Academia, Career, Existence, Philosophy, Problems to Solve, Thinking, Wisdom, Writing

Grants: A Complaint

I’m about to do a bad thing. I’m going to break a promise. (It is not wise to make promises, I’ve heard before).

I’m going to complain.

Grant writing is by far the most frustrating exercise I now have to master–look at that, a sentence that’s too long. It should read shorter:

Grant writing sucks.

It takes up an exorbitant amount of time with no guarantee of reward. It’s like studying for a test in college. Day and night, study, study, study, and you know for a fact that you will have a random grade at the end of the semester.

I love the writing part. I enjoy playing with words. But it’s worse than blogging a post. There’s a judgement at the end.

People hate writing, generally, because there’s that sense of judgement. The style, the words, the ideas, they are all judged in your mind, and those of your readers.

It’s much worse when the writing is a grant where you’re asking for money (i.e., funding) because the judgement is a tangible thing. It is a piece of writing that is judged not only on the writing aspect, but the ideas held within. The ideas must be clear and good.

And so, while you write a grant you are judging yourself.

The problem is there. How is there freedom in writing something when it is under constant judgement?

I don’t feel any freedom when I write a grant. It’s a weight bearing exercise, the burdensome knowledge that I will be judged. I hate being judged. But, I suppose this is the life we live in, where ideas and thoughts are not entirely free, but all come with a cost eventually.

In my field, ideas are cheap until you get paid for them. Wow, I sound cynical! But really, I’m doing this for another reason so it’s not that bad. I was designed/trained to do this job….at least for now.

Okay, back to grant writing.

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Academia, Existence, Faith, Grants, Neurological Disorders, Philosophy, Politics, Problems to Solve, Storm, Thinking, Wisdom, Writing

Ambition

It’s a hard job, being a scientist. This is not a complaint, but a mere observation in the spirit of scientific fashion. It is hard.

I’ve been in different jobs. At this moment, from this vantage point, the biggest difference I see between working in a lab in academia versus the world of commercial business is the competition, the struggle.

In commercial business, the main impetus appears strongest from the outside. Your boss, your client, your project demand your very best. And if you satisfy your boss, your client, and do a good job on your project, then you will most likely do well in your job.

On the other hand, in academic scholarship, the main impetus appears from within. While there are certain external forces that vie for your utmost effort and attention, it is within you that the most demanding pressure manifests.

In this world, there are no deadlines to meet, no benchmarks or milestones except the ones you make for yourself. Hence, if you do not self-motivate yourself, you could float around in the nether until you’re either fired or find yourself in a dead end, low-paying position (relative to your peers 10 years your junior) with no way out because you’re too old.

Now ambition says that relaxing and enjoying your life is a waste of time. Well, I suppose a glimpse into this world of academic science would help people understand how things are done in the scientific world.

There is that internal drive that must be tempered. That internal beast that says you must produce otherwise you’re a failure. I’m sure everyone who has wanted to do well in their career has at one point experienced this monster. I battle this thing so that I can get good sleep at night, enjoy time with my loved ones, and do what I like as a human being.

There is nothing worse than a worker with no soul.

© All rights reserved by Childish Dream

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Career, Existence, Philosophy, Problems to Solve, Thinking, Wisdom, Writing

Expired Air, Now

Yes, absolutely true. I’ve been a bit of a whirlwind of life circumstances, more than I’d have the energy to post on a blog (and perhaps don’t want to put out in public).

Suffice it to say, I’d like to yell at the top of my lungs and say to myself, “okay, whatever…”. Seriously, why put so much stress and anxiety into things when you know, beyond doubt, that it’ll be fine in the end.

Fine, fine, what’s going on?

Well, I’ve got two metaphorical fires I need to stamp-out at work. No problem, I can handle them with my hands tied. There are, however, some issues that require my utmost attention.

I’m like a computer that has used up its working memory. Bogged down. It’s not an issue of life difficulty; it’s an issue of life giving me too much to do. Going to stop writing now–

–and breath. Talk soon, friends.

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Academia, Career, Thinking, Writing

Out Loud, Mindless

Quick lunch break. Time to blog! 

Today is data analysis day in the lab, which means that I get to sit at my computer for long periods of time, walking the fine line with carpal tunnel syndrome as I push numbers around a spreadsheet.

As it turns out, however, this is a great time to think. You turn your mind off for a while as the numbers move about the spreadsheet (and there are thousands). Then, you have iTunes running, and you can ponder the important things in life.

Things like what you’ll do this weekend when the weather gets better, maybe. Or, perhaps, topics of a deeper nature: why am I alive, and what am I supposed to do with this fleshly vessel I’m made of–though it rot away over time?

I suppose I’m doing the things I’m meant to do because I can’t envision myself doing anything else. Moving forward steadily as it were. Loving the freedom that I can question the problems I see around me; go out, spend a bit of time reading, then designing a way to test what I think is happening. I get to write, think, produce new knowledge (i.e., de novo, from nothing).

My attitude may change, as it often does with any individual. In the future, I know I will bounce around a bit in my own head with the things I want or enjoy to do. But in all seriousness, there’s something so unique about being a professional scholar.

Anyway, just thinking out loud….

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Existence, Problems to Solve, Thinking, Time, Writing

Mad March Dash

Wow, I missed a few posts these past few days. The reason? Well, let me give you the bullets:

  • Small scientific breakthrough in my project — surmounted a technical hurdle that has been bugging me for months
  • I had a visit with my doctor and got some potentially bad news (more to come)
  • My car had some issues and requires a visit with a mechanic
  • I discovered an old airbrush in the basement storage that I haven’t used in 10 years or so — I was playing with that on the weekend
  • I’m writing a research paper — a priority over blogging (my apologies, dear reader)

Whew! So, if there was ever a perfect storm, this March is madness.

Stay tuned….

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Academia, Economics, Philosophy, Politics, Problems to Solve, Time, Uncategorized, Writing

No More Newtons

English: Isaac Newton Dansk: Sir Isaac Newton ...

Sir Issac Newton

The man was a recluse, aloof in anything social. He threw himself in his work, staying at his desk for hours and hours and sometimes never slept. He was a professor and had few teaching responsibilities so he was able to disappear and work on physics and astronomy with no one to bother him. He was a scientist by all rights.

I’ve had moments like this. So absorbed with trying to figure out a problem or resolve some issue; maybe something that I might have thought was interesting. I have sat in one place for long periods of time working or just writing. When this happens, time has no place. I disappear.

But, this is rare. I’m a cog in a big wheel, and I can’t just go off the deep end for very long, no matter how fun or enthralling such adventures could be in my work.

In the distant past, a scientist didn’t have to worry about their ‘brand’ or reputation. After all there were so few of them. If you were a scientist, you were the only one in the entire town or city. Money was no problem. You were probably already rich, an aristocrat who didn’t have to run business or anything like that. You had a lot of time on your hands so you spent it by exploring the world around you. There was a freedom back then that is no longer true today. Scientists of old were an elite group.

Today

Though not bad in of itself, it seems now that successful academic science people have become best used within a corporate enterprise. I say enterprise because in fact science is now a matter of business. It is now within this construct of marketing, personal networking, and money-acquiring.

What has happened seems to be me like a saturation of the research field (a lot of them), and through some weird coagulation, some type of pseudo-feudal system has been setup in American academia. The majority of the most successful laboratories are the larger ones (i.e., several technicians, post-docs, tier-ranked scientists, and students), which have built-up over time a great system of resources, both labor and money, and through that body maintain the collective creativity of many, diverse people.

So, today with funding problems in science in this country, the corporate labs can keep moving and making those papers, and so can keep making money.

In the past, there was one scientific question, and 2-3 people working to get the answer. Now, there are 10 questions that maybe a thousand people are working on. Some might say this is good, but thinking about it–this doesn’t mean there are 10 answers for those 10 questions. It could mean there are 200 answers for 10 questions! Since there are only a few top-tier journals, there is a violent rush to beat your neighboring competitors. Because of the speed, each answer might differ by a little bit. A little bit here, a bit there.

In the past, those 2-3 people would answer that question. It might take them a year or two, but they’d produce solid evidence that had no wobbly room. What great concrete and solid foundations they have built.

No more Sir Issac Newtons running around discovering or describing the properties of gravity; not alone at least. It’s kind of a bitter-sweet predicament for modern science. Corporate science appears to be our future.

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Academia, Coffee, Compassion, Missions, Neurological Disorders, Problems to Solve, Spinal Cord Injury, Writing

Steadfast, moving forward

I failed to meet my goal to maintain a posting frequency of one per day. I knew it was unrealistic given the workload I have in the lab. My well-being improves when I’m away from a computer as well (i.e., long-term desk work is bad for your health). Don’t get me wrong, I can be a prolific writer. I can dump my thoughts on a page and have you all read my freely associated mind boggles straight-up like a shot glass of 200 proof ethanol. Yes.

In other news, I’ll just say that drinking coffee chronically and then stopping abruptly is dumb. I couldn’t keep my head above my shoulders for more than 20 minutes this weekend. I’m back though.

In the lab today…

I presented my research to about 20 of my peers, including the director of the research Center. I’m happy to report that I’m alive with my ego intact. I’m at peace with my ideas; the tearing and gnashing of my conceptual approach did not happen. So, now that I’ve got the proverbial green light to continue moving forward, I shall.  I’d like to thank my friend, mswestfall who authors the blog My Unplanned Life, for her moral support over the weekend.

Now, I’m moving forward with writing a cover letter to an editor of an academic journal. I’d like to submit my report for publication in this journal. It would be really kind of them to accept my work there, because that would get the word out about what I do in the lab. It’s such a pleasure when people hear what you have to say, understand it, and then somehow apply it. Feels good to know my thinking is relevant and useful and that people agree. We’ll see….

Steadfast

I had a thought about how I had become steadfast in my work. Not always like this; not really. When I was younger, just a few years ago, I used to become anxious that I wasn’t doing a good enough job. I’d work hard, then I’d feel that I had done, inadequately. That was what drove me. It was a feeling of fear or anxiety in my job.

No longer true. I’m more confident than before, hence, I feel more “free” to explore my ideas, and know that should I choose, I have the technical capability to execute. This is maturity, I think, and what a silly ladder we climb. I’m not even sure I need to consider this stuff anymore. Just go. Step. This is how I live now I suppose; within this routine of work, rest, work, and final rest. Bad things happen in my job, failure in an experiment, but I keep moving.

A lesson of wisdom, perhaps. I’m pedaling a bicycle, up and down, but the end result is forward motion. I know I’m moving forward, metaphorically, because I see the anchors and milestones behind me. Alas, as a scientist, as a human, I’m steadfast, moving forward.

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