Friday, February 29, 2008

Signs of stress

Oof! I'm glad that's over. My thoughts on the great Canadian research funding conspiracy are on my other blog.

Here are some signs my brain was over-worked this week:

- I wrote dodgy limericks

- I made up new words while talking to my supervisor. (If he'd told me to be more precise and I replied "right, got it, more precision" it would have been OK, but I was told to be more concise and apparently concision isn't a word. He knew what I meant though. The secret when making up new words is to say them with confidence).

- I talked complete crap in the mornings. (My hubby came to wake me up on Monday morning and I apparently asked him if he was real or symbolic. He assured me that he was real and asked me if I was asleep or awake, and I told him I didn't know).

- I left semi-coherent blog comments all over the place. Sorry 'bout that, but I needed those 5 minute breaks from the madness.

- I ate way too much junk food.

So what did I learn from my first big multiple grant deadline?

Mostly that I am a great big control freak. I frequently found myself waiting for a PI to return edits or new sections of text that I needed before I could proceed, and I just knew they'd arrive at exactly the same time as the edits from another PI working on a different grant. It was very much boom and bust, and my inability to control my own schedule and work flow was very frustrating.

Luckily, my supervisor realised what was going on and suggested that we meet soon to discuss the experience. I was planning to ask for this meeting anyway - I was happy to be reactive for this first round of applications, but next time around I want to proactively address some of the issues that came up. Hopefully we can devise a way to get people to commit to staggered internal deadlines so I don't receive everything at the same time (i.e. the last possible minute). I'm also going to suggest that we ask people to state up-front exactly which parts of the application I'll be responsible for - there were a couple of miscommunications and changes to original plans that caused me to stay at work fiddling around with budgets long after everyone else had left, two nights in a row. My supervisor is also concerned that not all the things I was asked to do were appropriate; for example, I ended up writing the bulk of two different grant proposals (nearly all of it in one case), which isn't really what I'm supposed to be doing, although it was actually my favourite part of the process!

As for my least favourite part: I really really hope we hire more secretarial support soon, because formatting all the CVs for different competitions' requirements was one huge frustrating time sink, and really doesn't require any kind of scientific background. I suspect that the need for different formats for different competitions may be part of the aforementioned conspiracy.

Anyway. It's over now. And my (partial) break from blogging also made me take a step back and reconsider a few things.

My posts seem to have been getting shorter, more frequent, and sillier. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and the short'n'sillies will keep on popping up. (In fact I was quite taken with the interactive limerick concept, thanks to Mermaid, and it might reappear at some point!). But while I was officially offline, I was tinkering with a couple of posts in Word, at home in the mornings and (surreptitiously) at work while I was waiting for the next work surge. I've got a couple of draft posts waiting, and I think they read better for having been written more slowly and edited multiple times. So that's what I'm going to try to do from now on - post less often, and put more time and thought into each post.

I'm also going to demote Friday's Primate Party to an occasional feature. It had become a wee bit of a chore, and I've quite enjoyed my recent freedom from searching for suitable stories to cover. Only the really good primate stories will make it in now.

It's all about quality, not quantity!

Right, I'm off to catch up with some neglected emails and blog posts. Does anyone want to play Scrabulous? If you're on Facebook I'm sure you can figure out how to find me!


  1. Yay, you made it through! Did you get much feedback durng this process of the value of your position? It sounds like if you did that much work, they must really need you. I hope some of those proposals get funded!

    I have to admit, I kind of like the short and silly posts, especially because you have another, more serious blog. Don't get me wrong, I like the longer, more edited posts as well. But often when I see in Bloglines that there's new content here, I think oh good, there will be something fun over at cae's place. :)

  2. Thanks both! There wasn't really much time for feedback during this last week, but I'm thinking I should get some when I meet my supervisor to discuss the whole process. I only supplied bits and pieces and did editing and proofreading for most of the grants, but I took the lead on two of them and I think I can safely say that they wouldn't have got submitted without my input. One was by a young physician investigator who was submitting her first grant as a principal applicant, and the other was by a group of physicians who basically didn't have enough spare time to work on the grant. So I ended up writing big chunks of each. Those are the two grants I'm really rooting for! Decision in June...

    And I'll come up with some silly posts just for you! I'll probably end up interspersing them with the longer posts or something. Thanks for your feedback!

  3. Hey, welcome back! Congrats on getting through that horrendous set of deadlines.

    The process of waiting for PIs to give you the materials you needed sounds incredibly frustrating. I had to hound my PI ceaselessly to get him to finally read the grant I'd written for him the night before it was due! So I can sympathize.

    I did wonder, when I read your email about what your responsibilities were, whether it was appropriate for PIs to ask you to essentially write their grants for them. Were you listed as co-investigator on those? It seems there is potential abuse here. At least your supervisor sounds supportive!

    Hope you have a relaxing, non-stressful, fun weekend!

  4. Congrats on getting through your deadline! Hope you get some rest, and I too want to see some silly posts :) (the thought-out ones are welcome too, of course ;)

  5. MH, it was pretty frustrating at times. I really hate to nag and hassle people, but it became a necessity last week!

    I got to be a co-applicant on the grant by the young first-time PI, because I'll be involved with the actual project if it's funded. It's something I've done before but that she doesn't have much experience with. I wasn't named on any of the other grants, but believe me I'll be pushing for authorship (for the grants I wrote most of) or an acknowledgment (for the other grants) on any resulting papers!

    In a way it's a win-win situation for me. If the grants get funded, it was all down to me, but if they don't, well, I should have had more support! I have to justify my existence after 2 years before they'll try to find money to keep my position going, so this is not a horrible thing!

    SG, that's 2 votes for silliness. I'll see what I can do!

    The weekend wasn't as relaxing as it could have been - all day poker tourney for a friend's birthday on Saturday (I came 2nd!!! I need to work on my end game though, I was playing sober and lost to someone who was definitely not) and then there was a party last night (that's right, on a Sunday). So I'm still in need of some sleep. I just realised yesterday that I won't work a full 5 day week in all of March so that will be nice! (An upcoming ski trip takes 1 day out of this week and 3 days next week, and the following 2 weeks are truncated by the 4 day Easter weekend. Sweet).

  6. Glad to hear you made it though the other side! All those grant deadlines--yeesh! Glad, too, to hear that your supervisor appears to be supportive and watching out for you. I had the same concerns as Mad Hatter when I read your first posts on these issues--it did seem inappropriate for you to be essentially writing a PI's grant if you were not also named a co-applicant. Hope you also get approriate acknowledgement on the other grants you worked on!

    And wow, no more 5-day workweeks for a month? As you said, sweet =)

    P.S. I e-mailed you back at your google account re freelance work...

  7. Hi Bean-Mom
    Thanks for your email - I promise I'll reply as the dust continues to settle! I got my work inbox down to 12 messages today which felt pretty good, now I just need to extend that process to my 3 (don't ask) gmail accounts.

    The meeting with my supervisor went well today. He wants me to send him a short summary of the experience and he will lay down the law with the rest of the group (I should explain that I work with a large number of PIs and physicians, and my supervisor is basically responsible for helping me to set priorities and manage my time etc). He was actually planning to be a bit harsher than I would like to be - I reckon it's best to let everyone know what's expected of them, and only "punish" them (by not letting them "use me" in future!) for repeated abuse of the system. There's no malice at all from anyone, just laziness...

    I also brought up the issue of paper authorship. It will be on a case-by-case basis and will be processed through my supervisor - so if I feel I did enough for credit on a particular manuscript, I'll let him know and he'll negotiate on my behalf. I think it should work but the first one won't be for a while!


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