The job of a researcher is full of thousands of tasks at any given time that must be juggled. It can be stressful and requires dedication to time management in order for everything to be given the focus it deserves and requires. This includes everything from preparing grant proposals to waiting for your work to be approved for publication.
One of the major stressors of this role is meeting deadlines. Research procedure deadlines are occasionally flexible because the researcher can look ahead and see if something is going to take a little longer or be faster than expended. But funding deadlines are frequently set in stone, as the funder has expectations that extend beyond the research work and into garnering a return on their investment. These high-pressure deadlines have their purposes, but they often serve as an obstacle to the ability for a researcher to work through their experiment without being influenced by the looming dates hanging over their heads.
How Deadlines Influence Research
From start to finish, researchers are constantly working under the pressure of deadlines to accomplish tasks. These deadlines are often prioritized over their own personal commitments and other work. This can make their workload seem overwhelming and increase an already stressful job, particularly during certain times of the year, like grant writing season.
Stressing these deadlines has impacts on the researcher both in and out of the work environment, such as:
● Prioritizing which important tasks to focus on first
● Diminishing the importance of career development until the last minute when continuing education units are expected, thus adding further pressure
● Increasing stress in the other work roles outside of research
● Increasing the amount of time spent at work and thus interrupting the work/life balance
● Increasing the pressure on researchers to adjust the experiment through purposeful bias in order to meet deadlines
● Increasing the likelihood of mistakes being made at some point through the process
● Decreasing time spent on complex tasks that require minute attention and resources
The deadlines may be important for reasons beyond the researcher’s scope, but the funder’s requirement of sticking to strict expected due dates may ultimately have an adverse effect on the overall outcome. Between pushing the researcher to complete work that hasn’t been thoroughly processed and analyzed, rushing the workers to prioritize the research over their other work and personal lives, and the increased potential for mistakes to be inadvertently made, funders need to consider the desire for a specific outcome to be ready by a certain date versus the goal of accurate work.
Suggestions to Improve this Obstacle
With so many deadlines constantly floating through a researcher’s mind, that of having to push their experiment harder and faster than they know is capable of accuracy is one stress they should not have to deal with.
To reduce the burden of this potential influence on the research outcome, funders can consider a few changes, such as making multiple deadlines for grant proposals instead of a single annual date.
Adjusting the timing of the funding cycle to prevent it from coinciding with major holidays, testing times, and other heavy stress seasons would give researchers a lighter outside work and personal load and allow them to dedicate more time and attention to their research. Considering the potential of the necessity of flexibility with the final deadline is another way funders can help reduce the influence of their rigid expectations on the research work.