More shelves or a larger trash bin?

I’ve been doing a bit of cleaning up lately. There were quite some manuscripts that I wrote or co-wrote that are still in various stages of the publishing pipeline. It seems that by the end of next week, I will have finished most of the manuscript work that was still on the desk for the near future.

There are, however, also some shelves that are filled with past work. Some work has been analyzed, but not that exciting, so the writing up was then interfered with by other – more interesting manuscripts or projects. There are also experiments that I have done during (and some even before) my PhD, and that I have hardly ever looked at with more focus. For instance, with a technician, a BSc student, and my boss at the time (May 2016), I started a pretty large field experiment investigating the effects of soil inoculations, which was then maintained by our entire project team for four years. The project has since ended, but the experiment still exists. We have never published a paper out of it, and to be honest, the last couple of years of data have – I think – not even been looked at properly. The problem with this project is that soil restoration takes time to become visible in plant communities, and in the first couple of years, the effects were difficult to visualize (although I still think that some treatment plots looked different than others – wishful thinking?). I used the donor soils for at least two well-designed greenhouse experiments with a response plant that was common in the field (Sysimbrium officinale), generating many results that I then never looked at (for aforementioned reasons). There are at least three or four more greenhouse experiments like that performed by me, that I could write up potentially.

Our field experiment in its third summer. Our whole team fought hard to battle the 2018 droughts that seemed to go on forever. Was it all for nothing? Or should I maybe write up my greenhouse experiments (or at least look at the data)?

It’s more likely though, that these manuscripts will never receive the attention that I once intended to give them. They are on the shelf, and will likely be left there until I will run out of plans, ideas, or necessity of sleep.

Now, I started my academic track in 2015, and published my first papers in 2016. If I have made one solid observation, it is that the further you get into your career, the less time you will have. Yet, I already have a few shelves full of dead ideas. New data is also already piling up, which will likely fill new shelves as history repeats itself.

I reckon that this is a very common thing in academia. So I’m looking for honest advice. At what time is it time to give up and ‘kill your darlings’ and dump those old ideas into a big waste bin, and use the time and brain space entirely on the future?

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

3 thoughts on “More shelves or a larger trash bin?

  1. I still have unanalysed data and paper ideas from almost forty years ago and every now an d then do have a look at the data and occasionally something does come out of it – so my advice is to hold on to it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luckily most shelves are now digital 🙂. But I can imagine it was a bit different 40 years ago… I don’t want to know how my shelves look in 35 years. But I’ll hold on. I’m a bit of a hoarder anyway, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

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