing to research (this is where a thorough literature review comes in handy);
- justify the significance of the research and how it addresses an important problem;
- outline how we are to tackle the problem, e.g. via a conceptual framework, theoretical methodology, or experimental approach;
- any practical applications arising from results of our research;
- and a project plan outlining milestones and anticipated timelines.
And a myriad of other activities having direct bearing on our progress, such as productive procrastination by reading PhD comics. Well, maybe not the last one, but it does help to relax after a long day spent working on our project.
A research project, indeed any project, is a sequence of considered activities taking place within a specified time frame and whose purpose is to make an original contribution to scholarship. I say “sequence of considered activities” because most important activities in the project should not be undertaken in an ad hoc manner, but rather as one planned activity following another. In other words, it is important to set milestones and plan our research activities accordingly. We often don’t have a say in the setting of hard deadlines, such as the date on which our candidature confirmation is to take place, the date on which to submit a draft of our thesis for examination, and the date for submitting the final draft of the thesis. However, for anything else wherein we do have direct influence, it is crucial to set goals and work toward achieving those goals.
Finally, a research project consumes resources such as time and money. Time usually means the amount of time we invest into the project each week, but it also means the time for regular scheduled meetings with our project supervisor(s), and so on. Money refers to any financial support we receive while working on our project. Financial support can range from money to buy equipment and software to living stipend. Let’s face it: we have to eat and money for food must come from somewhere. For one reason or another, many research students are not eligible to receive living stipends or scholarships. A common consequence is that they would need to seek part-time or casual work to get some money for food, accommodation, transportation, and other expenses. If you know how and where to get free (and nutritious) food, I’m all ears. Resources such as time and money are finite, and should be used wisely in the case of time and sparingly as regards money.