Academic work can be really challenging. We get lots of new and interested ideas all the time, and it can be hard to decide what to do with them. Should you pursue this idea or that one? Which one should you do first? Should you hang on to all of your ideas just in case you want to pursue them later? How do you go from an idea to an experiment?
We also rarely have firm, external deadlines, so our experiments and projects can feel like they go on forever. What does "done" look like? Should we do a fourth experiment to include in the paper? Should we re-write that paragraph? We can always make things better, and without a deadline it can be hard to stop perfecting our work and just submit it already.
To address this, in our lab we divide the year up into four Work Cycles. Each cycle is approximately 8 weeks long and corresponds roughly to a season (fall, winter, spring, summer). Each cycle, we decide what to work on by betting on well-thought out and clearly developed project pitches. There are two kinds of pitches:
On the Research Track, we pitch well-formed experiments that can be completed in a given work cycle (~8 weeks). We choose a few (2-4 max) experiments to devote resources to each cycle.
On the Improvements Track, we pitch well-formed ideas about improvements to make in the lab. These usually take between 1-4 weeks time and we choose a few (2-4) to work on each cycle.
Pitches are submitted at any time via our internal Pitch Workshop. Then, we work on shaping up the pitches we are most passionate about before the cycle's pitch submission deadline.
You can read our lab's internal document about the Pitch Workshop and how this process works here: How it works.
Inspiration / attribution: We've borrowed this approach from Basecamp (the software building company) and adapted it for our research.