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.

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.

Academia, Compassion, Existence, Faith, Missions, Pain, Philosophy, Thinking, Time

Please, don’t jump

Life is hard: this understatement comes to my mind whenever I hear news from a friend about a tragedy in an individual’s life. There are some situations in which there appears no escape, like being trapped on the roof of a burning building. I guess you could jump off the side and end it quickly.

What would I do in an impossible situation?

I hear of a friend who has lost her job, she’s 58, single and has to stay home to care for her sick mother (who has dementia). She’s depressed and lonely, as many of us would be in such a situation.

I also learn of a colleague who has a broken family because of a husband’s mental disorder, and she is trying to keep it together. She doesn’t have control over the situation and can only grasp what she can, her kids and finances (maybe not the finances so much anymore).

So much, craziness in this life. I wish I could wave a wand and say it would all be better if they would “wait a bit longer”, but that isn’t a genuine answer. The truth is, I don’t know if a person’s situation gets better in this life. Suffering is the norm, not the exception for people.

I listen to them, more than speak, because it’s the best I can do. In general, I know my mouth can’t speak too much lest I give them something they can’t handle right away.

And that is the Truth. It comes back to the burning building. You’re trapped on the roof, the smoke is rising, darkness filling up all around. I would say, if I could, that the escape route is up.

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….

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….

Compassion, Philosophy, Relationships, Wisdom, Writing

A Change Within

I’ve changed.

I woke up and checked the news as I do every morning. There is so much bad news amidst the daily stories posted on CNN or FoxNews. Oddly enough, it has begun to affect me. In the past, I would glance through these stories and happen upon one that I thought was interesting. I’d read it, then walk away.

Now I’ll go through the stories and a feeling of disgust or revulsion would wash over me. I will consciously say to myself that there is so much bad news. Where’s the good stuff?

I don’t know what has happened within me. I’ve changed. I know it’s me and not the world. The content of the news hasn’t changed.

No such thing as new “…news, just old news to new people”, I recall someone saying.  Perhaps it has gotten worse, but not so much that the bad news would alone move me. No, I think something clicked on the inside not too long ago.

I’m now more sensitive to these stories of trauma and human suffering. The world is broken into small glass shards, and I’ve finally felt what it’s like to be cut and bloody.

Some may say this is a sign of maturity. I’ve identified with the world around me and I can see our reality, a flickering high-contrast picture, flesh and blood. I don’t like it, yet there is no escape. Try as I may, I’m here now. I suppose my job is to be still and know this is it, until a new day comes.

Academia, Career, Economics, Grants, Problems to Solve

Genius Enough

A successful academic career, especially in the life sciences is the acquisition of currency, which is earned by publishing quality peer-reviewed manuscripts and receiving grant funding for projects.

Earning this currency has an inherent flaw. In order to publish manuscripts, a scientist needs money, but money comes from grants. Conversely, to have a grant funded, an individual has to provide evidence of productivity and progress in the form of publications. There is, therefore, a cycle and balance that a science researcher needs to maintain in order to grow.

A scientist who wants to succeed and climb the academic ladder must be a dynamic machine, spending resources (time) that will further his own ideas by gathering grants and publications simultaneously. Failing at one entity will sabotage the machine.

The NIH did what?

The National Institute of Health (NIH) is the primary government source of funding for academic research in America. Receiving NIH funding is the hallmark of a successful academic scientist. If someone receives NIH funding for a large project, which may come in the form of a lucrative (>$1 million) R01-type NIH grant, then for up to 4 consecutive years that scientist can perform any creative endeavor they have proposed. Funding from non-NIH funding can provide supplementary sources of money, but NIH funding appears the priority when it comes to determining whether an academic scientist has made a mark in the field among his peers and is vital to attaining a promotion.

A different battlefield

A flailing US economy and war have resulted in a progressively declining NIH budget. NIH now funds less than 12% of first-time applicants. It is much worse for junior faculty, which receives less than 5-8% for the smaller R21-type grants (references pending). It is incredibly discouraging for the young and creative scientists, who are the future of academic society. These individuals who have either just begun or have had several years in the sciences are experiencing the worst of the economic squeeze. A large population of these scientists will have to wait or, in my opinion, struggle excessively for little salary in order to progress toward academic independence (i.e., spinning the grant funding/publishing cycle).

What does this mean?

Scientists who are firmly established in their academic fields will dominate funding sources, and therefore will be most able to control the publishing game. These scientists are generally of an older stock (I know of exceptions), and I would not be cynical to suggest that they are not ready to give up the reigns.

The incentives for young and energetic individuals to remain in academics are many and rewarding; however, time is not something anyone wants to waste. Given that the starting researcher in academia is compensated by a small salary in comparison to their peers with similar educational background in non-academic fields, it is difficult to justify remaining in academia.

Where will all the creative, motivated individuals go, if not part of this academic factory?

A lot of promising, young scientists are disappearing from Universities across the nation. I’ve seen it happen. Industry pays well and the atmosphere of the work environment has become more and more appealing for highly-educated, creative people.

Industries will rise and fall based on their corporate success or failure. But their success and failure is not dependent on poor political and national policies governing funding for academic sciences. This also has an interesting side effect, if this shift continues away from academic research: breakthroughs in medicine and technology will move toward private industries.

It might be okay, but it shows one common trait of our World: the driving force for human innovation is and always will be money.

For fun, hypothetical purposes only: 

To the extreme end—I foresee there being only two types of individuals who can happily remain in academia in the future: machines and geniuses. The machines work to produce data for publication. Machines do not have grants, either because they are unable to receive them in a poor funding environment or choose not to submit grant proposals (it’s a lot of work and a gamble). Therefore, machines rely on the geniuses for resources. Machines may be rewarded intellectually, not so well monetarily, and this might be sufficient.

In contrast, the geniuses come up with the ideas and tell the machines what to do. They have the intellectual might and/or ruthlessness to obtain limited resources. Geniuses will submit grants and get them. They will publish papers consistently and in great volume. There can only be a few geniuses in an environment with few resources.

Like animals….

No, seriously.

As a young academic myself, I love what I do, but I can’t help but wonder, am I “Genius enough?”