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When possible, Set Target Dates Instead of Deadlines for Research Goals

When possible, Set Target Dates Instead of Deadlines for Research Goals

Sometimes researchers, particularly those who are new in a lab, try to set deadlines for all research goals. Although progress is important, and so is setting goals each semester, not every goal needs a deadline.

Deadlines are good when they help us stay focused on our objectives, but arbitrary deadlines can create self-imposed stress and actually ruin motivation. That is why we recommend, whenever possible, to set a target date. It can't always be done (see examples below), but no good comes from imposing an arbitrary deadline--especially when there is so much in research that you cannot control.

Target date: The date that you believe you’ll be able to accomplish a specific goal by, but if you’re unable to make it happen, it’s more disappointing than anything else. For example, “If I have the data on my assays by Dec. 5th, I will be able to include it in my abstract when I register for the cell bio meeting. That data will make it more likely that I’ll be accepted to the meeting, and I'd like to go to that meeting to learn about others' research.”

Deadline: The date a goal must be accomplished by or there are (typically) negative consequences. For example, “If I don’t have publishable data for my assay by Dec. 5th, I won’t have enough data to submit an abstract and won’t be able to attend the cell bio meeting. Then, I won’t be able to use the meeting to connect with professors I want to go to grad school with.”

Of course, you'll need to consult with your research mentor to determine which project objectives are suitable for a target date and which are tied to a deadline.