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5 Barriers to Starting Great Research Projects

By: , Posted on: September 19, 2014

SYR IdeaAre you having a hard time starting a research project?  You’re not alone. Project Information Literacy found that 84% of students say that getting started is the most difficult part of a research project. We hear the same from many professional researchers, too.  But why?

We asked four experienced researchers to provide their thoughts on why getting started can be such a challenge. We’ll soon provide tools and tips to help you overcome each category discussed in this space and at #StartYourResearch. And we want you to share your opinions on the barriers and solutions to starting a great research project.

Select_lg1. Selecting a research topic. Was your last research project both enjoyable and original? If not, the problem may have been the topic you chose. According to two experts, this is a common challenge.

“I know that many students – and a fair number of faculty / researchers – have difficulty in developing research ideas” said Dr. Seth C. Rasmussen, a professor of Materials Chemistry and Chemical History at North Dakota State University.

“The most important thing in getting creative with your research project is to work out what you want to research, scope out your critical areas, and then formulate the key questions” according to Prof. Niamh Nic Daeid, a professor of Forensic Science at the University of Strathclyde.

Team_lg2. Building a great team. Depending on the type of research you do, you may need collaborators, advisors, or staff to ensure success. This can be especially challenging if your research topic is multidisciplinary, as many of today’s research projects are.

Building a team is complicated. “Putting together a multidisciplinary team…can be even more complicated” according to Dr. Jorge Gironás León, an assistant professor of Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile.

Funds_lg3. Securing funding. Professional researchers know that securing the funding to pay for your research is a critical hurdle to getting your project started.

Dr. Rasmussen said this is his most common challenge. Dr. Gironás indicated that relentlessly pursuing public and private funding has been a key to his success, and therefore earning the trust of potential funders is a critical goal when starting his research.

Content_lg4. Finding the necessary content. “It is hard getting started on a project, especially if you have a steep learning curve, of which I have had – and still have – many,” said Dr. Mae Sexauer Gustin, a professor of Environmental and Resource Science at the University of Nevada, Reno. Dr. Gustin thinks researchers need to do a lot of reading in the early stages of their research projects.

Making matters more difficult is the fact that sifting through the amount of content in books, journals, and databases can be “overwhelming” according to Dr. Rasmussen. Just choosing the right content to read can be a difficult task.

Organized_lg5. Getting organized. So you’ve got your topic, team, funding, and content. Now what? All the research! Plus you’ll have other competing priorities; things like updating your advisors, participating in events, and managing the lab.

Dr. Gustin and Prof. Nic Daeid both stress the importance of getting and staying organized throughout your research project. They mention workflow and prioritization techniques like list-making and mind mapping, and carving out distraction-free workspaces. Other techniques, organizational tools, and smartphone apps are likely to help, too.

Have you faced some of these challenges – or others – as you start your research? What tips do you have to overcome these challenges?

Did these tips help? Still have questions or want to share your tips and ideas with other researchers? Use hashtag #StartYourResearch on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion and engage with our community!

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