"A Necessary Fiction"
It’s useful to think of your research as a project, and as such, you become a project manager. This means you need to think of the activities you’ll be engaged in throughout your candidature and when you plan to do them. You are usually asked to produce a timeline in your research proposal for this purpose. This is a kind of blueprint for your research.
A Gantt chart is a useful way to do this. It shows your project schedule by identifying your activities down the left column and the month/year in which you’ll complete each across the top. Although there are free software products to help you do this, you can also use an Excel spreadsheet.
Rugg and Petre (2004) called a Gantt chart ‘a necessary fiction’. Although it will change throughout your candidature, it’s a useful tool to use for planning because it forces you to think about:
- all activities associated with your research
- how long it might take to take to complete each activity
- a logical order in which to complete the activities
- the ‘big picture’ of the project, to ensure you finish on time.
Here are some guidelines to ensure you get the most benefit from your Gantt chart:
- Think of your three milestones and identify potential dates for each (confirmation of candidature; work-in-progress seminar; completion seminar). You won’t have exact dates for these, but you should be able to work out roughly which year and month).
- Consider developing two Gantt charts: one with the major tasks to be done, which will form part of your research proposal, and another one where you break larger tasks into mini-tasks. For example, the mini-tasks involved in situating your research within the literature involve:
- reading the literature to identify themes related to your research
- within each theme, identifying seminal research, the key researchers and any areas of controversy or contention.
- ordering the themes in a logical order to show how they relate to and create the space for your research
- writing up the first theme
- writing up the second theme
- etc, etc.
- Don’t underestimate how long it will take for each activity.
- It can be useful to have more than one activity identified in any one month. Although it’s good to consolidate your work and not spread your time over many activities, to keep us fresh, it’s good to work on two or three activities in any one month.
Here’s an example of the beginning of a Gantt chart.