It sometimes feels like most of my scientific career is made of "why the fuck did I accept to do this?" moments.
The only thing that changes is that now I know they're going to happen at the moment I agree.
This time was no exception. Five-year research plan, one point five million euros, nine percent chance of success, all on my own, deadline in a little under two months? Sign me in. Well a few people whose opinion in these matters I respect say I oughta try it so. Sure! Why not. Great opportunity. Will give me a first experience. Thinking about my five-year plan can't be a bad idea anyway. What, Christmas vacation? Oh well, who needs Christmas vacation anyway, as long as one can spare a couple days to hang out with family.
OK, the part where I got to think about science, check the literature, sit down and do the math for the one thing I've been telling people for months should probably work out... that was cool.
The part where I got to organize all these ideas in a plan, finally putting all those years of essay writing at school to use, that was kind of fun too.
The part where I started sending this plan out, feeling as exposed as if I had emailed around pictures of myself naked, and started receiving feedback about all the things it lacked? Not so much fun any more.
Settling on a final plan and starting to write was a bit better.
Sitting down with my project manager and feeling that he had all sorts of puzzling forms and requirements and templates and budgeting under control was nice.
Getting feedback on my first draft was better than expected. People didn't hate it outright. They even thought it was rather well written. And they liked the ideas. Well, some of them, at least. They gave constructive comments about the things that were unclear. Better yet, they gave converging constructive comments about the things that were unclear. They also gave constructive comments about adding a little spark to the thing. Well, a lot of spark, really. "Your reviewers are most likely to be male and ambitious," I was told. "Write more... R-like. Or K-like. Or J-like. Or F-like. Think of T! Imagine what he would write. Or, well, you don't lack examples of male, ambitious writing, do you?" No, no, I don't. And believe me it's all I can do not to grate my teeth and roll my eyes when I read that "this ambitious projects relies on two major breakthroughs of its PI". But that's the game, right? "You have to add some shine and sparkles. But not vulgar shine and sparkles" is another piece of excellent advice. Unfortunately, according to my Calvinist-agnostic upbringing, shine and sparkle are vulgar. (Unlike bright colors. Somehow we like bright colors in the family.)
So yeah, this last week of adding sparkle and shine, clarifying concepts and statements without making the document longer, constantly checking page length and counting characters? This weekend spent glaring at my laptop screen because I really, really, really didn't wanna although I hadta? The exchanges with the legal department, where you understand that there's an ocean of between you and them and that you'll never understand them and they'll never understand you and I'm not saying this because their English is terrible? The one time I had been staring at the screen long enough I felt like scratching my eyeballs out of their sockets but a figure started going in the bottom margin and someone told me I should take a break and I looked up and replied with tears in my voice that if I didn't fix the figure they were going to reject my proposal for not respecting the margin requirement and I couldn't possibly take a break until I had fixed it?
But then... all of a sudden... I emailed my project manager. "Unless you notice any problem with it, I think this is my final version," I wrote.
And then I spent half an hour on Twitter and I went for my lunch meeting and then my afternoon meeting all the while checking my email to see whether there was any changes to make. And then I proofread the entire document again. And then I went to the submission platform to check we had put the correct version of every file in there.
And then the clock marked the hour of the submission deadline and my project manager confirmed the submission was final and there was no obvious problem with it and I turned my computer off.
Grant proposals don't have acknowledgement sections but if they did mine would have thanked
- the ten people who proofread the document at various stages of its preparation;
- the guy who let me have his own successful proposal to the same funding program as an example just because a friend of mine who used to be a colleague of him asked;
- the guy who let me have his own successful proposal and his LaTeX template for it just because I asked on Facebook (and we've worked at the same institute although on very different topics);
- the friend who gave me homemade cookie mix so that I had cookies this weekend, and who regularly checked whether I was still remembering to breathe;
- the friend who answered my urgent text message about typographic rules (because typography matters, people);
- the colleague who took me to lunch a couple weeks ago because I obviously needed to unwind;
- the friends and colleagues and people of the Internet who made me feel warmer in this cold, dreary, sorrowful month of January 2015;
- the two amazing little girls who made me forget everything else about the world while I was holding them;
- my entire orchestra, even the obnoxious violinists, for those moments when I got to lose myself in music;
- my mom's dog, for the adorable photos I received;
- aspirin, acetaminophen, theobromine and Roquefort.
"So? How does it feel? Are you gonna get a beer?" asked the guy who had the day before canceled our plans to have a drink together after work to celebrate the submission.
"No... I don't think the alcohol will mix too well with excessive caffeine levels and lack of sleep.
I'm going to go home. Relax. Cook myself some spinach..."
Girlfriend knows how to have fun, y'all.