We're a little crazy, about science!

Another year of NDSEG

Yesterday was the last day to apply for the NDSEG fellowship and if the traffic to my fellowship tips post (here) is any indication about the number of people who applied, this year is going to be competitive. It’s bittersweet for me, because this is the first year I won’t be applying. Mostly because I am no longer eligible for it, but also because I literally have more funding than I know what to do with.

Last year I wrote a guide for people who were applying to help out anyone who just couldn’t figure out what was going on. I had a difficult time myself navigating the fellowship requirements and documentation, so I thought the post would help a few people out and last year it probably did.

This year however, I had a rather large influx of traffic to the post which (as expected) dropped off precipitously today. I had completely forgotten about the post to be honest, until about midway though this years submission window when I caught the traffic to the post. For a week or so I thought nothing of it, until I realized, somewhat embarrassingly, that some of the links in the post were specifically for last years application. I promise to try to be better about it next year!

I have since went in, updated a few things and put out some well wishes to those applying. Just a few words of encouragement to do it and to not stress if you don’t get selected. The number of slots vs. applicants means that almost everyone doesn’t get it! Yay! But seriously, there are a lot of funding options out there and this was just one of the larger ones so if you’re here because you wanted to apply but missed the deadline, well then don’t worry. My suggestion would be to ask around in cases like that, PI’s, other students, even the internet has resources you may not be aware of.

It’s funny to be in the position I am now, when just last year I was stressing out about how to find funding. I guess that’s just how these things work… maybe? Or as I told the person I mentor the other day, I somehow find ways to make my life as complicated and as hard as possible. It’s not intentional, but it happens pretty regularly. Anyway getting off topic. Point being, if you need funding, funding is out there!

Finding funding is a lot like finding a lab you want to do research in. There are a lot of choices, most of which you won’t even know exist. The ones that do may want you and you may be a perfect fit, but if they don’t know you exist, they can’t offer you anything. Which is why I suggested in the NDSEG post that if you were on the fence about applying, go for it. Even if you get the award and find out later you don’t need it, you can turn it down and you can still add to your CV that you were offered. People do it all the time, seriously, why do you think fellowships always have a pool of backup candidates?

Since the close of the submission window, it’s hit me pretty hard how much things have changed over the last year. I’ve had the chance to do some really cool stuff and there have been a lot of opportunities given to me, which I’ve been grateful for and I’m excited about what the future will bring.

I applied twice, but I never got awarded the NDSEG fellowship. Which I guess is the point of today. Getting turned down for something doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story. I’ve applied for dozens of fellowships/grants/etc. and I was awarded exactly three. The first was when I started, the second was what kicked off my collaboration with hospital-PI, and the third was recently awarded and is now wreaking havoc on all my plans. Sometimes being awarded isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you applied this year and are reading this, don’t worry if you get turned away. Even a “no” is a learning experience. The only reason for the recent grant I was awarded (here) — and I can say I because unlike others I’ve ghost wrote, this had my name on it explicitly — was because I was told no for the R21 grant I wrote at the beginning of the year and I had learned from the feedback how to make a better case for my “super secret” technique. Which, based on the feedback from reviewers this time, was a success. I would’ve never thought to make the changes I did had that rejection not happened.

NDSEG doesn’t give reviews so you don’t know why you were turned away or awarded. It feels a bit like screaming into a void and hoping the void throws money at you. The truth is even that is good practice. This blog is very similar to NDSEG, although not as formal. I write daily to keep track of where I’ve been, but also to learn how to be a better communicator. Half of the battle of getting funding is figuring out how to best sell yourself. I wish that weren’t true, but you are selling a product that consists of your idea, your abilities, and in general you as a person. No one knows what that consists of unless you tell them.

So if, come February or so, you find yourself in the rejected pile, don’t take it personally. Figure out how to make a better case for the next time around and eventually you’ll get awarded because the people reviewing it really see your vision. It’s a good feeling when that happens, I can speak from recent experience even.

The next few months waiting will be stressful, I know. But try not to think about it too much and in the meantime look around and see what other opportunities you may have. Other than that, good luck and I hope everyone finds a way to fund their science.


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