We're a little crazy, about science!

New year, new grant

It’s all connected somehow… I just know it.

Nope, still on vacation… I tell myself as I make arrangements to meet with my Co-PI. This is important though and unlike some of the other projects it has a firm deadline. That’s right, I’m writing a grant. No this isn’t an update to the last one I wrote, this is a whole new one. How did I end up in this position? Who knows, but I’ve been trying to figure it out since it happened. Let’s discuss, shall we?

The virtual ink had barely dried on my original grant (read about here), okay technically that was two grants. I don’t count the first one because it was more of an equipment request than a grant, even though it was called a grant, weird I know. Anywho, point of the story is this I wrote a grant back in October of last year (where the hell did the time go). We’ve been reviewing and editing it for awhile now, but it’s in the hands of my Co-PI currently. He hasn’t had a chance to give it the review it needs, but we’re meeting Friday to discuss that and another grant writing project.

My first grant, the one I wrote in October, was for NIH and was a “small grant.” Meaning it had certain requirements and funding that came with it if it was awarded. My Co-PI on the other hand wants to write a NIH R21 grant, which is probably more in line with the work I’m doing. The R21 is for exploratory research, which is the purpose of my PhD, so that is more in line with my research goals and thus has (hopefully) a better chance of being funded. Oh right, what’s the funding rate for grants? Oh about 20% from what I’m told, or 2 in 10.

The main difference is where the grant is being applied from. The first one is coming from my main-PI, this new grant would be through my Co-PI’s lab. It’s a subtle, but important distinction because while in theory they are Co-mentoring me, I refer to my main-PI as my main-PI for a reason. There has also been a lot of walking on eggshells for my Co-PI and I since that time I angered my PI. So in theory they should be equals, in reality my main-PI doesn’t agree.

What does that have to do with funding? Well everything. If my main-PI is funding my PhD the way I go about that is his prerogative, I do what he wants and how he wants because the funding is coming through him. This isn’t a problem and I would be able to do my own research the way I want (to a point) so I’m making it sound worse than it actually would be. However, that also means that my Co-PI, who likes to move quick with experiments, has to run everything by him first. Since most of my research is done with my Co-PI who is far more hands on (as in present and helping with every experiment), that creates a bottleneck and my Co-PI wants me to finish my PhD as quickly as I can because he wants me to postdoc with him.

I believe that is why my Co-PI wants me to write another grant through his lab. Then the funding would be coming directly from my Co-PI so he would have more control over how we did things, more importantly we could use some of the funds to get the needed equipment for his lab exclusively which would save me the trouble of having to transport the super expensive (>$10,000) equipment back and forth from the school to the hospital. It would also mean we wouldn’t have to reserve the equipment since others would need to use it too, so things would go much faster.

Frankly, either option would be ideal. In both cases I would have the funding I need for my PhD. I run out in the fall of 2021 so I need two more years worth of funding (minimum) and either grant would give me that. Moreover, if either of the grants were awarded, it would look really good for me. As a reminder, I’m a PhD candidate, not a PI, so I can’t actually write grants. Or rather my name doesn’t get added into it directly instead I’m referred to in the grant as “funding for a senior level PhD student.” What I get out of it is recognition when I apply for postdoc positions or research/faculty jobs. My letter of recommendation would include the fact that I helped write the grant(s) and that one (or both) were awarded.

That may not seem like much, but it would show my future employers that I have the skills needed to actively get funding for my lab once I start that journey. Even though it’s pretty far off, doing this will benefit me in the long run. In the short-term it would mean that I have funding to do the research I want to do instead of getting funding for other research that I may not be particularly interested in doing.

Oh and there’s a potential pay cut that comes with being funded from a different project since I’m getting paid at basically the highest a PhD student can make (per NIH/NSF). In case you were wondering, that isn’t much. At least when I postdoc you get paid better, literally twice or more than what I’m currently making and I would be doing the same work I’m currently doing. Yeah, it’s not a great system, but it’s what I’m dealing with now.

Two grants should improve my odds of getting one, probably not by much. Still, I really need to secure funding and NDSEG (the fellowship I applied for) is highly competitive (not that a grant is any less competitive mind you), so I need to have some backup plans made so at least I can attempt to get funded. Basically this year is going to be super crazy in terms of what I’m doing, on the bright side it should make for interesting blogging!


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