Month: August 2021

Sat Scat

Saturdays are generally the stupidest and deadest days on the interwebs. So, here are some Twitter links to hopefully make this Saturday—in what a few years ago used to be a vibrant academic blogosphere but is now more like a post-apocalyptic desert—a little less stupid and a little more alive.

When I looked at the tweets I bookmarked over the past couple of months, it turns out they’re mostly poetry (so much poetry!) and levity. It’s amazing how much better reading lots of poetry makes me feel; I highly recommend it, like looking at greenery or eating home-cooked meals. I deeply apologize to all artists and humanities teachers and scholars on behalf of all my haughty and dismissive STEM brethren. Absence of the arts or humanities from one’s life is its own punishment.

Without further ado, links! In two groups! If you’re not into reading poetry, scroll down for levity.

POETRY (and a smattering of SHORT PROSE)


White Papers, White Knuckles

It’s August, which means that, when I am not fielding the barrage of emails that signal the arrival of a new school year, I am preparing for proposal submissions in the fall. 

As flush as I’ve been in recent years, the funding winds haven’t been that favorable during the pandemic, which is a source of anger (mostly self-directed) and guilt (maybe if I didn’t suck so hard, I’d get these grants funded). 

In any case, I will be submitting between six and eight different proposals in the coming semester, three with new collaborators (which I am excited about, as it will be nice to have someone to bounce ideas and writing from), and between three and five by myself. There may be even more submissions, as a couple of proposals might go to multiple agencies. (By the way, this is a higher-than-usual number of proposals for me; outside of special solicitations, two-to-four per semester is more common for me, depending on current levels of funding.) 

Right now, I am writing white papers (white papers are short, written proposal pitches, 2-3 pages in length),  sending them out, and collecting feedback from program managers, so as to decide what goes where and when, and finalize the targets and timeline for submission. Paper writing has been somewhat on the back burner as I’m trying to get all these white papers out, and I am trying to fix that. I want to send in a manuscript revision and another new submission before September hits. 

I am also trying to suppress the waves of despair that wash over me every so often over all this work I have to do, but which will largely amount to nothing, even if I am ultimately successful and get one or two awards from all these proposals. Sometimes I wish there were a way out of the proposal-writing churn. It’s so disheartening knowing that I  have to keep slinging spaghetti at a wall with <10% stickiness probability. But that’s the job. And it’s better than many other jobs. But proposal writing (and not dislike of teaching or actually doing science) is the reason I will actually retire when I hit retirement age and not a moment later. I will not keep working forever, as I originally thought I would. At  least a new kid will be able to get the job in my stead sooner rather than later. 

Anyhow, all this reminds of the wisdom shared by @drugmonkeyblog on Twitter: When it comes to agencies that use panel reviews (like NSF or NIH), it’s good to keep in mind that sometimes program managers a priori discourage proposals that ultimately review well by the panel. I would agree with Drug Monkey to shoot your shot, because it’s happened to me and other people I know enough times that we’d get a proposal submission discouraged based on the white paper, supposedly as the topic isn’t a high priority or whatever, only to a) submit it anyway and have it review really well or b) not submit, but then later receive a proposal from someone else to review and that proposal is on the identical topic and with similar proposed methods as the discouraged proposal; this other PI , often with a better pedigree, either wasn’t similarly discouraged (great; now I can feel guilty because my white papers suck, too), or, more likely, didn’t care and submitted the proposal anyway. I’d say, if there’s panel review and you have an idea that fits the posted program parameters, go for it. (N.B. Funding decisions at DoD are much more dependent on what the program manager wants to fund. In that case, heed their advice and their discouragement.)

To end, related Twitter wisdom: 

Another 5-Min Post

  • Super busy here with white papers for proposals. So, so many white papers. 
  • Trying not to get overwhelmed by the sheer wastefulness of so many people writing, so many pitches being  made for one to be allowed to do research, and so very few actually being allowed to do proposed research. In my experience reviewing grants, many, oh so many grants are perfectly good grants. Nothing wrong with the ideas or personnel, and some nice science would get done. But it will never get done.
  • As I said, writing white papers, so many white papers, to be able to submit proposals, to be able to get any of them funded.
  • My shoulders and neck are terribly stiff, and maybe it’s the overhead fan in the bedroom, but maybe it’s all the sitting and maybe it’s all the stress.
  • I’m going on vacation soon, and going on vacation is one of the most stressful activities an academic can engage in even in non-COVID times. There is so much work to do before going on vacation, and so much waiting when you return, that it would make anyone resent taking any time off, because it is never, NEVER, really time off.
  • I hate August. The summer is basically over, because the university already started with endless emails for all sorts of orientations for all different groups of incoming bodies. Every morning I wake up to dozens upon dozens of university emails needing my presence for this or that. I wish they would leave us the %$^#% alone until our contracts start in late August. Spring business overflows well into June; fall business starts in early August. No, academic summers are most definitely not oases of free creative thought.
  • Student graduating, going off to a good job. I am glad, but not so glad about the last-minute dissertation edits. This student has a hard time with what is essentially anxiety-fueled procrastination masquerading as  perfectionism: endless crossing of trivial i’s and dotting of trivial t’s while avoiding engagement with the challenging parts of work, or in this case, writing. We will get it done on time, but I will have to read and comment on some chapters during vacation. (See above on academic vacations being essentially bullshit.)
  • Yeah, this has been more than 5 min. 

‘Sup, blogosphere? What have you been up to?