Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Summary Statement and My Future Career

So I got my summary statement back on that fellowship application, detailing why the reviewers chose to give me the same score on what I felt was a significantly improved application. The real reason is that Reviewer #1 is a moronic douchebag who clearly has no experience in my field and chooses to ascribe his/her lack of understanding to my (and my experienced co-mentors') lack of understanding. He/she fails in basic understanding of what I am proposing, despite everyone else (including reviewers 2 & 3) praising my very clear writing style. For example, although my central hypothesis is highlighted in italics on the specific aims page, Reviewer #1 wrote a line saying that "The overall hypothesis is a bit out on a limb, that stimuli are more [mystery adjective] in [mystery disorder]," which has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH MY ACTUAL HYPOTHESIS! Since reviewers 2 & 3 correctly interpreted my hypothesis and proposed studies and gave more intelligible feedback (such as the dreaded "overly ambitious"), I feel pretty confident that my writing cannot be faulted for Reviewer #1's complete lack of reading comprehension. Does that count as an unfair review? Can I appeal somehow? I mean, this bastard is the one introducing my grant to the rest of the panel, and you know he's not painting a nice coherent picture. I have one revision left, which I will submit in August, but I seriously don't think it's going to go any better unless Reviewer #1 is out of the picture.

All of this has served to yet again remind me how random, unfair, and futile this funding system seems. I really don't want to devote my life to a career as a professional grant writer, which seems to be the primary job of PIs. I hate writing. I'm not terrible at it, but it's slow and painful. And it's just all the more painful when you feel like the work you put into it is not necessarily proportional to your chances of receiving funding. Writing about science is not what I like about science. I want to actually do the research - run the tests, analyze the data, etc. And I enjoy serving as a mentor and teaching others how to do what I do. Wouldn't that sort of direct hands-on and face-to-face work be a much larger proportion of a career as a research specialist, technician, staff scientist, or whatever else you might call it, than as a PI? I feel like the only thing that is driving me to run my own lab is that that's what you're "supposed" to do when you get a Ph.D. and that people will be disappointed in me if I don't. For example, I had a conversation with Beloved PI a while back about staying in his lab after I graduate. Now, this is something we joke about on a regular basis because he loves me and I have a pretty special skill set that will be difficult to replace. So at first he said that would suit him fine, but then he took it back and said he couldn't do that to me. A post-doc friend who was also there for this conversation expressed a similar sentiment, that I shouldn't waste my intellect or something like that. I don't feel like it's a waste to be true to my own priorities, including not taking on so much responsibility as the head of a lab so that I can leave work at reasonable hours and appreciate time with my family.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Noob mistakes and a generally craptastic week

First, let me express my thanks to everyone who has discovered my blog and left encouraging comments. I must say, though, that I think I've made a noob mistake in setting this up. My blogroll is ridiculously huge! I can't believe there's this whole community of women scientists online that I never knew existed. But alas, there's no way I can keep up with all 50 top women in science blogs from that phlebotomy school's list, plus everyone else I stumble across. How do you ladies do it? I just got Viigo installed on my BlackBerry so I can access the RSS feeds whenever I have a spare moment, but I've signed up for so many of them that it doesn't seem to be keeping up properly, and even if it did, I could never keep up with the reading. Since I'm particularly interested in reading about the lives of scientists (especially pre-tenure) who are also mothers (particularly of young children), I think I will have to cut my blogroll down to just those blogs. If anyone knows of a list just of those...

Meanwhile, I will tell you a little about my generally craptastic week. I should note that I am probably going to include enough information here that anyone who knew me personally would recognize what's going on in my life, but if you do identify me, please be discrete. Beloved PI has enough shit to worry about without anyone putting ideas in his head about me going on maternity leave and then permanently cutting down my hours.

So, this week, I got the score back on the 2nd submission of a pre-doctoral fellowship application. It was exactly the same unfundable score as the first submission. The most frustrating part is that I felt like I had done a really nice job of revising it and responding to all of the reviewers' criticisms. It was significantly better than the original and definitely worth funding. I was really optimistic about it, and [Beloved PI] even admitted that he had been "quietly confident" that I would get it. I was really pissed the first day, went home a bit early to get hugs from Hubby, have a few glasses of wine, and sleep it off. The next day my reaction had mellowed to disappointment and disillusionment with the process. The only thing Beloved PI could say to try to comfort me was that it wasn't personal, it's all just a crap-shoot. That's really not very comforting when I think about spending the rest of my career constantly dealing with such a screwed up system.