Annual Meeting Reports

Project Management

Project management is popular in business as a method to help organizations improve performance. Speakers summarized the history of project management, described how project-management techniques could help in scientific publishing, and gave an overview of professional science master’s (PSM) degree programs. Ursula Bechert, scheduled to speak about PSM programs, could not attend; therefore, her remarks were presented by the other speakers.

Cynthia Chapman, a project-management professional, said that project management arose as a field of practice shortly after World War II and became a profession in the middle 1960s. Professional associations formed shortly after that, and in the 1970s, they established standards for projects, for their organizations, and for professional credentials for project managers. By the 1980s, research was being published in two project-management journals, and the first accredited university program in project management was approved.

Project managers apply established processes to monitor and control the costs, resources, risk, and time needed to complete a specified project. Project management is best suited for larger projects (one-time, complex efforts with tight schedules and limited scope and resources); it does not work as well for most small tasks or for routine operations, Chapman said.

Chapman emphasized that people involved in project management have defined roles that transfer well into science and science publishing. She observed that the project-management role of a team member could cover laboratory technicians, copy editors, and office staff and noted the parallels between project managers and journal editors. In her opinion, projects managed by Certified Project Managers have higher success rates than those managed by others. In today’s economic climate, the diminishing resources available to scientists and scientific publishers make project management a potential benefit for both parties.

A question Chapman raised is how to teach project management to established or emerging scientists. The solutions, Chapman said, are short courses to introduce concepts of project management, mentoring, and academic project-management courses like those in PSM programs. Chapman spoke of possibly introducing a CSE short course on project management. A survey of audience members showed that 90% approved of adding such a course.

The PSM degree, started as a pilot program by the Alfred P Sloan Foundation and the National Science Foundation in 1997, is meant to bridge science and business. A PSM graduate typically has 2 years of graduate-level education in science with additional training in business, project management, communication, professional skills, and research ethics. In lieu of a thesis, the degree features an internship, which often leads to employment. There are now 174 PSM programs in more than 90 universities around the United States, which has rejuvenated interest in science, addressed the growing convergence of academic and professional fields, and provided a wider variety of career options than traditional master’s programs, Chapman said.

PSM graduate Anthony Summers said that PSM programs can be customized to yield degrees that vary by scientific discipline and thereby allow publishing companies and scientific journals an opportunity to offer internships and hire from the programs.

Summers has put the project-management skills he learned into practice as an invasive-plant control technician with the Catalina Island Conservancy. Catalina, a small island off the California coast that was privately owned until 1975, is home to a number of invasive plant and animal species, including mule deer. Summers works with the Catalina Habitat Improvement and Restoration Program, which identifies and removes invasive plants on Catalina Island, actively managing 15 to 20 plant species. When he’s not clearing away plants, Summers coordinates with local government, applies for grants, and organizes educational programs for children. He says his project-management training is what helps him keep things going.

Chapman emphasized that project managers are changing how management and science are conducted. Using project management, especially with the PSM degree, scientists and scientific publishers can monitor, control, and improve the costs and time required for their endeavors.