I'm a 3rd year Ph.D. student in an engineering discipline, and I realize that I am better at starting projects than closing projects. By closing, I mean that the work gets published either in a good journal or a top conference. I currently have 3 projects on the side (each of them started as a course project or a fun side project) apart from my thesis work. My advisor is flexible with this, but at the same time he would prefer me to invest all of my time in my thesis work (which is completely reasonable).

Given that I would like to continue in academia after Ph.D., I would like to hear tips and tricks on how to be a good closer. Should there be a restructuring in the way I think about publishing?

  • I don't think your question is specific to academia. It could be asked (and is valid) in other work and even non-work contexts. It could be the symptom of something else (perhaps a psychological help could worth the effort), e.g. procrastination – Basile Starynkevitch Dec 10 '17 at 7:29
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    Are these side projects somehow related to your PhD topic? – koalo Dec 10 '17 at 9:56

 I am better at starting projects than closing projects.

Well, this is not really about you, but the thing in the background is

having an idea for a project is often much simpler than working it out and finalizing it.

Some other words of wisdom are the devil is in the details.

So by declaring that you "are better at starting than at closing" you mount a straw man to distract you from the hard part of research. I agree, the first steps into a new idea are usually fun and some first results are easy to obtain. But, as you also noted, along the way it gets harder and often messier. Going through this, staying focused and sticking to the problem is an integral part of research.

If you would answer with "I could close the project if I wanted to, but I am just better in starting new ones." I'd challenge you to go for it and really finish one project before you start the next one.

As for the question "How can I get better at closing?". One thing is simply to realize that finishing a project/finalizing a manuscript is a hard but important task. Sometimes it feels boring to edit the manuscript once again, go over parameter settings once again, recheck derivations once again, update the bibliography once again... but this is a part of doing research: Bring it in a form that is useful to others.

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As the Pareto phenomenon states, many results are reached with the first initial steps. It is always hard to do the job properly till the end, which in your case means attaining the highest level of perfection worth a publication in a top-tier venue.

(As for your remark about taking on several projects at once, this is a different topic: you didn't ask any question regarding it.)

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