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? 


  1. Something at some point has to give with the grant writing. It is SUCH a waste of time! Not only can the waste of time be soul-crushing, you have to overhype your ideas so they turn on a program manager. Sometimes it is not the program manager’s fault because they are also trying to justify their existence to some upper management. Is this the way science should be done? I’m starting to think that at some point, something has to give.

  2. I went to a physical therapist this summer for neck/shoulder pain and it was life changing! I had no idea how much the constant aching and twinges were affecting me. I do 5 min of exercises every day now and the pain is completely gone. Best time I spent this summer.

  3. My five minute responses:

    Today I just read about COVID “Fast Grants,” a funding platform designed to quickly get grants to PIs working on COVID research. I was inspired until I realized it was completely funded by private philanthropists; such a scheme will never reach the government-funded basic research in my field 😦

    I actually don’t mind the white papers as much (yet); I find the full proposals soul crushing when perhaps it would have only taken three pages to get the message across for referees to form an opinion (and since referees are also overworked, perhaps they are only skimming for three pages of content anyway?!)

    My neck pain was resolved by buying a monitor and less time looking at my phone. But I’m slow to the game, probably most people have tried these things already.

    Do you actually edit your student’s dissertation? I am graduating a shared student soon. I very carefully edited the papers we wrote together. But I cannot edit their dissertation with that kind of energy. I read the abstract, intro, and conclusions carefully and skimmed the rest. I consider it their own work and responsibility to handle the fine details.

  4. J, re dissertation: It kind of depends. If it’s a staple dissertation where most papers have been extensively edited and published, I do the same as you– look at the abstract, intro, conclusion of the dissertation, and that’s about it. One could argue that the student shouldn’t be using text edited by committee in their (individual) dissertation, but that’s a discussion for another day, and staple dissertations are, well, a staple of modern science, and aren’t going anywhere. In this particular case, the work is completed but the papers aren’t out yet; the student is leaving a bit earlier than is common for my group, in part because a perfect job came up when it did, so the papers are forthcoming, but the student is pretty much writing most of the material for the very first time. In this type of dissertation, I try to leave as much of the student’s voice as I can. I correct factual errors, obvious punctuation and stylistic errors (e.g., can’t have contractions in technical prose), and typos; I point out where things are hard to follow or otherwise unclear, make comments on diagrams and figures, but much of the student’s original writing remains. In contrast, when it comes to papers, I am much more invasive when it comes to editing because I have very strong opinions on how the papers coming from my group must look, and generally little of the original student writing survives to publication.

  5. Wastefulness of grant proposals, hating the (short) August, stressful vacations–here to second all of these. But I hope the vacation has some beauty or reprieve from stress in it.

  6. As I was working on a budget today, I was noting that the budget cap for the program I apply to at NSF has not increased in the 12 years that I’ve been applying to it. Meanwhile, salaries have risen by ~1/3 and tuition rates have doubled in that time. Write more more more and we’ll pay you less less less to do the same amount of work. All of that means I am not only working like crazy all summer, but working like crazy for free. So much win!
    May you have beautiful vacation days, relaxed shoulders, and easy editing ahead.

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