Making a play

Aug 14 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

I am an ambitious person but I have never found the need to push my way to the front, throwing elbows along the way. I value the opinions of others and I listen to those who are more senior than I. When I first got here, much of my time was spent concentrating on my lab, my research and getting my work life together and I left politics and higher-level infrastructure-type grant writing to those with more experience. My feeling has been that until I secure my own funding, what would I have to offer in putting together something much larger?

For that reason, I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into when I got sucked into helping to write a massive multi-institutional grant. I could add a bit about what we do in my lab, because it is relevant, but without federal support for those activities, they don't have much teeth in the granting sense. The way things broke down in the initial meetings, I was relegated to writing support for a two page section, which was fine with me. When the person in charge of assembling the section never asked me to write anything, I was also fine with it. I've been here a year, why should I be shaping something as massive as this grant?

On Wednesday many of the pieces were in place to put a decent 1st draft together to be circulated today and as I read through the draft I noticed some major disconnects between what had been discussed in out meetings and what each section writer had put to paper. On top of that, the introduction was still a place-holder and the text was never meant as an introduction to the whole grant. I figured I had two options; I could either let the issues ride through the first draft circulation and they would clearly be pointed out for revision in the second round, or, I could jump in and take the lead with writing the intro.

Even 2 months ago I would have chosen the former. It's easier, allows me to focus on my own work and means I don't have to be the junior guy muscling in to the party. But this grant would substantially increase the infrastructure and capabilities of research in my area. It would open some new avenues for my lab and provide new toys tools. So, I jumped in and took over the introduction. In so doing, I am shifting the focus of the grant in a somewhat significant way from the direction it had been heading. While it is more toward my own work, it is also more in keeping with the stated mission of the program, which makes me feel justified in doing it. I am taking input from others, but by reworking the introduction, it will nudge the other section writers to incorporate the elements I am laying out at the start. I will be curious to see how this all plays out and how my input is valued among this group of more senior scientists. At the same time, the funding of this grant will have far more impact on the trajectory of my career than theirs at this point, so why shouldn't I have the opportunity to shape the direction?

6 responses so far

  • ScientistMother says:

    I think some people will begrudge, yet they themselves would never get involved. The reason to get involved in these endeavors is to ensure some benefit to yourself.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Yeah, I didn't want to be one of those people who never votes, then complains about political decisions.

  • Comrade PhysioProf says:

    I think you are making a mistake putting a bunch of effort into this while at the same time exposing your neck politically. You are not the PI of this grant, and even if it gets awarded, you are not going to get any credit for it. And what if it gets trashed in review, and some senior fuckwad decides to blame you for it?At this stage of your career you need to (1) keep your head down politically and (2) focus on getting grants on which *you* are the PI, and which are renewable research grants that will fund the salaries of the people in your lab.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    CPP, I hear you, but there is relatively little effort on my part here (the finished draft took ~3 hours) and the PI is an administrator who I am better off being in the good graces of. I have three grants pending and no deadlines on the horizon and if this grant gets funded it wtill very directly impact my research. Yes, there is an element of risk, but I think the reward side is much larger. If the grant does not get funded, I doubt my five paragraphs will take the blame for it's downfall.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    You are totally and completely doing the right thing PlS. If this was questioning whether to launch it out of whole cloth, that'd be one thing. but it is already steaming ahead, and poorly? good for you. Sure, you risk some downside but there's huge upside. Not all senior PI donks are complete idiots and some do indeed see and appreciate your contribution. sounds like you are balancing concerns anyway so your local read of the collaborators trumps our assumption.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    The grant isn't going poorly, just at this early stage there was an introduction that was merely a place holder. However, the draft is being circulated to a number of people on Monday, so writing something that made some sense seemed like it might be important. Also, it is in an early enough stage that the direction can still be influenced, rather than being set in stone. The main thing is that if the propsal was funded, there would be a large impact on what the people in my lab accomplish. For that reason, I stand to directly benefit and would like to ensure that it goes out in the best shape it can. I am not at the kind of place overflowing with resources, so this would be a major boon.

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