Wait, is this work? Three project management skills you (probably) already have

As a humanities graduate student, I conduct most of my research and writing on my own. Although I rely on my adviser and colleagues for support, my dissertation is ultimately an individual rather than a group project. When I began working with Digital Scholarship Services in October 2015, I was surprised to learn that the digital humanities often rely upon teams, disrupting the paradigm of the solitary humanities scholar. Switching from an individual work pattern to one founded upon multiple team members can be daunting, but also exciting!

I am currently the project manager for Project Vox, a digital project that focuses on early modern women philosophers who have been excluded from the traditional canon.

My training as a project manager has been very practical; I’ve gained most of my experience on the job with the guidance of my bosses, Liz Milewicz and Will Shaw. Admittedly, it took me a while to understand the demands of the job and the nature of the work. However, what I now realize is that I and many other graduate students already possess the skills of a project manager! In fact, we use these skills so frequently that it becomes easy to overlook their importance and value. I want to highlight three essential skills for project management that successful graduate students are already familiar with.

1. Communication
As cheesy and cliched as it sounds, communication is key to managing a successful project (and to surviving grad school). Team members don’t always communicate their work, ideas, or timelines to each other, and a project manager should help facilitate those conversations so everyone stays on the same page. This can be accomplished via email, team meetings, or virtual conference calls–the medium can vary depending on urgency and importance.

2. Creating Agendas
Call me type-a, but I thrive creating daily to-do lists. There is something extremely satisfying about crossing off all of the completed tasks; it helps me to visualize what work needs to be be done, and what already has been done. Similarly, I create weekly agendas for the Project Vox team so we can use our forty-five minute meeting effectively. Agendas are comprised of both tasks and estimated time limits to keep us on track, and notes are taken during the meeting. Although this skill may sound trivial, its value should not be underestimated. The agenda provides the structure for team meetings, highlights deadlines, and directs the overall workflow.

3. Long Term Planning
Where do you envision the project in six months, a year, or five years? Unlike printed academic labors, digital projects require long term maintenance to survive and thrive. Looking ahead can help establish sustainable practices and informs what work should be prioritized. This type of thinking is especially important when it comes to applying for funding or grants. Grant applications take a lot of time to write, and even more time is spent waiting to hear if your application was successful; if you do have a successful application, then you probably will have to wait even longer for the funding to be available. This entire process could easily take nine to twelve months! Establishing deadlines allows a project manager to navigate long term goals.

Being able to abstract myself from my individual work and becoming involved in team projects has allowed me to identify and value the skills outlined above. I’ve learned to recognize the importance of sending emails, creating agendas, and thinking ahead–everyday practices in the life of graduate student that are essential project management skills.


Liz Crisenbery is a Ph.D. candidate in musicology at Duke University. Her research examines opera, politics, and masculinity in Mussolini’s Third Rome. She was awarded a James B. Duke International Research Travel Fellowship for 2017-18 to conduct archival research in Italy. Her work as project manager for Project Vox is facilitated by Digital Scholarship Services and supported by the Humanities Writ Large.