Plight of the living deadlines

Today was a momentous day.

I submitted two progress reports to our private sector collaborator, looked at my calendar, and realised that I don’t have to lurch immediately into a panic about another deadline!

Yep, for the first time since July, I don’t have any urgent deadlines to meet! Not one solitary even halfway urgent little deadline! In fact, the next one that I know of isn’t until February 1st, although I’m sure others will pop up to fill that gap…

Since July 15th, I have submitted or helped to submit the following:

  • 6 grant registrations / letters of intent (4 as Chief Wrangler);
  • 8 full grant applications (5 as Chief Wrangler);
  • 3 progress reports (I wrote all parts of all three reports).

The grants were submitted to six competitions run by five different funding agencies, and involved six principal applicants (and dozens of co-applicants). The longest gap between any two items was four weeks, at the very beginning of the three-and-a-half-month period; the busiest single day involved one full grant application and four registrations (I was Chief Wrangler for all of them), while the busiest week involved four full grant applications submitted to three competitions (although I was the Chief Wrangler for “only” three of them).

This time of year is always very busy, but it’s never been quite this bad before.

I’d love to take some time off, but my six remaining vacation days are already committed to a nice long Christmas break. And of course I have to catch up on all the other, less urgent tasks that I had to let slide during the deadline panic; my to-do list has been expanding at quite an alarming rate, and I’m looking forward to starting to cut it down to a more reasonable size.

I think I’ve earned all the Hallowe’en candy I’m planning to eat tonight while opening the door to trick or treaters in costume and trying to make them scream like a little girl senior Nature editor!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
This entry was posted in career, grant wrangling, whining. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Plight of the living deadlines

  1. Alyssa says:

    Congrats for getting through! I’m sure just working on everyday things will practically feel like a vacation. Right?

  2. bean-mom says:

    Awesome! I am glad to not have constant deadlines =) (just the vague and looming threat of career doom ever omnipresent, but, uh, vague as I said…) Hope you are enjoying your Halloween candy tonight–yes, you deserve it!

  3. deevybee says:

    This is totally crazy, but I can’t understand it without some context.
    Do you have any grant funding at present? Do you have any data that aren’t written up? Could some of the questions you are asking be addressed by existing datasets? When do you actually get time to think?
    My concern is that getting grants has become a way that people are valued – and indeed start to value themselves – but there’s huge waste in the system because, as a colleague recently remarked to me, “it’s always easier to gather new data than to analyse what you’ve already got.”
    The pressure on people to get grants means that scientists are far too frazzled to do good research IMHO. We all need time to think and to do things calmly and carefully.
    My suggestion is that the system needs revising so that researchers are rewarded for *thrift*! I.e. you should get valued for the ratio of research outputs to inputs, rather than just research income.
    http://deevybee.blogspot.com/2010/08/how-our-current-reward-structures-have.html
    I realise that this may be unrealistic if you need a grant to fund your salary/keep a research group going. But I think the current system – whose effects are vividly illustrated by your post – has to change, as it is undermining good science.

    • Hi, and welcome to the blog!

      “The pressure on people to get grants means that scientists are far too frazzled to do good research IMHO. We all need time to think and to do things calmly and carefully.

      Absolutely – and in fact that’s largely why my position was created. I work in a department with five PIs – a bioinformatician, a molecular pathologist, a molecular biologist, a radiochemist, and a physician/scientist specialising in molecular imaging (and who between them collaborate with a bewildering array of clinicians, engineers, omicists, and everything in between), and also help other PIs in related departments with their work on an occasional basis. The PIs are responsible for conceiving and writing the actual proposals, while I write the abstracts, impact statements, budget justifications, and other supporting information (and edit, proof, assemble and submit all grant components), leaving them more time for the big-picture thinking and writing. I also handle the progress reports, ethics applications, manuscript editing/proofing, and assorted other non-grant related tasks, all to free up more of the PIs’ time for actual research.

      It’s usually great, except when multiple funding deadlines collide and all of “my” PIs are putting in grants to at least one competition each!

  4. I know exactly what you mean, Cath. For me the deadlines are mostly on non-dayjob stuff (writing gigs and preparing talks) so when I do have the occasional reprieve, it tends to be at 11 PM on a weeknight or perhaps on a Sunday morning. The problem is I then tend to feel guilty for not doing anything, which can rather ruin the whole thing!

  5. katebow says:

    Wow! Enjoy this hopefully not brief reprieve. I have to say when I read your “A week in grant wrangling” post I experienced a number of heart palpitations on your behalf. I love being busy but I am not sure I could handle that!

  6. ricardipus says:

    You win. I have one, er… today. :D

    And another one yesterday, which I requested an extension on (report, not grant application).

    On my whiteboard are “biggies” for Nov. 15, Dec. 7, Jan. 20, and Apr. 26. That’s excluding the anticipated Genome Canada call in mid-November, which will doubtless add a few more in the new year. Doesn’t seem like many, really, given that they’re splattered over the next six months, but they’re still going to keep me jumping.

    Sigh.

  7. ricardipus says:

    P.S. The title of this blogpost is FTW. Well done Cath. :D

  8. Thanks all!

    Alyssa, working on the non-deadline stuff feels like the worst vacation EVAH, but yes, it’s much, much better than the months on end of constant deadline stress!

    Bean-Mom, sorry about the vague threat of doom… Hallowe’en candy’s good for that, too, I believe!

    Jenny, I don’t know how you fit it all in! I took on precisely one non-work writing gig during the deadline collision period, and even that felt like too much – most days I was coming home from work completely burned out and brain dead.

    Mind you we’ve also spent most weekends since early August in the hospital with my mother-in-law – she was just released a couple of weeks ago and is now staying with her oldest daughter, so we’ve been visiting her there instead which is sooooo much better for all concerned! She’s doing really well – much better than we dared hope for – but it’s still a long road ahead.

    Kate, that really was an exceptional week – but that made it the perfect week in which to write that post, as I crammed so much work in that it was much more representative of what I do over a whole year than a normal week would have been!

    Ricardipus, I am extreeeeemely pleased that the Genome Canada announcement is expected to come a couple of weeks after the last deadline in this series – if it had come before, I might just have cried!

    Good luck with all your deadlines – now GET OFF THE INTERNET AND DO SOME WORK!!! ;)

    p.s. thanks! I aim to please with my post titles. I actually thought “separating the l33t from the graph” was better, but no-one noticed :’-(

  9. Pingback: Bragging Rights Central: New Archive Post | VWXYNot?

  10. Pingback: 2011 in books | VWXYNot?