The Part II Project is the first time that you have to focus on a full-time, self-driven piece of work for such a lengthy period. You are expected to take control of, and responsibility for, your own projects. For some this can be a daunting prospect. To help you, and to provide some development of what is a useful generic skill, there is a workshop on project management as part of the Part II induction programme, and there is a formal Part II project management process which all students must undertake.
Why is project management important?
- Setting goals. Identifying your goals and objectives at the beginning of your project helps you to focus and remain focussed on what you aim to achieve. You wouldn’t want to get on a flight to New York only to realise half-way across the Atlantic that actually you should have been going to Paris!
- You have a pre-determined, fixed deadline. Planning what tasks you need to carry out, how long each will take, and the order in which you will do them will help you to understand if your goals are realistic, and to achieve them efficiently and on time. Avoid ‘two steps forward, one step back…'
- Planning resources. A carefully planned sequence of tasks will mean little if you haven’t thought about what you will need to carry out each of those tasks. Identifying what resources you will need (consumable items, equipment bookings, technical staff time, training etc), and having them in place at the right time is crucial. Consider also the availability of resources when scheduling your activities, e.g. the basic SEMs normally available to Part II students will be essentially unavailable during the Characterisation of Materials module (wks 1 & 2 of HT).
- Assessing and mitigating risks. It is in the nature of research that things can and do go wrong, e.g. suppliers fail to deliver, a technician that is helping you falls ill, or an instrument breaks down. Many of these things are outside of your control, but thinking in advance about the risks to the success of your project will help you to plan what to do if something does go wrong. Expect the unexpected.
- Monitoring progress. Having a pre-determined project schedule provides you with a means of continuously monitoring your own progress. Setting yourself milestones also helps you to keep on track. Although ‘following your nose’ can be fun, it’s easier to navigate by checking where you are in relation to landmarks on a map.
- Self-control. If left unchecked, your scientific curiosity may lead you along a variety of side-paths, some of which will be dead ends, and some of which may lead to very interesting but irrelevant outcomes. Effective project management will help you to resist that temptation, or at least help you to consider any risks to your project, and to re-plan, if you do decide to take a detour.
The Formal Part II Project Management Process
You are required to complete three 1-page forms through your Part II, and send them to the Deputy Administrator (Academic) (please retain copies for yourself and your supervisor(s)). These forms should be downloaded from the Department’s internal web pages at www.materials.ox.ac.uk/teaching/part2/pt2projectmanagement.html. These forms can be seen below.
The Part II Coordinator will review the forms, and if your project is falling on stony ground then the Part II Project Coordinator will invite you for a discussion, possibly with your supervisor.
Project Management Form 1 (due Fri 0th wk MT) asks you to set out what you expect to achieve during your project, how you expect to achieve it and what resources you will need to achieve it.
Project Management Forms 2 (due Fri 6th wk MT) and 3 (due Fri 6th wk HT) provide you with an opportunity to reflect on your progress, and to describe any difficulties you are experiencing and how you intend to resolve them.
Please take the management of your project and the completion of the Project Management forms seriously. Be honest with yourself and with us. Don’t tell us what you think we want to hear. By all means discuss the completion of the forms with your supervisor, but you should not allow them to influence your responses unduly.
Please do not feel that you have to wait until the next Project Management form is due before you can raise any issues that you are concerned about. Your supervisor is normally your first port of call, but you should feel free to discuss any matters of concern with the Part II Project Coordinator at any time.
1. Project Management Form 1 (doc~42kb)
This should reach the Academic Administrator's Secretary by Friday of 0th Week of Michaelmas Term.
2. Project Management Form 2 (doc~39kb)
This must reach the Academic Administrator's Secretary by Friday of 6th week of Michaelmas Term.
3. Project Management Form 3 (doc~29kb)
This must reach the Academic Administrator's Secretary by Friday of 6th week of Hilary Term.
Supervisors Form (doc~190kb)
This form must be completed by the supervisor prior to the start of the project.
Project Management and the Part II Thesis
Assessment of your ability to manage your project is an integral part of the Examiners' overall evaluation of your thesis. The Examination Regulations require that your Part II thesis includes a compulsory final chapter on the project management aspects of your investigation. The chapter should include a reflective account, of no more than 1,500 words, of how you managed your project and copies of the three project management forms which you may refer to in the reflective account.
It is important that you provide in this compulsory chapter a good description of the way in which you managed your project in order that the scientific fruits of your labour could be borne. The following are some ideas that might help you to plan this chapter (N.B. they are not exhaustive and should not be considered as a template):
- Remind the Examiners of your initial objectives and what milestones you set yourself to achieve along the way. Note down whether you achieved those milestones in time. If not, why not?
- Were your early results in-line with your original hypothesis/objectives, or did they suggest an alternative path for your project (as much as we can plan, research projects often turn out to have a strong evolutionary element).
- In the early stages, did you think about what might go wrong and have a set of mitigating back-up plans. Did the things you thought might go wrong actually go wrong? Were you successful in putting your predetemined back-up plan into action?
- Did unexpected things go wrong? How did you cope with them?
- Did you plan what resources (raw materials, consumables, access to equipment and laboratories, other people’s time) you were going to need in advance? How did you ensure that they were all available to you at the right time? Were there any circumstances outside of your control that put those resources out of reach?
- How did you go about making decisions about your project? Did you take autonomous decisions, or did you take decisions only after consultation with your supervisor(s)? Did you have regular review meetings with your supervisor(s)? Were your meetings more ad-hoc as and when problems arose?
- Describe whether you essentially worked alone or as part of a group. If you worked as part of a group describe your role in that group, and how you ensured other members of your group carried out their roles in helping you achieve your aims.
- You might want to describe how you planned to write your thesis. Did you wait until you had done all of your practical work before starting your thesis, or did you draft sections as you went along? Did you use your lab book to help you write your thesis?
- Finally, you might also like to reflect on the planning and management of your project, and show the examiners that you have used this opportunity as a learning experience for the future; e.g. with the benefit of hindsight are there any aspects of your project that you now realise could have been better planned or managed.