Making A Five Year Research Plan

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Many academics will be asked by their institutions to produce a research plan that will take them up to 2020 (the date of the next REF-style audit). In this exercise universities want their researchers to conduct ‘blue skies’ thinking that will fulfil their institutional strategic needs. However, scholars have their own agendas too. Here’s some advice on how to make your five year research plan work for you.

Thinking backwards:

Preparing a five year plan is a good opportunity for you to tie up loose ends. Doing your PhD you will have come across numerous avenues of research that did not make the final draft. So you will probably have several half-started projects or ideas that have a lot of potential. You might now be able to schedule time to complete these projects. If they are worthwhile to the development of your discipline, enhancing your own scholarly identity and furthering your career, then they are definitely worth pursuing.

Thinking forwards:

This is also an exciting opportunity to plan and develop new projects. It is vital to think big and to show your current employers or any future employers that you can deliver significant research projects. However, be realistic. Take into account the teaching commitments that will distract you from research and the competitive nature of funding and publication opportunities.

Planning ahead - career and research:

Using this method of five year planning, you can tie your research profile to your developing career. Do you want to move to another institution or gain promotion in your current one? If so, think of ways in which your research plan can improve your chances or doing just that. Undertaking an audit of your progress so far and your future plans is a perfect activity for the new year!

Institutional needs:

Your university (and future employers) will want to see that you’ve thought about three major areas: internationalisation, third stream income and impact. They may also have their own particular areas of focus that you can refer to.


Your research mentor will want to see that any projects are realistically costed. Do not just imagine what you want to research but how you will pay for it. If you suggest a piece of research that can be accomplished without teaching relief, practical resources, or travel costs then you can complete it when you like, but some funding will be required for most projects. Try to achieve a balance between internal funding from your institution and external funding from other sources.


You don’t always have to design, undertake and complete a research project alone. Scientists are much better at collaborative work than their humanities counterparts. Not only can collaborations be personally rewarding through developing connections and even friendships with like-minded individuals, but also much larger projects can be considered.


When thinking of your research plans, focus on the output that you will produce. This might be a traditional publication, a monograph, edited collection or journal, but could be something different such as a documentary, a museum exhibition, a website, a series of public lectures or a database. These outputs can be tied to the strategic agenda of your university, and to your career development ambitions.

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