Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Expertise: the first few steps

Being a newbie SUCKS. I mean, it's exciting and fresh and new, but you have to depend on other people all the time, which I hate. I've badgered colleagues in my department (and in others) with endless questions, my supervisor still has to check every piece of work I do, I second-guess myself all the time, and expend huge amounts of energy just keeping up with the new processes, terminology, literature and politics. I did my usual trick of turning into a total zombie for the first few weeks of the new job, mitigated slightly by the fact that I'd worked for the same organisation (and partially in the same building) as a postdoc from 2002 - 2005. Even now, 7 months in, things are still not as easy as they were at my last job, where people came to me with their endless questions.

But this week seemed to mark the turning of a corner. An admin assistant in a different department sent a group of us a long email with lots of questions about submitting grants to a particular funding body - and I was able to answer them all! (This is the funding body I've submitted to twice since starting the job, with one success and one decision pending). This prowess naturally got me invited to a big meeting yesterday, at which I was able to amaze the assembled bigwigs with my stunning revelations (i.e. I told them how the application process works; what the paylines are this year (6%); what aspects of our previous submissions the reviewers liked and didn't like; and suggested that they use American spelling and stress the few advantages of a Canadian submission over US competitors). This morning I sent them some of our text to work from, and got them started on the local human ethics application. They're working in a different area of research to my department, but with overlapping staff, technologies, resources and facilities, so some of the people who matter (i.e. decide my fate next November) know that I was involved, which can only be a good thing.

Later on, I received a phone call from a grant facilitator at UBC who'd heard a rumour that my institute had been awarded a grant from this same funding body. She wanted to know who she should contact for advice on her department's submission. Pleased as punch, I gave her some advice over the phone, and gave out my email address for future reference.

Baby steps, I know. But it's nice that people are starting to come to me for help and advice. It will take me years (if they give me that long) to learn all the ins and outs of this job, but my first taste of independence has been very welcome. Especially as my 6 month review is well and truly overdue (coming within a couple of weeks apparently).

Things that may detract from my budding image as a competent, mature professional who is the fount of all knowledge:
  • I've started wearing jeans at least two days a week.
  • I have broken my new job's resolutions. Every single one of 'em, duuuude. My pals Mermaid and Infinite Science will not be surprised to hear this.
  • I take my Sigg water bottle into meetings. It is a cheery yellow colour and is resplendent with images of a blue cartoon dinosaur in orange boots, waving and doing cartwheels.
  • I use poker analogies when talking about grants. (I once told my boss that he should continue with a grant that was already half-written, but that he was having doubts about, because of pot odds. i.e. if you've already contributed lots of chips to a big pot, it's worth staying in even if you don't have the nut (optimal) hand. I recounted this tale at my weekly poker game and was told that next time, I should talk about sunk costs instead).


My Nature Network blog updates:

The outcome of my creationist comments dilemma

A local mystery: gang activity, natural disasters, a plane crash, or a publicity stunt for the new X-Files movie?

A bike storage problem: could an IgNobel prize be in the works for an aspiring mathematician?


  1. Surely the water bottle isn't the reason?! :)

    This last year of grad school especially, coworkers and The Boss have really relied on me for info on lab procedures, grant stuff, etc etc. So now that I've graduated and am moving on, there's been this kind of mad-dash on me to get all the info out of me as quickly as possible. I'm going to have email, sheesh! :)

  2. Hooray for being the grant expert! It's lovely that you get to enjoy your success and help people along.

  3. Great stuff. It certainly feels good to be able to help. And your sigg sounds great.

  4. That's awesome! I hope that in a mere 7 months I feel the same way. Perhaps we should meet for coffee Friday and you can pass on some knowledge that will help me learn faster?

  5. Unbalanced Reaction: I'm sure it's not the only reason, but it does get some odd looks! I know what you're talking about with leaving an old job, I still get the occasional phone call and email from my industry job asking if I know the answers to random questions. I'm only a couple of blocks away from my old office, so I also keep bumping into former colleagues in the local cafes and restaurants.

    Post-doc: yes, it is nice - this is a very complicated grant application and I'd never have got through my first one without help from my equivalent in a different department. So it is nice to be able to help others out too!

    Stepwise girl: indeed! I tried to find a photo of my water bottle on the web but failed miserably. I don't want to take any more photos at work after being spotted taking photos of the kettle for my tea post, and of the bike room for a Nature Network post (different person luckily).

    Mermaid: sounds like a plan!

  6. Yay for being the grant expert! How is your sigg bottle? I've thought about getting one, but I'm afraid of the metallic taste.

  7. Pretty good actually! The yellow dinosaur Sigg is a small kiddies bottle and came with a plastic sports cap. I also have a bigger (more grown up but still cool) blue one that did not have a sports cap, you drink directly from the metal part. I use the big bottle for the gym, so I switched the two. I prefer drinking from the plastic sports cap, but maybe that's just me. I don't like drinking beer from cans either, although I'm happy to do so for coke and Dr Pepper.

  8. Way to go, expert grant writer! :)

  9. ;)

    We'll see what happens when we hear about the 5 grants I submitted on the same day...


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