The knowledge drain?

After months of thinking about it, followed by weeks of trying to find time, due to various pressing deadlines haunting me, I have now officially started writing my first grant proposal where my role is as the main PI. Perhaps subconsciously the act of my boss verifying with me yesterday – in my annual evaluation meeting – whether writing a proposal was really something that I wanted, has made me realize that, yes (!), I should prioritize this more and, yes (!), I want to write this one. However, starting today was more of a coincidence than something driven by any event in particular. First of all, I just finished two revisions of important manuscripts that were approaching their deadlines. (Only one to go for now, with some time left, so I can breathe again) Starting my proposal was on the schedule for this week. Secondly, I have tried to implement a new structure in communicating with my team since last week, and this immediately felt like I gained renewed energy to take on the challenge of proposal writing.

I’m not sure where I stand on the proposal writing business. On the one hand, I find it important to spend time to structure thought and to develop a work plan for the next couple of years. Proposals are really good for that. On the other hand, most proposals don’t get funded. This is an inescapable truth. So it is also very likely that mine will end up down the drain at some point. It is as simple as that. This feels like a huge waste of time. An ecologist friend of mine recently shared his frustrations in a couple of tweets after submitting a major grant proposal. I think his tweets capture the sentiment pretty well. (And I had never embedded a tweet before, so I considered this an opportunity to expand my skillset)

I understand why people enjoy the process. I enjoy thinking. I enjoy writing. I enjoy writing most papers. (although I hate writing up results sections – especially writing in stats output is not my hobby) I could see how I would also enjoy creating a proposal. However, I also agree with Stefan’s point on the time that is likely wasted. It is personal time and energy. When invested efficiently, this time could also generate papers. Any manuscript I have written, has eventually been (or probably will be) published, and I see no reason why this would not be the case. However, what about proposals? If it is true that 90% of proposals get rejected (and in some cases that is a conservative estimate), is this huge waste of energy, knowledge and money worth our time and efforts?

I really don’t know the answer.

In any case, I’ll give it a shot with the proposal writing, and I’m ready to fail desperately. I guess that is the only attitude you can adopt to face the constant rejections in academia. I try to look at rejections as ‘their loss’ and it eases the pain a bit. A rejection wouldn’t really threaten me anyway. For now, I will have a job regardless. Nothing hinges on it. I have that luxury. However, wouldn’t it be amazing if it would just work out? The project that I will propose just seems to fit seemlessly in my current career path. I think it could make a fantastic project with very low risk compared to a high gain. I’m generally pretty pessimistic about my own thoughts, but I somehow feel that this work just needs to be done. I think it should make a great project. Let’s see how I feel after submitting it (hopefully before August, when my parental leave starts).

And now all are of course waiting for me to share what it will be about?


Good night.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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