We're a little crazy, about science!

Yet another grant…

The search for funding continues! We’re less than a week away before I need to submit my latest attempt at securing funding for my PhD to the end of my degree. Right now we’re running out of time and in just a few weeks I could be without pay, without tuition reimbursement, and basically on the verge of being homeless again… my how the tides turn. Not to fear though, I’m not doing this alone and I have options. Today we’re going to talk about the grant I’m writing, why it won’t help my current situation, and why I’m still going to do it.

I had an idea several years ago to do the impossible. No, I’m not being hyperbolic, everyone single person I spoke to about doing this told me it couldn’t be done. The problem I had with that line of reasoning is that no one had ever tried and if it’s one thing I hate it’s dogma that’s so repeated it’s accepted as fact. A good example of this, you may have heard that women are born with all the eggs they will have. An attractive hypothesis to explain menopause, but the idea came from some old dude (yes, I know who he is, but I don’t care) and it was accepted without question, repeated over and over, and no one bothered to double check. Turns out it’s probably not true (more) and we could’ve answered this question a long time ago had we bothered to ask.

Which reminds me of a quote from my favorite book:

“Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries.”

Mary Shelley
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

Like a good researcher, I set out to answer the question and for my qualifying exam I ran a small pilot experiment to show that what I was proposing was possible. Well it worked! Mostly, there were a few oddities that needed to be answered, but for the most part I showed that what I wanted to do worked. Now, you should never trust an n = 1 study, but the results were good enough for me to continue to pursue this line of reasoning. Since then I’ve done a few follow-up experiments that have shown promise and some leaving me with frustrating questions that I want to answer. With the positive results from the experiments we (my two PI’s and I) have done I’ve been on the “hunt” for funding ever since.

Since my qualifying exam, I’ve gotten a fellowship which has let me work with my Co-PI for the past two years without fear of getting a paycheck. I’ve also written four grants of various sizes (like my R21), two fellowship applications (like NDSEG, which would’ve been my best option) and have had zero luck. The feedback (when given) has been mostly positive, but no funding. It’s been slightly disheartening, but funding is hard to come by so it’s a struggle for even the best of us and I am certainly not anywhere near the best.

Undeterred, I’m working on my latest funding option, yet another grant. I wrote about this one a while back (here) and after some drama it didn’t get submitted, but the deadline was extended and we’re submitting it for real this time! It’s basically being written from scratch though, so I need to finish the extensive changes for this one because it’s due in less than a week. If we’re awarded this will fund my impossible project for the next two years, enough time for me to collect THE dataset (THE dataset is the dataset that will make my PhD a reality, once I have it, I’m basically finished and can finally semi-answer if my technique works or not). I would be fully funded until the end and that’s all I really need right now… buuuuuut it won’t do a damned thing for me right now.

Yeah, in just 3 weeks if I don’t have my funding figured out I won’t pass go, I won’t collect a paycheck, and I won’t be able to enroll in classes. I just don’t have the savings for something like that: see: almost no savings because I’m a student and despite my 2 degrees, we get really only get paid in traumatic experiences and not actual money. Okay I get paid, just not well and definitely not enough to have savings. So unless I can figure something out soon I don’t have a way to pay for school or pay for my living expenses.

You may be wondering why I am applying for funding if it wont do anything for me now. The truth is I need to plan ahead even if I’m about to hit a wall. It would only be worse if I figured something out on the short term and didn’t have anything waiting for me in the long term. Plus having something to take my mind off the impending doom is probably the best way I can think of to remain calm, so we plan ahead for now.

Thankfully I’m not alone, both my PI’s have options for me. Some are better news than others, something has to change though and depending on other outside forces it may be a good outcome or a bad one. That’s the topic for tomorrow, but basically there are some HR issues that would prevent my favorite option (the one I really, REALLY want) from happening and if that’s the case it may force me to take the (in my opinion) the worst option. None of the options end with me homeless, so that’s the good news, but it will be a close call, a very close call. I trust both of my PI’s to help me, but it’s still a scary position to be in. I really don’t want to be homeless again, it’s not good for my mental health.


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