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Food and nutritional sciences research project guidance: Project management

Resources and links to guide you through your research project.

Doing your research project will give you experience of many aspects of project management, including:

  • working with a supervisor, and potentially other members of a research team;
  • time management - planning all the tasks involved in a project to deliver the end result on time;
  • resource management - you will need to work with physical and human resources, and within a budget, to deliver your project portfolio.

Please take into account that no survey work should be carried out without prior ethical clearance. The University requires ethical clearance to be obtained when personal data is collected either by questionnaire or by the analysis of human samples. The issue should be discussed with your Supervisor and the appropriate forms submitted to the School or Faculty Ethics Committee. See the Research ethics section for more information.

Working with your supervisor

Your supervisor is a valuable resource when working on your research project but they won’t tell you how to do your project. You need to take charge and ‘own’ your project as you will be the one who has to stand by it and will receive the marks for it. Owning your project means being pro-active and thinking of the ideas and direction of the project yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone as your supervisor can give valuable advice and act as a sounding board for your ideas. Consider your supervisor’s advice carefully as they have the experience to know what is likely to work and not work in a research project.

Working with your supervisor is a partnership and you need to negotiate a way to work that suits both of you. Things to find out are:

  • How many meetings with your supervisor you can have
  • The best methods of communicating with your supervisor – e.g. are they willing to give feedback by email
  • When it is appropriate to ask them questions – e.g. only during their office hours for seeing students
  • How much of your draft project they are able to look at and provide feedback on
  • Any deadlines for handing in drafts for feedback
  • Any times they will be away and out of contact

The kinds of things that your supervisor can advise on:

  • Whether your project is manageable in the time you have
  • If you need to have a more focused title or question
  • Whether your project outline is reasonable / workable
  • Suggestions for books and resources to get you started
  • Design of the research protocol
  • The data collection process
  • Analysis of the results
  • Advice on the structure and plan of your project and report
  • Feedback on specific chapters or sections of chapters

Meeting with your supervisor

Plan to arrange regular meetings with your supervisor (on average every 2 weeks). It is your responsibility to arrange these meetings.

Prepare the following for your meeting:

  • Results - summary of how your project is progressing
  • Questions - A top tip is don't be afraid to put questions to your supervisor, but it is often better to ask specific questions that you have attempted to find answers to first. Instead of asking "How am I doing?" you are more likely to get the detailed answer you need if you ask, "What do you think of the methodology I am using in Chapter 3?"
  • Issues - such as equipment failure, loss of samples

Time management

You have a limited amount of time in which to do your project. Whilst you can seek guidance from your supervisor the organisation of your project time is your responsibility.

For lab-based projects:

  • Find out realistically how long experimental procedures take – speak to the researchers in your laboratory. Preparation often takes longer than you think.
  • Plan time to clear up after yourself - this is part of the experiment!
  • Plan experiments to finish around five - you are not allowed to work out of hours without permission and certainly never on your own.

For literature-based projects:

  • Prepare for your literature search using scoping searches on potential databases
  • Allow time to accurately construct a comprehensive search and adapt it for specific databases
  • Be prepared to apply for inter-library loans to get key articles not covered by Library subscriptions
  • Learn how to use EndNote or Mendeley for managing your references if you aren't already using one

Manage the tasks associated with your project using a Gantt chart. This will:

  • show the time allocated to each task and the dependency between tasks;
  • establish the feasibility of your plan and as a baseline against which to measure progress;

The chart may need to be revised at each project planning meeting, in consultation with your supervisor.

Even though you've got several months in which to do your project, the time will soon go. Find tips on making the most of your time in this video from our Study Advice Team:

Resource management

BottlesBe aware of your resources.

Physical resources

  • What equipment do I need?
  • What access do I get? Do I need to book it?
  • Who knows how to drive it?
  • Do you need access to additional publications not held by the Library? How do you get them?

Human resources

When are the people you need free to help? Respect their time!

  • Who will help in the lab?
  • Who runs the Stores?
  • Who runs the prep rooms?

Budget

  • Be aware of the budget.
  • Your supervisor uses his/her own research funding to support your project.
  • Minimise wastage - for instance don't order 500 agar plates unless you are definitely going to use them.
  • Only order inter-library loans for key publications not available in the Library.

Useful books on project management