How much is my sanity worth?

largeI think that many scientists today would likely agree that writing grants (and worrying about funding) can drive a person to insanity. A question that I’ve never really pondered until recently is “Would I trade my sanity for a grant?” And if so, what size of a grant would warrant relinquishing my treasured stable mental state?

The reason that this question penetrated my conscious thinking stemmed from an email that I received a few weeks ago from a colleague at another US university. Paraphrasing his note, he essentially told me that our collaborative grant proposal was just reviewed and was deemed worthy of funding. Yay! As a result, he was asking me to send him a variety of documents related to the proposal.

My first thought was WONDERFUL! Good for him! And good for me, too, as apparently my proposed contribution to the work had led him to ask for a significant sum for our end as well. To the tune of $30,000/year for 4 years. But then a nagging feeling hit me—yes, we are collaborators and even published a manuscript together—but I honestly couldn’t remember reading and helping write the grant. Or when it was submitted. Or even what precisely we had pledged that we would do to support the study.

Over the course of my career, one of the things that I learned to do was to delegate responsibility. Along with that skill, I also learned to “let go” of anything that I had already done or delegated to someone else to do. In layman’s terms, in one ear, and out the other. I have always maintained that my brain is not large enough to hold all the information I need, so by releasing and forgetting about things that I have completed and no longer need, I free up more space for current tasks. Just like a hard drive—although I shouldn’t flatter myself.

Well. I calculated that this must be what happened with the collaborative proposal with my colleague. Proposal written, read, edited, submitted (ages ago)—and out of sight, out of mind. On to other matters until it is reviewed. But then, being organized, I should have computerized records of some of these documents. None could be located.

Now I began to worry. I began to randomly call to memory the names of extended family members, politicians, athletes. Anything that would reassure me that I’m not losing it. $30,000 is great, but I never played professional football or boxed. Never had a traumatic head injury. Should I be forgetting such basic work-related things?

Giving up, and quite embarrassed, I wrote to my colleague and asked if he wouldn’t mind sending me a copy of the proposal. That’s when he responded, sheepishly (if that can be detected by email), that the email he sent me was intended for ANOTHER STEVE who is also a collaborator—and not me! Good or bad? Well, I lost $30,000/year of grant money for the next 4 years, but what I lost monetarily, I gained in relief. No, I’m not crazy—yet!

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of about 10 students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery that is now in press! All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising. http://www.stevecaplan.net
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3 Responses to How much is my sanity worth?

  1. rpg says:

    A degree of insanity is a prerequisite for academic research.

    Although good to hear you’re not going senile. They do call it academentia, though…

  2. Maria says:

    Ha! I’m glad your sanity remains intact. Great post!