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The Black Hole

So, you want to be a project manager when you grow up…

BY BETH | AUG 08 2010

My first introduction to the world of project management as a field was in my previous job, when I took an intro to project management workshop offered.  After taking the workshop, I really wished I’d learn about this field during my PhD instead of after it, because the concepts and methods of project management are super useful!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First, some definitions:

“Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives. […] The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals and objectives while honoring the preconceived project constraints (e.g., scope, time, budget)”


A project is a temporary endeavor, having a defined beginning and end (usually constrained by date, but can be by funding or deliverables), undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, usually to bring about beneficial change or added value. The temporary nature of projects stands in contrast to business as usual (or operations), which are repetitive, permanent or semi-permanent functional work to produce products or services.” ((The source of both these quotations is the Wikipedia page on project management)).

Project managers, then, are responsible for “planning, organizing, and managing resources” of “temporary endeavors” with specific goals (like, say, a research project). I’m definitely File:Project development stages.jpgno expert on the topic, but it seems that project managers traditionally worked in areas like construction and engineering, but are starting to become more common in science.  I mean, I certainly was the “project manager” for my own thesis, but I managed things based on my best guesses/following along with what I saw scientists doing, not based on any “project management” methods.  Project managers in research institutes, as I understand it, separate out the planning, monitoring and execution of tasks towards the deliverables, from the science per se.  They are the ones making sure you have access to the people and materials you need, when you need them, to conduct your research; making sure you stay within the intended scope of the project; and making sure you get the job done, to the necessary level of quality by the needed date (or identifying at the start that it won’t be possible to do what you want to do by the time you want to do it!).  Which frees up the scientist to do their science. So if you don’t want to run your own lab, but still enjoy working in the research field, a job as a project manager might be up your alley.

If you are interested in finding out more about project management, I’d suggest checking out the Project Management Institute. They are the people who produce  “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” (the bible of PM) and offer a slew of credentials in PM.  You may also want to check out this open source Project Management handbook, because, you know, it’s open source, so you can check it out without having to buy it.

Like I said, I’m not an expert on this topic, so if there are any project managers in the audience, please let us know your thoughts or tips!

Image credit: From Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain.

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