Goals for 2019

Yesterday I published a post reflecting on 2018 – a massive year for me that encompassed huge highs (hello PhD!), and some very real lows as well. Many of those lows were in relation to my personal life, and this blog is not the place to talk about them. That conscious decision to only include professional things in my reflections made it look like 2018 was essentially made up of achievement after achievement; good thing after good thing. Lots of good things did happen in 2018, but there is room for improvement to make 2019 the year that I want it to be – enter, goals for 2019!

A side note before I get into my goals: this year it feels like there’s an awful lot of people rubbishing the idea of the new year being a trigger for change, but for me it works. It’s an obvious time to refocus and reassess what I want out of both my professional and personal lives, and looking back gives me a boost to kick start the year with positive intentions. This isn’t about turning supposedly bad habits into good ones, or that whole ‘new year, new me’ bullshit, it’s just about making some tweaks to make sure that I have realistic expectations for the year ahead.

So, some things I’d like to do in 2019…

Refocus my career aspirations and invest my time accordingly
As I said in my reflections post, I spent a huge amount of time doing public engagement and science communication activities in 2018, but that’s not my job. I am not a professional science communicator or a public engagement professional, I am a researcher that communicates my science and works to engage the public with my science, because I am passionate about my field of science. I would like more people to know that research on research is a thing, I would like more people to understand just how important it is for us to get research methods right, for us to optimise and ensure our methods are as efficient as possible so that we can get good quality evidence from ‘traditional’ research (here I mean the scientific research that is being done to cure a disease or improve the way we diagnose etc, rather than research on research which is what I do).

Towards the end of 2018 my research work started to suffer because I was spending too much time on public engagement activities. Before I left work for Christmas it was becoming really clear to me that I needed to make some decisions about how I approach public engagement. I’ve said before that I don’t want to be a science communicator, I don’t want to make a living from doing public engagement; that’s still true, so it’s time for me to refocus and set some boundaries to make sure that I’m investing my time and energy in projects that are reflective of my future career aspirations – to stay in academic research that aims to improve the way that we do clinical trials.

Publish 2 papers from my PhD
This goal links in with the point I made earlier about spending a lot of time doing public engagement. Just after I submitted my thesis in June, I told my supervisors that I wanted to have drafts of 2 papers complete and ready to submit before Christmas. That didn’t happen, but in 2019 I want those two papers drafted, revised and submitted. This shouldn’t take a huge amount of work – I had one draft done and sent to supervisors before Christmas, so I need to spend some time editing that and cutting text down etc to send round for comments again, and the other one is currently sitting as a thesis chapter that needs to be reshaped. I’d really like to have both of these submitted and with journals for peer review by April this year, which I think is realistic.

Wind down my freelance work
I’ve talked about being a freelancer on this blog before – there are definite good bits and bad bits, but this year I’d like to continue winding down my freelance activities. When I first started to do freelance writing I liked the flexibility of it and the additional money I made enabled me to live more comfortably. Now I’m in a very fortunate position where I have a full time contract for 2 years when I start my new job in March, I’ll be on an actual grown up person’s salary and during those two years I don’t want to be spending my ‘spare’ time on freelance stuff. Instead I want to use it to put my absolute all into my research career – finding fellowships, making connections with people and doing some bloody good research. I enjoyed freelancing at times, but in recent months it has become yet another thing on my to do list; even during the final weeks of thesis writing I was writing copy for businesses, and this year it’s been a pretty relentless schedule of two blog posts (that require a decent amount of time to research before I even start writing), every single week. In 2019 I want to spend that time in other ways.

Rediscover a love of fitness
Linking into public engagement and all of the extra things that I’ve done along side my research, I have not been to the gym in months. I don’t mean like a month or two, I mean probably about 9 months now. I’ve been paying for use of a pretty high end gym for that entire time, and I have booked classes, but I’ve then gone on to cancel them because something else came up – Science On A Postcard orders needing to be packed or freelance projects had tight deadlines etc. In 2019 that needs to change. I used to go to the gym 4 or 5 times a week, and I loved it. It was a normal part of my routine, and one that kept my mental health in check just as well as my physical health. Recently I’ve been experiencing really bad tiredness – I’m hesitant to call it fatigue because I don’t think it’s been that bad, but I have been sleeping a ridiculous amount, and feeling too tired to do things like going to the gym. Starting the year with a holiday and some much needed stress free time has been great, and I now have some supplements that will hopefully help the tiredness to reduce over the coming months, so I’d like to stat re-building my gym habit, and start going to hot yoga classes again. Whilst I’ve been out of the UK I haven’t had access to a gym (nor have I wanted it to be honest), but I’ve been walking lots which has been a great way to see new places whilst also keeping my body moving.

Those are the 4 main things I want to focus on during 2019, I have some little things I’d also like to do or get involved with, but I’ll update those as and when they (hopefully) happen! What do you think of setting new goals at the start of a new year; does it help you? If so, leave a comment and let me know what you plan to work on this year – I always find that putting my goals ‘out there’ and telling someone gives me more of a boost to pursue them so let’s share and encourage each other 🙂

Hello 2017: Setting New Goals

aurelia_clock_copper_lb01_22016 was a weird one; personally it was a bit of a car-crash, but career-wise I’d deem it a success. I like the process of turning over a new leaf and reflecting on the past year – not necessarily with the whole ‘new year, new me’ in mind, but I do think it’s a good excuse to take a look at recent successes and lessons to learn for the year ahead. Time is also ticking with regards to the PhD, so it seems as good a time as any to get back into work recharged and armed with new goals.

Begin piecing together the thesis
Throughout the first year of the PhD I wrote frequently; I wrote a full ‘PhD protocol’ safe in the knowledge that it would never be published purely so that I had the timelines and task ahead of me worked out early on in the process. Into the second year I began abstract and full text screening for my systematic review, moving on to data extraction over the summer of last year. Other projects started up and required things other than writing, so it’s time for me to get back to writing more often. Whether the words I write end up in the thesis is not important; writing will help me to focus the project and ultimately the thesis later on.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times people have told me to ‘start writing early’ or ‘don’t leave it to the last minute’. I have started, but there are sections that I can get on with writing at the moment.

Read more widely, and more frequently
As I mentioned earlier on, I’ve been side-lined with data extraction and other projects, and my reading has definitely slipped. I need to get back into the literature, and as I was scrolling through Twitter last week I saw someone using #365papers. 365 papers is a project that I think was started by Jacqueline Gill and Meghan Duffy as a new year’s resolution for 2016. In basic terms it involves reading a paper every day (on average) for a year. I’m going to give this a go, and I’ll be blogging about the project periodically throughout the year too. Stay tuned for updates and wish me luck!

Seek out opportunities to publish

I’ve spoken to lots of people recently – both academics and people outside of academia – about the need to publish. Is it better to publish fewer, more focused papers, or more papers covering a broader range of topics? Every academic went with the latter. As an early career researcher I need to be publishing regularly, and the range of topics those papers include doesn’t seem to matter too much. I published my first PhD-related paper in 2016 (you can read it here), and I have a number of papers that should be published late in 2017 and into 2018. It’s time to actively look for more opportunities to publish though. I want to come out of this PhD feeling confident that I can go into a career in Health Services Research; applying for post-docs and fellowships with a decent list of publications behind me can only be a good thing.

Here’s to a happy, healthy and productive 2017!