I don't know if this is the right place (or the right tags) to ask this question or not so please tell me.

I am doing a research project related to computer science in my university. This is my first research project and it's really hard. How can I manage my big research project? I have a lot of ideas and in each one there are a lot of issues. The problem that I am facing is the uncertainty, I don't know the specific required time to finish something (because I don't really know it)

for example : I can't say "I will finish A thing in 3/12/2018 and then I will finish B thing in 17/12/2018" because I don't know those things(I have to learn them) How can I put a time plan for such things for my research? and How can I manage it?

  • I feel this is everybody's problem, who want to do a task. But this may not be the correct place to ask.
    – hanugm
    Nov 21 '18 at 7:58
  • Maybe reducing granularity from days to weeks would help. Nov 21 '18 at 11:55

Unfortunately, this sort of uncertainty is just part and parcel of the life of a researcher. I've been doing research for 15 years now, I run my own research group and this is still a problem for me.

  1. With this in mind, my first piece of advice is not to feel alone in this. The uncertainty is not because of your inexperience. We never know how long research will take because, by definition, we don't know the answer yet, thats what makes it research.

  2. Keep a notebook (real or computational) for each project/idea category and write your thoughts in them.

  3. Celebrate any concrete progress however small.

  • +1 for "Keep a notebook". Serious researchers keep (and always carry) a notebook in which they write down ideas as they occur. They date them. Never erase or remove pages. Get a colleague to sign and date each entry. This can provide verified proof of the primacy of ideas if you need it later, such as for a patent application. It is a journal of ideas, often called a "patent book".
    – Buffy
    Nov 21 '18 at 13:27
  • @Buffy I've never heard of this practice Nov 21 '18 at 18:39
  • @AzorAhai, I learned of it from researchers at IBM. It is important that it be done with unalterable media - pen and paper.
    – Buffy
    Nov 21 '18 at 19:10

If it is truly a research project then for most of it you can't manage time since you are, in the nature of it, dealing with the unknown. Somethings can be managed, such as obtaining necessary equipment or software, but not the core of it.

Development projects can be managed, up to a point, since they deal with things that can be estimated, more or less. But getting insight into the core issue in research may come instantly or not at all. Some problems in CS have been around for a long time and are still unsolved.

What you can manage is how much of your time you devote to the project and how you deal with your other tasks in that context. You can also manage, up to a point, how effectively you use that time.

One thing you can do, perhaps, is to work on more than one aspect of the project at the same time. Whether this is feasible or not depends on the project itself, but if it can be done, then work on one aspect may give insight into others, and may also permit some of the work to be completed even if the overall thing is intractable.


Planning research projects can be hard and you are not the first one to face this problem. One method to plan is to break your work down into smaller steps. Even if you do not know how long each step will take, just seeing smaller steps can be less intimidating than one large project.

Graduate students (and experienced researchers!) also face this challenge. To help students, the University of Minnesota offers a Dissertation Calculator. This calculator would be a starting point for a planned timeline for you and help you explore uncertainty in steps.

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