We're a little crazy, about science!

Why is it always a rush?

Well my latest grant is due at the end of the week, so I am now just a few short days away from the deadline and rushing to meet it. There has been plenty of time between when the proposal for funding went out and now, so why does it always feel like things are last minute? It probably has to do with the iterative approach to writing and the edits that go on forever. Since I need a break from scientific writing I figure now would be a good time to talk about the process and why a far off deadline is never enough.

Let’s see, what am I doing these days? We just re-submitted one of my first author papers for review again! Finally got that off my plate for the moment. We barely made our deadline for resubmission and we had a good three months to address everything. Did it take me three months to make the changes? Of course not, the first set of changes were addressed within a week. Then came the second set of changes the co-author suggested a few weeks later, that took another few days to get done. Which meant another round of suggested changes from co-authors, and even more changes for me to make. In the end, I addressed everything as quickly as I could, but everybody wants something done slightly different.

There was of course, my R21 which wasn’t discussed (another topic for another day), that went through a flurry of drafts with my Co-PI and I before it got set off to the scientific writing office for review. Literally all they do is read grants and make suggestions. They are amazing and my head would explode if I had to read all those grants, but somehow they do it. The deadline for that is rolling, so we didn’t NEED to submit it when we did, but on the other hand we sort of needed to get it out. At the end of the day we rushed to finish that as well.

This grant is no different. Thankfully with grants the number of authors on it is a lot smaller. My journal paper had I think six or seven of us, this is just three and if we really want to split hairs, it’s just my main-PI and I writing it, or rather me writing while he reviews it. Yet there’s a theme in scientific writing and that theme is basically rushing to meet a deadline. The deadline could be six weeks or six months, it’s still the same rush to get it in.

It’s not that we’re lazy, it’s a quality issue. The first draft of anything is awful. I don’t care how good at writing you are, the first draft will have typos, bad grammar, and all sorts of issues. I know this first hand when reviewing others writing. My writing sucks no matter what, let’s be honest, so first or last draft isn’t going to be much improved. Which is partly why I do this, writing is a skill as much as it is an artform. The more you practice the better you get and as you may have noticed I practice daily!

The rush to get the perfect submission in can feel overwhelming (or at least for me!), but the more I do this the more I realize that it’s just how the system has been designed. Writing is imperfect by nature, words are messy, and frankly the words I use may not have the same impact on you as they do with me. I cannot describe anything perfectly, no one can, so we try to get as close as possible by having others read your work. If they can understand it, then you’ve done the best you can. If it is a confusing mess, well that says more about how malleable and changing language is more than it says anything about you. We can review what we’ve written a dozen times, but others may not understand it the same way.

Heck I’ve gone back and read some of my very old posts and I realize how badly written they were. At the time they sounded perfectly fine, but there a ton of issues (grammar, typos, and otherwise). So I try not to make reading old posts while looking for errors a habit, mostly because there is no point in looking. I’m most likely not going to go back to address those errors and really this is a hobby, not something I’m doing for work. I do this out of enjoyment and my desire to share my journey with the rest of the world, I’m not trying to share it perfectly, just comprehensibility. Okay, maybe I fail there too sometimes, but at least I’m trying.

So language is messy and scientific writing doesn’t allow for mess. At the end of the day, I really think that’s why we’re always rushing towards the deadline. There are never enough edits or revisions to make something perfect. It just doesn’t work like that, so you get as close as you can and hope it’s enough. Over the weekend I finished the latest edits to the grant and sent it off to my main-PI for review. I’ve already found one grammar error so that’s… fun. I also don’t like the way a few sentences read so I may go back and address that once I hear back from him.

Once he gives the approval, it’s going off to our other collaborator for review, someone who just moved to the area. I’m sure I’ll be talking about him a lot since he’s someone I will be working closely with going forward (hopefully), especially if my Co-PI really does leave us. See getting off topic! There will be a few rounds of edits between now and when the grant is due I’m sure. On top of that I have two other first author journal papers I’m working on right now that need my attention, so much writing!

On that note, I should get back to writing. Oh and I promise my scientific writing is better than my, “for fun” writing, at least I hope so!


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