In a letter that I received this week from the Wellcome Trust about my grant application I read: “The Committee commended your engaging lay summary, which was deemed to be one of the most entertaining ever presented.” That was very good of them to say so. But it was not good enough.
That’s because the statement was preceded by the news that “whilst the Committee agreed your application had merit, the competition was strong, and as a result, we are unable to support it.” In other words, “this is not good enough.”
The comments from the referees, which were attached to the letter, universally praised the value, content and design of the proposed program of investigation. There were some niggles about particular priorities, but these were offered constructively. One referee made a better argument for the project than I had made myself in the application. But this was not good enough.
We have worked hard on this project over the past several years, generated new protein structures, new results, new insights. And published papers. By many measures our investigations have been very successful. But this is not good enough.
I have written elsewhere about the thrill of science, trying to explain why I love being a scientist. There is great joy in discovery, in living by your wits. I have fantastic memories of the good days, some very recent. I know there will be more. But today, this is not good enough.
I knew when I set out on this journey that I was casting loose on uncertain seas. I rejected safe passage through a career in the National Health Service. I knew that as a scientist I would always have to operate at the very limit of my abilities. Anything less would not be a life. But today, this does not feel good enough.
There is nothing special or unusual in what has happened. This eviscerating experience of rejection is by no means unique. It is shared by all scientists. It is the life we choose. But today, the comfort derived from knowing this is somehow not quite good enough.
However, tomorrow is another day.