That's an excellent question, and the answer
depends how you define a "project."
>I work almost entirely on one big project, but
there might be a number of experiments I use to
study different aspects of that project.
For example, my project is to investigate and
describe a particular protein from the
bacterium Bordetella (the one that causes
whooping cough in people and kennel cough in
dogs). Within that project, though, I'm trying to
find out when and under what conditions the
protein is made by the cells, where the protein
goes after it's made, what happens to the bacteria
when you remove the gene for this protein (so the
protein can no longer be made at all), and whether
animals infected with Bordetella without my
protein get sicker or less sick.(Whew! That sounds
like a lot!) So I guess that's all one project.
Researchers in my position might keep a little
side project or two going as well. Since it's just
a side project, they might pick one that's more
risky or less likely to work out well, or they
might have a side project to keep them busy during
lulls in their main project.
Technicians and assistants might have only one
or two of those "sub-projects." If you become the
head of a laboratory, then you might have five or
six (or even more) of these big projects going on
in your lab. You wouldn't do all the work
yourself, but you'd be in charge of all of
A project like my Bordetella protein
might last anywhere from two to six years,
depending on how far I take each different
sub-project. Any one of those sub-projects could
be pursued for a year or more--it largely
depends on how the experiments go and what results
you get. If you make a career out of research,
you could pursue a project like this, following
new questions as they arise, for the rest of
your career! I hope that's helpful, and good luck.
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