Both grants have been submitted, my desk and email inbox have been tidied, and sanity has been (partially) restored. That was one crazy round of CIHR grant applications, even more so than usual, but – as always – we pulled it together at the last minute.
Now that things are getting back to normal, I’ve resumed a new favourite task – translating grant proposals into flowcharts.
We’re starting a couple of very complicated multi-site studies, and I’ve been finding this exercise enormously helpful. Not only does the process really crystallise the research plan in my mind, it also helps with the creation of tracking spreadsheets which in turn help me keep tabs on progress, identify delays and bottlenecks, and write annual reports.
In this flowchart, each colour represents a sample (or set of samples), and the corresponding coloured arrows map the flow of each sample / set of samples through the various processes and analyses involved in the project. Roman numerals correspond to the five Aims of this sub-project (one of five sub-projects that make up the study as a whole); numbers in parentheses refer to the page of the proposal on which the samples / processes /analyses are described.
This process really appeals to the same logical part of my mind that fell in love with Mendelian genetics. Yes, I know that biology is too messy to be organised into nice neat little boxes, and that the longer-term parts of the plan, in particular, are likely to change as a result. But, as George Box once said, “all models are wrong, but some are useful”; these particular models are immensely useful to me.
The research plan for this project required a different mapping approach. As indicated at the bottom left of the diagram, blue boxes represent various samples / sets of samples; black boxes represent various processes / analyses; and red boxes represent final datasets / results. (NB I used red and green for the arrows at the bottom just to make it clear which samples were being compared in each of the two analyses that involve those four samples – there’s no other significance to those colours). Again, the corresponding Aims and/or proposal page numbers are listed in each box.
As my colleagues emerge from their offices, blinking into the light after the CIHR deadline, and become available for project planning meetings, I’ll soon find out if anyone else agrees… I’ve had really good feedback from a few people on the usefulness of my tracking spreadsheets and team meetings, but it’s been unexpectedly tough to get some other people to update their parts of the spreadsheet and to come to the meetings on a regular basis.
Ah well… the reviews for one of these grants included the phrase “All members of the team are supremely qualified to conduct the research. […] If this team cannot pull off this study, no one in Canada can.” As part of said team – even a backroom, largely invisible part – I feel inspired to rise to that challenge!
Now, pass me my
carrot TimBits and stick (TBD – I’m not good with sticks)…