Setting Research Goals for the New Year

Setting Research Goals for the New Year

This is the season for New Year’s resolutions.  In the words of T.S. Eliot, “For last year's words belong to last year's language.  And next year's words await another voice.  And to make an end is to make a beginning.[1]"  In terms of scholarship goal setting, right now (early January) is thus an ideal time to give voice to your 2016 research agenda and make a new beginning (i.e., establish a new commitment to scholarly productivity).  Then again, as someone else once said, “We are not Human Doings. We are Human Beings.” 

Ultimately, our ability and willingness regarding doings (i.e., to generate research, presentations, and publications) can be undone by the fact that, as beings, we face the normal range of professional and social pressures, distractions, and time constraints.  Achieving by the end of December the research goals we set in the previous January ultimately takes focus and discipline.  We know our years will be busy; the question is whether research/scholarship will garner its proper proportion of our busyness.  Per Henry David Thoreau, "It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. The question is: What are we industrious about?[2]"  

How might we overcome the potential distractions?  This blog entry by academic scholar Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD, based in Mexico provides a nice summary of his approach to being disciplined and focused in writing and research.  I like his approach.  You may find it useful too; if not, the internet is rife with effective – and not-so-effective – advice and self-help ideas in this regard.  Ultimately, there is no cognitive shortcut or motivational trick to achieving annual research productivity.  Like many endeavors in life, meeting your research goals takes creativity, discipline, focus, hard work, etc. to succeed. 

I recommend a focus on good processes (e.g., commitment to write at least 2 times per week), rather than resolutions fixated on good outcomes (e.g., 2 presentations and 2 publications for 2016).  Goals related to good processes allow you to have steady accomplishment and achievement, both informally as you find success in building good habits and formally as maintaining these good research processes will almost inevitably yield good scholarly outcomes by year’s end.

In other words, focusing on how you work toward your goals makes reaching them a natural byproduct over time.

At SAS, we hope our faculty and students take advantage of this fleeting annual symbolic window of opportunity to make a substantive new beginning on your research and scholarship.   And have fun doing it!

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[1] http://www.columbia.edu/itc/history/winter/w3206/edit/tseliotlittlegiddi....

[2] Thoreau's letter to his friend, H.G.O. Blake, on 16 November 1857.

Comments

Michael R. Solomon's picture Michael R. Solomon | January 18, 2016 1:05 pm MST

Dr. Gillespie (and SAS colleagues),

With all the attention given to outcomes in the health care community, we often lose sight of, or discount the importance of effective processes. Your recommendation to "...focus on good processes" helps us to break down large, complex research initiatives into "bite-size" pieces where we can focus our energies and draw new energy by accomplishing each step. I have found that mastering the approach that you recommend is a distinguishing attribute of my doctoral candidates who go on to complete their dissertations. 

A strategy that I have found helpful to consistently being productive in research and publishing is to be "opportunistic." That is, keep your ears to the ground for projects at your workplace or among your professional network where a research component would enhance the effort. Then, pitch a study to evaluate the benefits of the investment made (whatever it might be -- a novel care intervention, new technology, etc.). 

jjgillespie's picture | January 19, 2016 4:25 pm MST

Dr. Solomon, Thank you for these very thoughtful comments.  I particularly like your point about the need to be opprtunistic --excellent point.  One never knows when a reach opportunity will knock. Best, James

Lee Nordgren's picture Lee Nordgren | January 25, 2016 4:35 pm MST

Dear Dr. Gillespie,

Thank you for your T.S. Eliot quote. You serendipitously connected all parts of my personal and professional life in a way that is life-changing. On the one hand, I clicked on your article illogically because it was not a topic of current concern to me. On the other hand, Little Gidding and your specific choice of a quote addressed everything of conscious and subconscious concern at this point in my life.

This is mostly just to thank you but as for the comment on being opportunistic, I respectfully offer a caution. My record of publications and presentations has come almost entirely from opportunistic successes. As I reflect on my C.V., I have failed to follow my desired and strategically superior research path because all my time for research productivity has been consumed by opportunistically following the clear paths to success.

This is fine for someone getting started but for someone like myself with more experience, it is time to reject nearby opportunities in favor of actively seeking research projects that fit tightly with my professional strategy, even if it slows my productivity in the short run. There is a place for being opportunistic but consider whether it is the ideal strategy for yourself before you take that road.

Thank You,

Lee

Michael R. Solomon's picture Michael R. Solomon | January 29, 2016 2:32 pm MST

Lee, 

You make an excellent point about the risks of pursuing opportunities for research that arise that may not help advance your strategic goals. Pursuing opportunities while keeping our activities aligned with our strategies for success is a delicate balancing act; I agree with your suggestion that pursuing our professional strategy should take precedence. At the same time, when a scholar-practitioner needs to regain momentum or simply get going on scholarship and research, keeping an eye out for an opportunity that presents itself and pursuing that path may yield benefits to professional growth in the long-term. So, as you stated, "...there is a place for being opportunistic."

Michael