What are your goals for fall?

Sometimes I think I could easily fritter all my time away if I don’t have a clear list of goals. If I don’t remember what I want to figure out, I might just do all the little tasks others throw at me and feel accomplished. But then I would be so surprised and puzzled that others somehow found time among the thicket of trivia to accomplish something important. They keep their eyes on the horizon, I guess.

Most productive, happy people probably do this for themselves and don’t need anyone else to tell them to get busy. But it never hurts to have a mentor that reminds you to do this. It also never hurts to have a mentor that helps you adjust your priorities, or at least to see them from a different angle. This is particularly important across the transitions of an academic career as you become more of a mentor and leader.

It is also true that looking over the shoulder at what your group members are or are not accomplishing is important. Everyone should be creative, productive, and happy. If someone has decided not to work hard, or seems to lack enthusiasm, it will hurt the whole lab group. It is the responsibility of the lab head to mentor that person, encouraging them, or to let them go. Academia is not for everyone. Every lab is not a good fit for everyone. Most people I have talked to who have ultimately had to ask someone to leave the lab group have wished they did it months or years earlier.

A trimesterly report turned in to the lab head and then discussed gives everyone a time to understand whether expectations are met or not. This can be a preparation for asking someone to move on. But usually it is not since we generally love what we are doing.

We have done a lot of different reflective things. We have had brainstorming. We have had celebrations of paper and grant proposal submissions. We have had these reports in various forms. Here is the one I just sent out this year. Maybe you have a better idea or some questions to add.


Goals for fall 2015

Faculty housing at University of Chicago, The Cloisters. How many great ideas have originated here?

Faculty housing at University of Chicago, The Cloisters. How many great ideas have originated here?

due 15 September 2015


Please answer the questions below as a guide to future research and as an evaluation of past research.

Please also send us your most recent CV, including undergraduates, you have mentored and papers in progress even if they are not submitted yet. Undergraduates should send us a resume.

For postdocs, note that when you came, we agreed to two years of funding, so put your start date with us on this report. Funding past two years is often possible but will be dependent on your progress and our funding situation.

These reflections are due three times a year, 15 January, 15 May, and 15 September.


1) What have you accomplished since 15 May 2015? List papers and their status and note where they were 15 May. List projects that have not yet reached publication stage.


2) List the projects you are currently working on, exactly what you are doing, and who your collaborators are. List expected completion time. Give enough detail so the hypothesis and tests are clear.


3) List any projects you have not started working on but anticipate beginning in the fall. Give enough detail so the hypothesis and tests are clear.



About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Managing an academic career, Organization of a scientist, Your lab group and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What are your goals for fall?

  1. Liz says:

    I’ve been doing something similar with my group for a few years now. I ask them every semester to give me a bullet point summary of what they’ve accomplished over the last semester or summer. This is very helpful to me as I write up grant updates–among many other things. This year you’ve inspired me to ask them to list 3-5 goals/priorities for the upcoming semester. Thank you for the ideas!

  2. Vanessa says:

    I really need ideas for a fall goal list where should i look

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