Day: April 18, 2016

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

This past fall I submitted two NSF proposals within a few days of one another, to two different directorates. One proposal is better than the other.

So, today I log into Fastlane, and both proposals are still pending, but the worse one shows to have a status update, dated today.

I know this only means bad news. It most likely (well, I am going to say certainly) means that the proposal didn’t review well, and the program manager just got around to uploading all the reviews and possibly the panel summary, clicked on some button, and my proposal is now propagating through the NSF administration to whoever is in charge of issuing the notice of declination.

Why do I think the proposal will be rejected? Because I have never received an NSF grant where they didn’t first ask me to cut the budget. So, no budget-cutting phone call/email, no money. Also, funding rates are ridiculously low, so chances are high that anything will get rejected. And, as I said, this is not my best proposal ever.

I hate the two things that I simultaneously feel about the whole ordeal:

1. The unfounded hope. Objectively, everything points to rejection, yet my pathetic little self still holds a sliver of hope of funding. I hate how the granting game turns me (perhaps others, too) into this sad, slimy ball of neediness, who will imagine ridiculous scenarios of funding despite staggering evidence to the contrary. I feel uncomfortable seeing this about myself, looking worse than a lovestruck teenage girl whose object of affection doesn’t give half a $hit; you just want to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. “Tiffany, he doesn’t care about you, stop thinking about him and move on already.”

2. The shame. Objectively, I know that the funding rates are low and that many good projects don’t get funded. But some do. Very few, but some still do. So I am ashamed every time I get a rejection, because it means I was not good enough. And telling myself objectively that it happens to the best of us (literally) feels like I am just deluding myself, telling myself wild stories, when the true reason is that I just was not good enough and there is no escaping it. I am ashamed in front of my students, who I feel are disappointed in me, their supposedly fearless leader, for sucking as a grant writer.

Namnezia likens the soul-crushing nature of the grant-writing game to constantly putting your hand in hot oil. You throw proposals at the funding agency/agencies, in the hope that something will stick; but whom does it help? It doesn’t advance science. It just kills my will to do it because there is only so much feeling like $hit that one can take before not wanting to do it any more. The stuff I am most passionate about I end up doing anyway by creatively combining funds from different sources and  teaching assistantships for students. But there is a lot of other great stuff that just doesn’t get done.

Maybe  I am spoiled, but to be creative you have to have some bandwidth to think deeply about the problems at hand, as opposed to constantly fretting about what you will do when the money for the problem at hand runs out… And something is always running out.

I can’t wallow forever, so I will dust myself off soon enough. But the grant game just plain sucks.