Academia, Career, Economics, Faith, Neurological Disorders, Pain, Problems to Solve, Spinal Cord Injury, Uncategorized, Writing

Grant Amazing

I  did! I posted again!

Okay, it’s been a long time since my last post. While I feel bad about not keeping up with the blog, at the same time, I have a good reason. I’ve been deep in the bowels of grant-writing.

Science, despite all it’s glorious discoveries and wonders, fails without cold-hard cash driving it forward. In our day and age, money motivates discovery. Almost all our breakthroughs in science have some kind of sponsored backing.

Sad, but true. But then, many of us who are in the field of academic science research are driven by more than simply the need for knowledge fulfillment. Personally, I believe I belong in research (for now). And I love to teach…. which in my position provides me with that opportunity.

Regarding Money

With my desire to propel my projects forward, I’ve stopped nearly all distractions from my ability to devote time and energy to getting a grant. As some of my friends know, I’ve made this a top priority. I firmly believe that the work I’m doing in the lab will have some future benefit as well provide an exciting perspective on the issues of Spinal Cord Injury and Pain. 

A metaphorical image….

So I give myself a pat on the shoulder, because just a day ago I got a phone call from the funding agency that my grant application has been award full-funding for the next two-years.

I’m a young investigator, and this is my first grant funded as the principle investigator. In the course of an academic career, this is a THE milestone toward something “bigger” or at the very least more independent. For a little bit of time, and to a point, I will have my own little research space to study something on my own. This is nice, scary, and exciting all at the same time.

As I move forward, as the quiet margins open up again, I will try my best to continue my ruminations. Writing continues to be a great outlet… no matter the topic.

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

Enthusiasm Expulsion

The first step in any endeavor is planning. In my project, I usually need to start with anatomy. I need to know where the parts, muscles and nerves, fit together so that when they get messed up I can pinpoint where exactly things might have gone wrong.

Obviously, the anatomy I study doesn’t involve anything human. This is entirely within another experimental system, which is the reflection of our bodies–the prototypical lab rat. Well, I don’t want to get into trouble, so I won’t go into details except to say that this is a fully justified study that could be done in no alternative way. We go through a lot of regulatory paperwork, some of which can slow down our progress, but I can see the benefit in terms of preventing unnecessary cruelty.

Now, I’m fired up for this study and can’t wait to get the ball rolling. Yes, that’s about it for this posting. I wanted to expel my enthusiasm. It’s like a feeling of being on queue for a roller coaster ride. You know you’re going to have fun and excitement, definitely going to get sick to my stomach, and certainly some screaming a long the way (oh, “my life is over!” kind of thing); and yet, I step off at the end with something to report home about.

That is science, ups and downs, and some screaming in horror along the way. It’s not for everyone.

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Academia, Philosophy, Relationships, Thinking, Writing

Writing: A Scientific Instrument

Let’s bounce a ball. 

I write to get the concepts in my head into a single place. As such, I think writing is one of the most powerful tools I’ve employed in the years I’ve been a scientist. The physical and mental process of associating ideas together naturally and inevitably produces new concepts.

Free writing, as I’m trying now, engages the creative side; the imagination. And for the purpose of empirical research, at least for me, provides new avenues for me to explore.

There are relationships in the real world. Relationships from the top of the food pyramid chain-link all the way down to the microscopic level. Organisms, as complex as a human being or even a bacterium fail in isolation. Being alone does not compute in the mathematical formula for survival.

Here’s a twitch. Words fail in a vacuum. A single word has meaning, but it’s true appears only within the context of its usage. In my daily routine, I try to take notes, as random as they arrive through my thoughts. In a way, I hope through this “play” I will discover something new that my mind has buried within itself.

Within the imagination, sometimes and perhaps rarely, therein lies a gem of information that could not have been gathered in any other way, except through a heated discussion with your colleagues, or through quiet contemplation with pen and paper.

Writing is process for building valuable relationships. It is cliche to say writing is a journey. Writing is more complex than a simple journey, and paradoxically much simpler.

Let’s take this into the realm of science research. There are links between mechanisms that underlie disease. Cancer at some biological point is related to heart disease, for example. If such a putative link exists, then it follows that learning about one problem can teach us about other diseases.

Science is a big place. The knowledge accumulated over centuries, though piecemeal, actually amounts to an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to understanding how our physical world works.

A question exists. I write to discover it. Somehow, I feel (as corny as this sounds) that words and language holds a key unifying piece of knowledge. This key would solve all diseases because that singular meaningful knowledge would provide information to teach us about all the other diseases over and over again–like the shattering of glass that starts from a single impact. What is the first cause for the impact?

If we knew the first cause, then we could dissect all the other problems because they are built upon actual relationships. I suppose writing is a scientific instrument, because it is a process through examining, using, and expressing relationships–both within us and with our World.


The ball rolls off the table….

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Existence, Humor, Philosophy, Problems to Solve, Prose, Thinking, Writing

Is this burn out?

I awoke to the hollow clang of an empty gas tank.

Too much. Can’t focus. 

This feeling of just-let-me-sleep-more always catches me off guard. I don’t expect it when it hits me. I suppose it’s nice that I can write it down here. Not a complaint, but a mere exhalation of life onto a page.

I like how I can find metaphors from everything around me to describe my experiences. I’m climbing a hill, or crawling through a dark underground hole–and you know what I’m talking about. I’m burned-out and slogging along through the mud trying to finish the simple daily tasks beset in front of me, that only yesterday seemed trivial.

Funny thing is, I know tomorrow or even 5 minutes from now, I’ll have the fire again. I don’t know where it comes from: inspiration. An intake of air that propels you forward through the day, the minutes and seconds of experience.

So I patiently wait for it, inspiring oxygen (the non-metaphorical kind), and doing what needs to be done through habit. The emotion and drive behind it, a simple twitch of muscle.

I’m an academic….maybe it’s mental fatigue. If I dig through my ear canals, I may find soot and ash. I drove this car fast and hard. Time to park this vehicle I drive in my head on a parking lot in a fancy exotic place. My bed sounds nice.

But really, I suppose it’s not burn-out. I’m stable on solid ground. I just want to do something different. So many of the same tasks ahead of me. Done that, been there. Tedium. I’ve lost the thrill.

Yet, I know, I’ve heard some wisdom on this:

“Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.” C.S. Lewis wrote.

 

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Existence, Faith, Philosophy, Thinking, Writing

Imagine Imperfection

In a perfect world, super heroes would be useless. As I drove home the other night, that was what I was thinking. I know I’m getting a bit deeper and blunt(er) than I had anticipated for this blog, but hey, why not? Monday blues I ‘pose.

Truly, why do we create fake characters like Superman or Ironman? What is it with these fictional characters that will never exist in real life. And if you believe that these people in comic books and movies can or will exist someday in our universe then you have more faith than I do.

Crazy is another matter.

Anyway, I digress. This is my simple ramble about how we “waste” our time dreaming and pondering how great or inspirational it would be to either meet some of these fake heroes, or be them in some form or another.

I’m sure there are exceptional people who don’t get any thrill from these stories of characters with supernatural powers. But, deep down I think there is a collective and universal hope that somewhere there is something bigger, if this is the correct word, that can really change our perception of our current existence.

A collective hope for bigger.

I’m not sure we could reach this height without our imagination

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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.

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