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On building a research programme, closing down projects and mapping new research trajectories


photo credit: d.p.Hetteix

The biggest challenge I have had in the past decade or so has been to remove myself from continue to investigate topics I have undertaken scholarly research on. For a solid decade, I studied transnational networks of environmental organizations. During the same period, I completed my doctoral dissertation on a completely different topic (the industrial/urban restructuring of cities and their associated leather and footwear industrial clusters). I also began working on water issues even before finishing my doctoral dissertation. I realize that not every scholar has faced the same issue, but I have a really hard time letting go of research avenues. It’s incredibly hard to maintain my fingers on the pulse of the literature on transnational environmental social movements.

The field of environmental economic geography continues to expand. And water? Social sciences’ scholarship on water has bloomed in the past 20 years. And yet, if you ask me, I would want to never have to stop studying these topics. I find, however, that I don’t have the actual time nor space of mind (nor have I dug in the literature enough) to continue conducting research on topics whose bodies of literature I no longer have at my fingertips.

I was having a conversation with a very close friend of mine with whom I’m working on a water/energy project, and I asked him how he dealt with “closing down projects”. That is, how do you leave projects behind? How do you convince yourself not to continue to want to do research on something that still interests you?

I think the answer is clear when the research project is associated with a specific dataset, or with a stream of research income (e.g. a grant). You were funded for N years. You committed to write A, B and C scholarly products and to present at W, Z and X conferences and to fund R, S and T graduate students. You end the project once you have gotten all the products you committed to at the end of the project.

But what do you do with projects that you feel you could still “wring”? Projects that could potentially help you build a new research trajectory? For example, I am right now extremely excited about work I’m doing on the water and energy nexus. I don’t foresee my excitement will wane in the next 5 years. What to do? Just out of the fact that I am only one individual, I will most likely have to give up on exploring other research avenues. This is a trade-off (money, time, human resources) I am sure other scholars face, so I’m putting the question out for you all to answer.

All feedback appreciated. How do you decide when you no longer want to pursue a particular research avenue?

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Quick reflections on what I have learned this semester – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on November 23, 2012

    […] last week, I was asked to provide my Research Plan for 2013 and my Research Trajectory 2013-2016. Plotting a research trajectory requires in-depth thinking and organizing. The final output was a 20 page, single-spaced page […]

  2. On the natural evolution of my thinking and research trajectory – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on May 17, 2013

    […] This document (my research trajectory and output file) is important to me because it gives me (and anybody who is interested in finding out more about what I do, including university administrators, fellow academics and potential graduate students) a clear map of how my thinking has evolved throughout the years. How I began some projects and how I’m closing others out. […]

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