In which we venture out

We are poised on the edge.

As the world teeters between spring and summer, cloaked in lush green and bursting into flower, there is a sense that our pandemic lockdown is coming to an end. Not all at once, of course, and not anywhere close to normal, but it is happening.

Freedom: a secluded swimming hole on the River Darent, last week, just before diving in

The evidence is everywhere. Unless something changes, Joshua’s school is reopening a week from today, amidst a storm of controversy about whether it is too soon. After a relaxation in lockdown rules, our local parks are filling up with sunbathers and barbecues, while the tennis courts are suddenly humming with players. Our own family ventured to the seaside yesterday — albeit at the obscenely early time of 8 AM, which allowed us to enjoy the vast stretch of low-tide Joss Bay sands with dozens of meters between us and the other sporadic early-bird groups brave enough to confront the chilly winds and frigid surf. And although the university labs remain closed, a plan is being put into place for a phased re-opening soon. The Royal Free Hospital, where my team is based, endured a large burden of COVID-19 patients, with a significant part of the building converted into make-shift intensive care units, including the floor where my lab is situated. So it’s a logistical health-and-safety nightmare aside from the social distancing we’ll need to practice.

There are many things about lockdown that are negative, but I am not looking forward to resuming the daily commute by train and Tube, a long-winded and stressful inconvenience I used to take for granted that now seems faintly ridiculous in the era of breezy Zoom calls. And I will genuinely miss the privilege of getting to spend so much time with Joshua as his teacher. He is such a clever and obliging little boy. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, and work commitments have meant I’ve had to outsource some of it to online resources such as The Khan Academy and BBC Bitesize, subscription kits like Toucanbox and Kiwi Crate, and the wonderful kids magazine Whizz Pop Bang. But by and large over the last ten weeks we have stuck to a loose schedule that includes English, mathematics, art, science and PE, and almost without me realising it, we have filled a scrapbook, and various Key Stage 1 workbooks, with the evidence of his learning. I hope when he returns, he will be perceived as being on track. All this, and still, somehow, I’ve stayed on top of my own work too.

Learning about our garden herbs

Although the experiments have been fun — gelatine-based microbiology, nature walks to collect specimens, parachutes from plastic bags, adventures with surface tension and water pressure, considering rudimentary hypotheses and controls — I think I have honestly enjoyed the art more. As the daughter of artists, growing up in a messy house surrounded by student portfolios that my father was grading, or of my parents own works, I love to draw but rarely indulge in the hobby these days. So it’s been good to incorporate this activity into the fabric of the everyday by sharing it with my son, just like my mother used to do art projects with me.

Chemistry time with Dad

I like to think that some of the nicer lockdown traditions will stay with us, but in my heart I know it cannot last. In the frantic resumption of the long commute, which eats up hours and spits out exhaustion at day’s end, our post-dinner dances and walks, art projects and story-writing, all will slip away, like spring into summer.

So for now, I’m going to soak in every last minute of precious time while it lasts, this preternatural pause-button couple of months that taught me the true meaning of “work-life balance”.

Posted in Academia, Domestic bliss, Joshua, Teaching, Work/life balance | Comments Off on In which we venture out

In which we lock down

Garden

Pandemic existence: reaping what we’ve sown

There is nothing I can write about life on lockdown that has not already been written. Doing so risks the scorn of the likes of Times journalist Matthew Parris, who on Saturday opined:

I’m encountering what for me is an almost intolerable level of guff about reconnecting with nature, learning the joys of contemplation, home-cooking, realising how much more there is to life than nine-to-five, putting the rhythm of lovely walks and daily exercise back into life, birdsong, etc.

But what else does he expect? We are all processing what has been one of the most extraordinary times in living memory. Of course we are struck by the commonplace, with a strong desire to find the silver lining — there is little else to hand aside from fear and contagion, seasoned by social media ire, fake news, recriminations and the arrogant wisdom of hindsight (or what my fellow Americans might call shoulda-coulda-woulda).

So yes, my journal is full of repetitive and probably deeply tedious observations about birdsong, the lack of contrails, the calming reduction in passing traffic, and all the wonderful neighbourhood nooks and crannies we’ve discovered on our daily family walk. To Parris’s list, I could add jokes about attending teleconferences in your underwear, middle-aged aching glutes after too much PE with Joe, panic buying, and when gin o’clock starts in the new world order. This is now our existence, and sharing makes us feel part of something larger.

So with that apologia, I will write what I need to write, and count the blessings I need to count.

For the past three weeks — which feels a lot more like three years — my world has been compressed into a small domestic core, as it has for so many others around the world. Richard drives out for the weekly shop, but I’ve only walked or cycled since the government’s social distancing mandates went into effect, and then only once a day and no more than half a mile of distance.

I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am to have my health, my family around me, a job where working remotely is possible, and the green space out back — the green space that enticed us away from London some five years ago, despite the added hassle and expense of the rail commute. In addition to give us that extra breathing space, the garden comes with its own seasonal imperatives, which now keep us on track and add structure to weeks which might otherwise pummel us with same-ness — even as it is an unrelenting bootcamp that sucks up much of our free time.

We are near the beginning of the cycle now, just completing the indoor propagation of seeds sown into heated trays in March — tomatoes, chilies, cucumber, courgettes, sweet corn; or into cool trays in the greenhouse — broccoli, celery, Brussels sprout, sunflowers, zinnias, various bare-root towering perennials. This conveyor belt of new green life overlaps by a few months with the end of last year’s cycle, as we continue to harvest overwintered vegetables — onion, chard, cabbages, pak choi, potatoes, kale, purple-sprouting broccoli, broad beans, carrots, parsnips. Richard is the caretaker of the grape vines we inherited from the previous owners, who had a penchant for home-brew. He is, in fact, in charge of all alcohol-related activities (which go far beyond grapes, including hops, apples, rhubarb, blackberries, elder and sloe). But the vines are the fussiest charges. Soon the buds will need rubbing, apparently.

One of my colleagues joked to me that he’s always been a bit of a “prepper” even under normal circumstances, and the pandemic has sharpened this instinct like a knapped flint. I know what he means. Every morning I give a silent thanks to the three warm eggs laid by the hens we managed, quite coincidentally, to install just before lockdown; their regular feed is supplemented generously by garden weeds, and their poo rots down and goes back into the vegetable beds. I am being particularly careful this year to gather more seeds than usual from those vegetables we have that breed true (including six varieties of heirloom tomato), as garden centres and online plant distributors wink out one by one. We’ve always been frugal with leftovers, but in recent weeks the entire family goes to particular pains to consume every last crumb of what we are served, as staples like bread flour and yeast grow increasingly hard to find.

Work has been challenging, as we’ve had Joshua to home-school, with disappointingly minimal guidance from his teachers. Clearly a lab head has an easier job of working from home than does her research team — much of what I do anyway is write papers and grants, supervise my team and tend collaborations, all of which lend themselves to remote working. But I’ve been trying to do the same number of hours as normal on top of keeping Joshua on some semblance of a schedule — regular hours set aside for maths, English, art, music, science, exercise and eating lunch with classmates on the Houseparty app. Sometimes when I’m busy on Zoom or Teams, his sad little face pops into the frame.

With undergraduate teaching complete aside from assessment, and individual lab members settled into lab-less home tasks like writing papers, bioinformatics and analyzing data, most of my efforts now are future-focused. On the teaching side, I tend to my broader roles as admissions tutor and faculty careers liaison. On the research side, nearly all my funding runs out in a bit more than a year, so I’m trying to write as many grants as I can. With chronic urinary tract infection seemingly unfundable, I’m now, with regret, forced to branch out into other related areas (hopefully still allowing some scope for carrying on with chronic UTI). So I’m forging links with other researchers and clinicians who have bold ideas and the same roll-up-your-sleeves attitude to science that I strive for, even as many of us academics wonder whether our universities will be in the financial position to keep us on once this is all over. But despite the uncertainty and genuine fears for my prospects, thinking about the future, brainstorming with diverse colleagues and exploring new areas is deeply stimulating. I am sure that this old dog still has a few new tricks to learn, and that one day soon I will strike it lucky.

So yes, I’m busy, perhaps busier than I’ve ever been. But at the same time, I have the oddest sense that nothing is actually happening. This must be an illusion of lockdown, when the environment is invariant day after day. Meanwhile outside, the pandemic crests over our heads with ruthless efficiency, widespread heartache, and no end in immediate sight. The conduit of outside information that keeps us plugged into badly-needed intelligence from the wider world is also an agent of fear, uneasiness and rancour. So I’ve sunk wholeheartedly into Easter weekend, allowing myself to down tools (aside from the spade and hoe), enjoy this glorious summery stretch of weather, and reflect upon the positive side of my new normal.

Posted in Domestic bliss, Gardening, Staring into the abyss, The profession of science, Work/life balance | 5 Comments

In which we home-school science: introducing #HomeSci, a social media experiment

Joshua channeling his inner boffin at dress-up time

From this coming Monday in the United Kingdom, all schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that many parents will be working from home and looking after their children at the same time. And not just looking after them, but having to support their education too. Other countries are or have already faced school closures.

As daunting (and sometimes frightening) as these times are, I have been heartened by how people have banded together to support one another and stay grounded, especially the online community, where we’ve seen everything from virtual choir practices to book groups chats rolling out via screen.

Yesterday on Twitter I was musing about how I might do a weekly scientific experiment with Joshua to keep him engaged with his home-school studies. My dear friend Sally Lowell suggested that we do it as a community: commence weekly experiments on Mondays, and report back on Fridays on Twitter with the results, including plenty of pictures. This would, she reasoned, mimic what happens at school, where kids work together on a project and get to see the outcomes. A number of parents expressed interest, I proposed the hashtag #HomeSci to keep track of everyone, and the idea was officially born!

For our first experiment on Monday 23 March, we decided to do something topical with micro-organisms. Paul Ko Ferrigno suggested the following [with my clarifications in brackets]:

Dissolve a stock cube and a cube of sugar-containing strawberry jelly [warning: this is the British term for Jell-o or gelatine…don’t use jam!] in hot water. Divide between 2 [paper] cupcake holders. Make as many as you want. When set, use moistened earbuds to sample around the house, wash/unwashed hands, swabbing and streaking. [Rub the moistened bud onto your surface of choice, then rub that gently onto the set gelatine as a smear. After a few days, bacterial colonies should grow. They will grow faster in a warm environment. It might help to put them into an enclosed Tupperware container that contains some wet paper towels at the bottom, to keep them moist.] Who can grow the grossest bug?

We all agreed this sounded like great fun, but I was keen to develop something a bit more hypothesis-driven. I’ve written before about how school science seems to be more about facts, figures and description than in learning how to actually ask and answer questions. So with a bit more discussion, we decided that people should choose parameters to test, whatever their child was most interested in: see what grows better if you vary the ingredients of the culture medium. Look at the effect of temperature. See which surfaces in the house are the most bug-ridden. And my personal favourite: determine whether hand-washing can affect whether microorganisms can grow – or whether 20 seconds is better than 10 seconds. Or even better: is the “five second rule” actually a thing?

We will be looking at bacteria, not viruses, but I like the idea of showing Joshua that such interventions really can affect the microbial world, as he’s been hearing so much about the right way to wash hands at school.

Do feel free to join us – the more, the merrier! Leave a comment below if you have any questions or suggestions.

Posted in Domestic bliss, Joshua, Research, Scientific method, Teaching | 1 Comment

In which the pandemic unfolds: a postcard from The Big One?

Epidemics are works in progress. At any given moment in time, you can’t know how they will end. They are a curve on a graph of ultimately unknown trajectory; when you are just a dot on a growing curve, you can’t see where line will go when it has yet to be drawn. Or to use another metaphor, as I remarked on my Cosmic Shambles blog back in late January when there was all to play for:

What we know right now about the Wuhan coronavirus is like a photo of a cluster of snooker balls a second after the break shot. We don’t know how fast the balls will roll away, nor to which corners of the table.

I wrote something here at the beginning of the Swine Flu pandemic back in 2009 which now makes interesting reading, encapsulating as it does that feeling of living through an outbreak’s beginning, of being a blind pixel on an unfolding graph:

Scientists, I think, are trained to be sceptical about major events in general, and the coverage of these events in the media in particular. Thus far the typical responses of my learned colleagues to the news of possible pandemic influenza have ranged from shrugs of disinterest to humorous quips, but very few feel that it will come to anything much. It is almost as if magnitude of the press response has reinforced their suspicion that nothing could possibly be as bad as advertised. So, are we witnessing another SARS fizzle-out, or the birth of a devastating plague that will be recorded in textbooks for millennia to come? I can almost see it inscribed: “In 2009, the first year of the Second Great Depression, the Swine Flu Epidemic wiped out a third of the earth’s population.”

While the 2009 pandemic infected up to 20% of the earth’s population and killed upwards of half a million people, it could have been worse. Knowing just how bad something is is a tricky thing, though. The piece I wrote for Shambles in January mentioned above references a tweet from a prominent medical expert telling everyone to calm down, that the evidence suggested the new coronavirus was only moderately contagious. Today, no one would dream of berating anyone from being concerned about what is unfolding before our eyes all over the world: escalating infection and death, supermarket shelves cleared by panic-buying, healthcare systems overwhelmed or predicted soon to be, countries on lockdown, borders closed and flights grounded. To me personally, this feels much more worrying than the Swine Flu pandemic, but at the very beginning, there was simply no way of knowing. And truth be told, Swine Flu might ultimately turn out to be more deadly.

I wrote in the Guardian in early February, before the seriousness of COVID19 was completely apparent, that the Big One was inevitable, but we wouldn’t know it until it was too late to repair our eroded and underfunded preparedness infrastructure. We can only hope now that we will overcome this challenge despite our flagrant lack of investment.

One of the reasons why I haven’t been writing much here over the past months is because I’ve been doing a lot of media work around COVID19 awareness. I have lost track of how many interviews I’ve given. I’ve appeared on television and radio (BBC, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg, ITV, Sky), been filmed for documentaries (CNN, Discovery Channel), been quoted in print (New York Times, Guardian, London Times, Daily Mail), and turned down literally many hundreds of requests at all times of the day and night. My phone has been ringing off the hook and I’ve stopped answering it, allowing my university’s press office to filter them. (As I write this piece right now, an email from Good Morning Britain has pinged up on my screen, and I’ve got two missed called from Sky News.)

It was exhausting enough keeping up with the story when it was a small seedling; now that it’s a monstrous tree with miles of underground roots, I’m feeling as if it might be time to step away. My expertise was very useful in the beginning – a six-year virology PhD on viral evolution coupled with years of experience in drug discovery, and lots of practice honing my communications skills on undergraduates and the general public, allowing me to craft simple messages that might be of some use. On Friday the university’s Provost name-checked me in his weekly newsletter and thanked me for having helped out from the beginning. But I suspect now what we need more are the specialists able to provide the nuance, to chase those roots and branches to their very tips. So I’m going to be increasingly stepping away from this public role. A shortage of experts and the sheer demand might make this impossible, so if I’m needed, I will do my bit.

So is this the Big One? I very much hope not. But if one thing is certain, COV19 is the biggest thing we’ve coped with for a generation, and its ripples will be felt for years to come.

Posted in Epidemics, Nostalgia, Scientific thinking, Staring into the abyss, Work/life balance | 1 Comment

In which my mother stands behind me, and I mother in turn

The winter always belonged to my mother and me.

We both loved the late autumn, when the last of the leaves plastered the pavements in a smear of color, and our breath fogged the morning air. November also usually brought the first snows, in that faraway land of four proper seasons – a land that seems so dreamlike now in this drizzly country of muddy ivy green.

We both had our birthdays in November — Mom first, and then me a few weeks later.

And then there was Thanksgiving, hard on the heels of presents and cake. I learned how to cook the meal from my mother, and each year I prepare it using the same gravy-stained recipe, all the American measures and temperatures converted in the marginalia. I can no longer ring her up, seven thousand miles away, to get advice about stuffing or to give me verbal reassurance that the bird is actually done.

And finally Christmas, when we’d do the turkey all over again. But also there’d be gingerbread cookies, flaming raisins, and dozens of other ritualistic kitchen adventures to share.

I find myself passing all of these rituals to my own child, who is just as eager to crack eggs, roll out dough, cut shapes and decorate as he is to scrape the last bits out of the bowl with his finger for a sweet treat.

And my family creates new traditions, such as the medieval figgy pudding we threw together yesterday using garden plums and figs thawed from the deep freeze, drizzled with flaming brandy and a sprig of holly.

Christmas becomes a scramble of past, present and future, the best of what you used to have melded with the rituals from your partner’s family side, tweaked with joint innovations – each generation sculpting and perfecting a personal haven of deep family life and experience. There’s probably a scientific metaphor in there somewhere, but I am officially off duty until 2020.

Happy Christmas and New Years to all!

Posted in Domestic bliss, Joshua, Nostalgia, The ageing process, Work/life balance | 2 Comments

In which I defend the birds-eye view

Lovely massive tree. But what about that small boy in the corner?

Is science about obsessing over one tiny daub of paint? Or is it about standing back and appreciating the entire picture?

At the poster session of a recent meeting, I was chatting with a engaging young woman about her research (the particulars have been changed to obscure this person’s identity). It was all very impressive, but in one of those oblique flashes that sometimes hit, I saw a link to another related disease. I suggested that she consider exploring it. “If your protein is involved in that other pathway,” I said, “it could tell you a lot about your own.”

The woman smiled sadly. “I actually wanted to do that, but my boss said no.”

“Why?”

“Because we’re funded to work on [disease X], and looking at [related disease Y] would be off-topic. And that was that.”

Off-topic? To be clear, we were talking about slightly different manifestations of a very similar problem. I don’t want to be too specific in this particular case, but it would be like being taken to task for having a look at lung infection caused by strep-induced pneumonia in immunocompromised patients instead of in healthy people. Any similarities or differences you uncovered would tell you something about what’s going on in healthy patients, and could provide the missing link to understanding a piece of biology that might otherwise remain elusive.

But boss-man said no.

I find this mindset utterly baffling, but I must say that I’ve seen quite a lot of it over the years. It never fails to surprise me how people with no imagination can end up in the sciences. And if they can mine the seams of the obvious efficiently enough, they can even be marginally successful.

Science was never meant to penned into a small field of simple grass. It should respect no fences, grazing freely across the pastures, taking in a hundred types of wildflower, moving along paths trampled by foxes, shot through with mice, exploding with meadowlarks. It absolutely should stray into the next farmer’s field to nibble at the lush green carrot-tops. And yes, it will occasionally fall down a rabbit hole or two.

But if you, as a scientist, aren’t pushing outside your comfort zone, you are unlikely ever to discover anything truly groundbreaking.

Posted in Academia, Research, Scientific method, Scientific thinking | 2 Comments

In which darkness comes knocking

It’s quite telling that the back end of this blog site is full of recent drafts, abandoned a few lines in. I have ideas, and most evenings, the time, to dash something off. But something, recently, is sapping my creative energy.

A combination of factors is probably responsible. One is certainly the change of season. I have always loved autumm, but there is a trade-off for the turquoise and gold palette of a fine afternoon, when the sun warms your back and you can sit in a deck chair just taking in the scarlet wash of Virginia creeper on the garden wall, the lazy spiral of leaves adding to the growing piles on the unswept paths, the last zinnia and sunflower blooms glowing yellow and umber in tangles of browned foliage. And this trade-off is the darkness, coming in like a relentless tide against the fools-gold summer days. Recently the rains have settled in, too, so even daylight struggles to register.

The other reason is probably the stress of a new term, and the ever-present reality of the uncertainty of my position at the university. For a while there was a promising possibility, but it evaporated in the way of so many others in the academic career structure, blown south by some politics that I don’t have the skill set to negotiate nor the will to chase. My heart just isn’t in it any more. After a while, you just find yourself beating your head against the same wall, when all you really want to do is think about science and how best to make things better for patients. So I’ll keep writing major grants that will probably keep getting rejected, and keep scraping by with the smaller ones that occasionally get pulled up from the blue in my ratty net, as surprising as a coral-pink starfish in a crop of manky seaweed. And if all else fails, I can teach full-time – or decide that’s not enough, after which I’ll give up and try something more fulfilling. Just knowing that an escape is possible makes the current situation easier to bear, even if it never comes to that – those nuclear codes are safe in the back of the drawer.

So – this season of my discontent sets in. And underneath it all, the words that I would like to say stay unsaid.

Thunder rumbles, and I sit here in the dark with my candle against the darkness, hoping to find some inspiration.

Posted in Academia, Staring into the abyss, The profession of science, Writing | Comments Off on In which darkness comes knocking

In which I realize I am part of a select sci/art group

Me talking about the antimicrobial resistance crisis back in 2015

I haven’t written here for a gazillion years – life is just too full-on. But I found out an amusing fact that I wanted to share. I’m not sure how it came up, but my Fiction Lab contact at the Royal Institution recently told me he’d done a little digging and found out that only three published fiction authors had ever given a Friday Evening Discourse there.

These were:

1. H.G. Wells
2. Ian McEwan

and

3. Me

!

PS. You can see my talk here. I also wrote about the terrifying run-up.

Posted in LabLit, Nostalgia | Comments Off on In which I realize I am part of a select sci/art group

In which I assess

There’s plenty more where that came from

It’s that time of year – piles of booklets appearing on my desk faster than I can clear them out. Baffling handwriting, detailed rubrics, Excel spreadsheets, moderation sessions, similarity scores, pens of many different colored inks. Short answer questions, dissertations, poster vivas, essays – all produced by students who seem gripped by fear, no matter how talented or likely to smash it.

I remember my own undergraduate exams: the sense of panic and dread has left an indelible mark in my memory. This must be why my own students laugh when we lecturers confess that the exam marking season can be more stressful for us than the regular teaching term, as busy and fraught with deadlines as that period may be. How hard can it be, they must wonder, just to read over stuff and give it a grade?

But anyone who has done it will tell you that a pile of 200 essays on the same topic, assessed over and over for hours on end to a tight schedule, is a one-way ticket to anxiety. For each individual student, the mark might be the difference between one grade boundary and another; in the aggregate, such a difference could affect the final year mark, or overall degree classification. This, in turn, is bound to make ripples through the rest of a given student’s career. So naturally the stakes are high, and we have to remain sharply in focus throughout. There is a crushing sense of responsibility.

And of course, academic life does not grind to a halt during the marking period. In a sense, I think this is the most stressful aspect of all. We still have papers to write, grants to work on, data to analyze, collaborations to tend to, scientists to supervise, seemingly endless meetings to attend, open days to plan, hundreds of emails pouring relentlessly into our Inboxes. Everything else I do is portable, modular, can be nibbled away at in chunks. But marking, at least for me, requires long uninterrupted stretches of time so that I can apply the utmost consistency, student to student.

I will survive, obviously. But if I don’t answer your email straight away, you’ll know why.

Posted in Academia, Students, Teaching, The profession of science | Comments Off on In which I assess

In which I run aground

It’s been a long winter, and the past academic term seemed to stretch on forever, a blur of stress and deadlines punctuated by good news and bad. My lab got another paper accepted, and my outline-stage grant was shortlisted. But then I had to complete the full grant application alongside a hefty stretch of intensive teaching and supervising a team of researchers, while juggling a handful of manuscripts and some quite distressing issues in my life. As a result, I hit Easter break like a clapped-out car running out of fuel and rolling to a stop on the side of a long, deserted roadway.

This isn’t anything unusual: holidays for me often feel more like a period of convalescence – especially the first few days of it. This sense is compounded by the usual guilt that gathers every time I am not doing anything, an insistent voice in my ear scolding me for not writing, weeding the garden or embarking upon some long-awaited DIY project. Instead, I tend to sit in the garden with a cup of coffee and stare into space, wishing I were asleep instead. If I’m lucky, I might manage a few handwritten lines in my journal.

So here I am, laptop resting on the marble-topped table at the back of my garden, listening to the creek spilling into the pond, and the urgent springtime songs of robins, blackbirds, tits and finches. Cherry blossoms drift downward and speckle the surface of the water, which reflects back trees and sky. I’m past the convalescence stage of this break, but I still feel like I haven’t had a proper sleep since the 1980s. My body aches, the consequence of pounding the concrete pavements five days a week over the past four months as I commuted from Kent to London and transited between campuses, going about my frantic academic business, prolonged by the on-foot school run. Sometimes I fear I’m getting too old to physically keep up the pace. When I fantasize about quitting academia, it’s not to take up some high-flying alternative career, but to become a gardener or a park ranger, somewhere far away from the city where I can work with my hands and breathe the fresh air.

I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel, of course. If I can get enough momentum over the next two years to ensure continuous research funding (“escape velocity”, a former colleague used to call it), I’ll have a fighting chance. Diversification is probably key, even though that’s the last thing I want. But it’s so hard to convince anyone that a usually-not-life-threatening bacterial disease which is most problematic in older women, and which already has a cure traditionally viewed as “effective”, should be funded at all. Grant reviewers tend to point out that there are far bigger problems out there, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, and that antibiotics are perfectly serviceable, so why dabble with new therapies?

This gap in understanding the reality behind the myth means more precious lines of the application devoted to explaining how chronic and recurring urinary infection are far more serious than people think – which then means less space to devote to the plan of attack. Leading, in turn, to criticisms about lack of experimental detail. Achieving that balancing act has been the product of nearly eight years of grantsmanship refinement, and time will tell whether I’m finally getting it right. The cause is so very important – thinking about the plight of the patients, and how close we are to making a difference, is sometimes the only thing that keeps me going.

So, five more days to forget about work, lick my wounds, catch up on my sleep and spend precious time with my family. Unusually, the weather has actually cooperated this year, with summery sun arriving just in time for the hank holiday weekend. So I’d better sign off now – I’ve got goosegrass to pull up and a son and husband to cuddle close.

Posted in Academia, Domestic bliss, Gardening, science funding, Staring into the abyss, The ageing process, Work/life balance | 11 Comments