How do you prioritize in the lab?

Time always seems limited, whether you’re a parent in the lab or not. So how do you best spend that limited time: with writing grants or papers or doing experiments? Obviously you have to do experiments to get data. You need data to put into papers to have publications in order to look good for your grants. Or you need to do experiments to get preliminary data for your grants. But how do you prioritize what to do first?

I spend most of the second half of last year writing grants, thinking that I would need money to have a job in the homecountry. Actually, I got a job on somebody else’s money, because all 3 of the fellowship applications that I wrote were rejected. This makes me wonder whether I should have spent my time doing more experiments instead of writing those proposals. But had I not written those proposals,  then the one that I submitted recently would probably not have been as good as it was (at least I thought it was good…).

How do you go about this? When does writing take precedence over doing experiments? As a post-doc what are your priorities? And as a PI where do you think your post-doc’s priorities should lie?



Filed under academia, disgruntled postdoc, experiments, finding a job, grant writing, life in the lab, postdoc, publishing papers, science, work

8 responses to “How do you prioritize in the lab?

  1. Jmcin9

    I have a hard time not doing bench work when in the lab. Obviously it is the only time you can do that. Data analysis I try to save for home, as I do with most writing, when the deadline is far away. When it comes to grants, I work on them during the day, when it is crunch time (1mo out), or when working on it with PI and actively collabing during the day. Papers have been the same way, for the most part, I write at night, then when close to submitting, or during revision, will work on paper in the lab. So for me I prioritize data/experiments. Now, the last, month or so I’ve had my time sucked dealing with setting up new lab, and writing iacuc/IBC protocols. Good experience in some ways, but I think PI should have had more hand in that.

    • Thanks for your comment. I used to do it that way, but with little kids it’s nearly impossible to work at home. Either they are up and I can’t focus or they are asleep and I need to sleep as well…

      • Jmcin9

        I hear you there, and no doubt that your nights have more non-science responsibilities than mine. It helps that mine are older and It also helped that they prefered mom at night as well. There was a nice time when they were old enough to send bed, but not involved in all the extra activities. Now we race around to sports, music and school stuff, which takes time and energy.

  2. I struggle with this all. the. time. There are always more experiments to do, things to read, and papers/grants to write. I like the first one of these things more than the last two. So, my time tends to be lopsided in that matter. This year, though, I’m trying to balance it a bit more. (One of my committee members in grad school always said, “A couple of weeks in the laboratory can save a couple of hours in the library.”)

    • Oh right, reading! I forgot to mention that, but that’s very important too. I find that journal clubs really help with that: it forces you to sit down and read a paper really well (but also takes up a lot of time…)

  3. Unfortunately I don’t have an strategy to prioritize time. And thanks for writing this post, so I can think about that! I just do things as they need to be done – my research involves several surgeries that require at least a week in between them for recovery. So my experiments usually last around a month and I’m forced to work on other things in between. My personal problem is that I am very bad at writing in small chunks of time! So usually I read and do in vitro experiments in between my in vivo ones. When I have to write something as a proposal or a paper, I stop everything in order to be able to write. And that usually happens when it HAS to be done, crazily before the deadline! That’s really not a good strategy… I believe I need to work on one ASAP!

    • I try to cut tasks into the smallest pieces possible, so that I can do a small piece of something in between experiments (or during Little Brother’s naps currently). I also find it very fulfilling because I get to mark things off on my to do list more often 😉
      But you’re right about writing big things (like the discussion for a paper or the rationale for a grant): for that I need to sit down and have a large chunk of time to be productive. But even for that I can prepare in my head during other tasks.

  4. Pingback: Do you apply for a grant with 3% funding rate? | InBabyAttachMode

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