Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oh manuscript, when do I write you?

Prior to starting grad school at NAU, I had the opportunity to work in a few other labs in my (loosely defined) research area. The projects I worked on in Lab1 are (more or less) completed and although I do put effort into keeping in touch with my old mentors and colleagues, this doesn't really take up any research time. In Lab2, however, I started a project that I never got to finish. The preliminary results looked promising though and so my adviser and I agreed that we would continue working on this project.

Fast forward a couple of years. After some delay (due to a lack of resources in my former adviser's lab), the project has come to a stage where it can be written up for publication. I would like to see some more follow-up work, but hey, beggars can't be choosers. Perhaps it isn't as nice a story without the extra data, but there's a story nonetheless and any publication would be beneficial to me at this point. So I really should start writing up this paper.

At the same time, I'm working on studies in my current lab. And by working, I don't mean working 9-5, but more like working 9-9 plus weekends. I try taking off at least one day a week to keep my sanity, but I often times find myself putting in a few hours here and there on my (supposedly) free day as well.

So here's the dilemma: when do I write this additional manuscript? Is this something I do on top of all the work I'm doing now? That's virtually impossible would make me very grumpy. But is it fair to cut down the amount of work I'm doing on the things I should be working on for my PhD? As much as I want to get a publication out of this, part of my stipend comes from my adviser, so I for sure can't (and don't want to - there's a thesis to be finished after all) simply drop all of my thesis work. But what is reasonable? Any thoughts on how much (and for how long) my productivity in my PhD lab can decline while working on this paper? Anyone?


  1. I encourage my students' projects "on the side" as long as they are of reasonable duration and I know about them. Figure out how long it's going to take you and talk it over with your advisor. Say, you will devote n weeks to writing, or 2n weeks where you work 3 days a week on the paper.

    Ask your PI if he/she's OK with this (I usually am) and if he/she can help. If PI is a coauthor, then it's more worth his/her time.

    You need to have some variety in your pubs list and as long as you don't drop everything for 6 months and let PI know what's going on, I think you should be fine.

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  3. My current adviser is not a coauthor. I couldn't even imagine bringing that up to my former adviser!

    At this point, I don't think my adviser will agree to let me work on this paper for n (in days) > 1, full-time. I get that - I'm crazy busy setting up (and running) experiments right now and I'm definitely behind on schedule. Three days a week for even one week would be too much. It'll have to be on top of other things (though my former adviser won't be happy to hear that).

    You're right though, I should tell my current adviser. I've mentioned it in passing, but not that it's something I'm planning to work on right now. I'm a little afraid s/he will think it'll affect my productivity in the lab too much, so I figured that if I plan this right, it may go by unnoticed ("Oh, btw, we just submitted paper X"). But that's probably an illusion anyway.