Over the past few months, I have made some notable mistakes in how I spend my time and energy.


I participated in a funding-agency panel, led by a program manager who’s not funding me. At the same time, I had a bunch of proposals to mail-in review for a program manager at another agency, who is actually funding me. I prioritized the review of the proposals for the panel and was late a few days with review of some of the proposals in the mail-in batch.

Why was this a bad idea? The program manager on the panel was not at all interested in what I had to say, and was visibly annoyed with me whenever I opened my mouth.  I think he envisioned I would just silently fill the double-token position (theory plus female). I put a lot of effort into the reviews for this panel, and I prepared really well to present the proposals where I was the lead, but I don’t think it mattered (except perhaps for the potential awardees); the program manager was not impressed. Sure, I met some nice panelists and I read some nice proposals. (Btw, all the cool kids are using 11 pt Times New Roman for proposals.) But, I could have and should have just stayed home, because this program manager will never give me any money.

For this, I was late with the proposal review for the program manager who has been unfailingly supportive for years, both with money and with giving me high-visibility service, and who has been very appreciative of my work and contributions.

I will never again so stupidly prioritize the work for the people who haven’t already shown me support or kindness over those who actually have.


All the proposal reviewing has cut into my publication plans. I postponed the submission of a couple of papers in order to deal with the review load, and all  I have to show for it is… A bunch of not-yet-submitted papers and a bad taste in my mouth because I ended up going to the stupid panel.


As I wrote before, instead of working on a proposal, I am finishing up a paper from hell for the conference proceedings.

I am only stuck doing this because I promised I would give a talk to an industry colleague, and from there on this talk has been a gift that keeps on giving (not) — it seems ever more money and more time of mine keeps sinking into this favor.

I must become ridiculously discriminating about the conditions under which I am willing to give an invited talk.


Ever since much (all?) of NSF went to a single submission window for unsolicited proposals, and with restrictions to only submit one per cycle to a given division, people have been creative about finding ways to target multiple programs.

Last year, I received good reviews for one of my proposals, but no money. There was not  much I could improve, and from the program manager’s feedback I figured they simply didn’t want to fund that type of work. But, there was another program where the proposal would nominally fit. Unfortunately, over the past few years, the interim program manager there was extremely discouraging of the type of work similar to mine. Finally, a new, longer-term person took that position, and is again welcoming the proposals akin to what I do. This new manager gave me very specific feedback and encouraged the submission to his program in the fall 2016.

What’s stupid about all this is that a colleague from another institution wanted us to write a collaborative proposal to the same program and I went with that instead. The joint proposal was a ton of work and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it turned out that well. I also got stiffed in the budget. I would love for us to get funded, but I am not holding my breath.

So I blew my annual shot at this program by prioritizing what turned out to be a not particularly strong collaborative proposal over a very good, polished proposal of my own.


Working on this collaborative proposal ended up being way more time than I had envisioned and had cut into my single-PI submission to a different division. The latter turned out okay, but could have used another week of polishing.

So the less-than-great collaborative proposal ended up being in the way of not one, but two of my single-PI proposals.


The common theme is that I am not self-serving or discriminating enough when people want my time and effort. Yeah, I know I write about this a lot… It’s a work in progress.

I am miffed with myself for making some of these stupid choices, which ended up with more unnecessary work for me, took me away from the much needed relaxation time, yet will not only fail to benefit my career, but have explicitly thwarted other important maneuvers.

Weak, xykademiqz. Your game is weak.


  1. It’s interesting that sometimes we all say and do things to be collaborative, but usually that comes at a cost. My PI stresses being collaborative and having a good reputation starting now as a graduate student, and I always wondered why when I see other students who prioritize publications get independent funding…and some, like me, don’t but are very well liked.

  2. @Laura The trouble with collaborations is that you don’t really know how they’ll turn out until you try them. Sometimes they are wildly successful and productive, and other times make you want to jab a fork in your eye (or, better, your co-PI’s eye). The key is to avoid future collaborations with the latter. And, if you’re a student, you should always prioritize your own publications…future employers will know/care little about your good reputation.

  3. @pyrope Funny because there was just an article in Science, I think, describing a study that seems to show that early female grad students don’t collaborate as much as early male grad students, and it negatively affects their publication rate.

    I have so many regrets about talks and reviews. It’s even worse when feeling like a token. (I declined a talk yesterday, and the inviter asked repeatedly and desperately if I knew “anyone like me,” which it turns out meant mostly female.) My new thing is to be very skeptical when a visiting speaker wants to meet with me. It’s flattering to be requested, but if the work isn’t quite close to what I do, I’m better off right now working on a manuscript or reading a high-priority paper from my field.

  4. I am sorry you have gone through this, and I don’t think your game is weak, xyk. But mostly I came here to say that Times New Roman is dreadful. The kids are wrong. Sans serif all the way.

  5. I agree with anon. There is nothing cool about Times New Roman. It only means that the cool kids don’t care about typography. Or are too lazy to change the default font. Or feel the need to use more words because TNR takes up less space than Arial. That’s not cool. That’s cruel.

  6. I think different communities have different norms, really. On this panel, every single proposal was in Times New Roman and I have to admit I don’t mind TNR at all; most of my proposals in the past have been in TNR. There were other panels where I have seen more font variety, but the directorate itself seems to be overwhelmingly TNR. In other directorates, I have seen more interest in typography, and people will use things like the Computer Modern Roman Latex font, or Palatino Linotype (which I personally really like), or something sans serif like Arial/Helvetica (I don’t like sans serif fonts, except for titles or figure captions). But these would likely be considered too gimmicky in the first directorate, to be honest. For instance, a collaborator with whom I am working on a proposal right now, whose main directorate is the first directorate, wants TNR for our grant because it’s standard and essentially expected. I suppose there is something to be said for making the form functional and somewhat invisible, so people can focus on the content?
    Anyway, it seems to be a community thing. I really don’t mind TNR, and if the community fully expects the proposals to be in TNR, then I think that’s what should be used.

  7. Times New Roman is an acceptable font, though not a beautiful one. It is optimized for high density in narrow columns, but remains fairly readable in other formats. Computer Modern Roman is a bit more readable (in my opinion), but some people will find it a bit old-fashioned—it’s main advantage is the compatibility with a complete mathematical font for documents that have a lot of math. Typesetting math with TNR rarely results in as seamless an integration.

    Sans serif fonts look very modern, but they have less redundancy in the character shapes so are somewhat harder to read. They are good for low-resolution displays, for advertising, and for shorter things where reading fatigue is not important.

  8. Thank you so much for this post. I also struggle with these kinds of choices. I call them my high-risk low-reward choices. The problem is that, sometimes, high-risk choices will lead to high rewards and sometimes not and often it’s pretty hard to predict the outcome.

  9. Palatino Linotype is my favorite, but i mostly use TNR, since it is readable and standard.

    I appreciate you posting your insights about these trade-offs, since I find myself having to make some of the same sorts of decisions.

  10. I have nothing to add but sympathy and virtual chocolate or beer (or both!) for the time use issue. I appreciate you writing about them, though, because even though I am not an academic I find that a lot of the trade offs have parallels in my world.

    Also, I am enjoying the font argument.

  11. Long time lurker. But had to delurk for font argument. Had to. No one for Gill Sans MT? But then I come from the soft sciences.

  12. As to fonts, the agencies are VERY specific and can be VERY anal. the NSF specifies:

    2. Proposal Margin and Spacing Requirements

    The proposal must conform to the following requirements:

    a. Use one of the following typefaces identified below:

    Arial8, Courier New, or Palatino Linotype at a font size of 10 points or larger;
    Times New Roman at a font size of 11 points or larger; or
    Computer Modern family of fonts at a font size of 11 points or larger.

    A font size of less than 10 points may be used for mathematical formulas or equations, figures, table or diagram captions and when using a Symbol font to insert Greek letters or special characters. PIs are cautioned, however, that the text must still be readable.

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