Setting Reasonable Goals For Yourself and Meeting Them

 Feb 21, 2017    by Winslow Hansen

I like a good goal. I like checking off the old box when something has been completed. Learning how to set goals can help us strive to get to the next level, increase our proficiency, get a paper submitted for publication, learn new statistical approaches. But goals can also be our downfall. Let me explain. I knew a student who was just raring to move on from where they were. They were getting close to being done, and started applying for new positions. A new job can be a wonderful motivator for closing a chapter of your professional development, but only when you are ready. This person was a bit pre-mature. The time they were supposed to start their new job came and passed and they were still writing. Clearly, they did not set a realistic goal.

So how does a young academic set a goal that is realistic but also pushes them to grow intellectually?  I don’t know. If you figure it out let me know.  As I write this blog, my deadline for publishing it has come and gone.

I’m trying to graduate from my master’s program next spring. So I can start a PH.D. in another town.  This means I’ve had a lot of experience recently not only trying to set goals for myself, but realizing when some goals just won’t be met and prioritizing which are the most important. When I started my master’s, two years seemed like an eternity. Heck Ya I can write three papers, learn a new remote sensing tool, revise and resubmit three other papers, go to class, etc. all while trying to drink my weight in beer and exercise my butt off each weekend. Then all of a sudden, a year and a half is gone.  I’m going to accomplish some goals I’ve set for myself but certainly not others.  Two papers submitted instead of three, less focus on reaching out to resource managers with my results and so forth.

This got me thinking. As young researchers maybe it’s not enough to just set goals for ourselves. Instead, perhaps we should develop two sets of goals; the goals that we optimally want to meet.  These are the ones that would make us rock stars. And the backup set. These are the bare bones goals that must be accomplished to propel us to the next step in our professional development.  Does anyone see the similarity here to how we talk about climate projections? As you plan for the future, bound the uncertainty with a number of scenarios. In the very least, this will keep you prepared to anything that may arise.

This post originally appeared in November 2012 and is part of our throwback series.

Winslow Hansen is a PhD student studying Landscape Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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