Thursday, September 11, 2008

There's more to this grant business than I ever imagined

One of the most interesting things about coming back to work in my postdoctoral institute is the different perspective I've gained on the inner workings of the organisation. Students, postdocs and other lowly lab rats just don't get a chance to observe - let alone understand - the complicated administration, politics, hierarchies, funding structures and other aspects of running a large research institute. I'm only just starting to get to grips with these shenanigans myself.

One area in which I have received a baptism of fire is the sign off and submission of grant applications. For reasons that are far too complicated to discuss here, the latest round of grants requires two internal deadlines. This has necessitated preparing a detailed (and binding) budget, budget justification, and abstract a full week before the actual deadline*. A second deadline, two days later, required a couple of extra features. Luckily we now have the internal deadlines behind us and can focus on writing the actual proposal for the actual deadline.

Here are some of this week's entries in the informal record that I keep of my day-to-day activities (essentially my lab book), exactly as they appear:

Grant application for funding body #1:
revised budget
drafted parts of budget justification
filled out internal forms (x3)
coordinated and delivered signing package
general running around & panicking

Negotiations surrounding an awarded grant from funding body #2:
YET ANOTHER budget revision, FFS

The last item was completely my own fault, but let's just say that this latest urgent request to fix a minor discrepancy (for the sake of an amount that is just shy of 0.4% of the total value of the grant) came at a bad time.

In other news, I have added an extra cup of tea to my daily allocation, and rather than writing limericks I am adapting snippets of Shakespeare plays (from memory so not necessarily accurately), for the benefit of my cats:

Two kitties, both alike in dignity, in fair Vancouver, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new craziness, where kitty paws make human floors unclean.

The cats remain unimpressed. Philistines.

*I just chatted to a PI in my department who will be submitting in the next round of grants and is patiently waiting for me to finish dealing with this round. He told me that his previous employer had an internal deadline TWO weeks before the main deadline. He also admitted to missing this deadline more often than not... he said that it was always these latter grants, that annoyed his institution so much, that got funded. "Because you had more time to work on them", I said. "No, because of the crazy creative burst I get when I'm stressed out by deadlines", he replied. So, it's not just me.


  1. Cath,
    "baptism by fire"--oh yeah, I think I'm getting a taste of that. Luckily we have an Office of Grants and Contracts at my institute, who provide superb administrative support (as does my boss's personal administrative assistant, who is far more than a "secretary."

    It's amazing the things that you don't realize, that you never think about, when you're in the lab with your nose to the bench.

    Just hoping I can get done what needs to be done... Good luck with your deadlines, too!

  2. Ah, just read your kitty Shakespeare. Nice job =)

  3. yes, it really is amazing what goes on while you're chained to your lab bench!

    I hope you get your R01 done without too much stress and panic. Bad timing for starting a new job! But I'm sure they realise that they are giving you your own baptism of fire...

  4. I wonder if there is a way to have the "crazy creative burst I get when I'm stressed out by deadlines" happen in between deadlines; I think that would be good for my sanity.


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