Time

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Every semester over the last four years I met with my academic adviser to work out what classes I would register for in the upcoming semester.  And every time he looked at my planned schedule he'd see Music 081 (Marching Blue Band) on my schedule and ask "are you sure you want to do that again?" A ten to twenty hour a week course on top of a full courseload is a lot, especially when you add research on top of it.  I thought I'd give some advice to the prospective undergraduate researcher on how best to handle issues of time management.  Again, I'm pretty much just explaining what I did since that seems like its worked pretty well, but it should provide a good baseline for you to work from.

Research takes up a lot of time, and time is something college students usually don't have a whole lot of.  Sure, you may not have Blue Band, but odds are you have some club or team or something that takes up a fair bit of your life.  One of the big things you have to take care of before you start research is making sure you have enough time to put into it.  When I first met my current research adviser, he said that you pretty much need to commit at least ten hours a week to really get into a project.  Ideally, you'd want more than that, but ten hours seems to be a good rule of thumb.

So you need to plan ahead before you commit to a research project.  Maybe try to build some gaps between classes when planning your schedule, then use those gaps as a time to go to your lab and work on research.  Space out your more time consuming classes if you can so you're not totally overworked one semester (Hint: at least for physicists, lab courses take up a lot of time.  Don't take more than one at a time if you don't have to).  Even if you don't have specific hours that you're required to work, it's a good idea to try to get on some sort of schedule where you have a certain amount of time set aside every day for research.  This helps you get into the habit of spending time on research.

But inevitably there will come a point where you just don't have time for everything.  When you've got a big project due or something, and you just can't afford to spend as much time on research as you should.  In that situation, feel free to warn your adviser that you might not get as much done that week as you usually would.  As long as you don't do this every week, they should be understanding.  Though research is important to anyone pursuing an academic career, getting the work done to pass all of your classes is more important.  If things get really bad, maybe you have to drop one of those extracurricular activities.  That's not a fun decision to make, but you have to do it sometimes.  Or you could just try not sleeping.  That's not really a long term solution though.

Finding time to do research as a undergrad is not an easy task, but it's definitely worthwhile.  Hopefully this helps make it a little easier.

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