Last night I received an email from a friend:
Is it just me, or is the news about NIH and the future of science in general starting to get just plain depressing? All the stories about labs closing and people getting grants endlessly triaged is just painful. I’m in the midst of writing several grants right now, but have to wonder if it’s even worth it. Lame, I know. But I find I have so little time for real science anymore. I’m starting to think that many of our “generation” are not going to be in academic science in 5 yrs, and that makes me really sad. So I’m glad to hear all the nice news you post about your papers getting accepted and your students doing well, since good news doesn’t abound these days.
Funny that this should arrive yesterday, because this is just exactly what I have been feeling. I replied:
Dear Science BFF-
It’s so funny that you would send me this email right now- because it pretty much sums up exactly what I’ve been feeling. Not lame at all. Morale everywhere in academic science is very very low, and it is taking a toll on both of us, and I think many other scientists (DrMrA asks himself daily if this is worth it.). I find it endlessly disturbing that I will spend the next 5 months writing and re-writing grants like a maniac- and I won’t have time to direct/think about the projects we have going with my full attention. It’s this second part that I get a lot of satisfaction from – I guess what I consider the ‘real science’, and you are right- it feels like that’s become second fiddle to other priorities. Let’s face it, we can’t write/re-write 8 grants (one got dropped so now it’s actually 7), while putting the finishing touches on two papers, directing two grad students, reading a thesis, picking up a new student, and then finally looking at data and having time to think carefully about context and what to do next. It just kills me that the looking at data, thinking ahead and reading part seems to have to have fallen lower on the priority list- things are upside down.
A couple of days ago a senior faculty member (SFM) that I know visited me in my office. I described exactly what I have planned for the next 5 months- and this person seemed rather stunned. I will lose my postdoc in the next couple of weeks (I’m in denial), and she runs the lab while I write. This will make running the whole shooting match here a little trickier. I got the feeling that SFM didn’t understand that I’m literally fighting for my own survival right now- this is going to be a long battle- and fatigue and low morale are inevitable. I suppose my antidote to this is just to enter extreme survival mode and part of this is to celebrate every small victory- from papers right down to grad student research competitions.
I am going to be honest with you- I do ask myself if it is worth it. This weekend we were visited by a relative who is a stay-at-home mom with children similar in age to mine. I saw up close and personal how much more time she has available to focus on her kids- not that I’m sayin’ I want to be a stay-at-home mom, but nights home at 6 a little more frequently would go a long way to helping me feel better about the balance. And it’s not just the long hours- if it was long hours doing the real science, I’d still feel the lack of balance for the kids- but at least I’d be spending those hours doing something I enjoy. Long hours re-writing grants feel like work, and the scale is just tipped too far in this direction.
So Science BFF- I’m with you… I know what you are going through- we just have to hang in there as long as we can and hope that grant conditions improve. If they don’t and we find ourselves miserable, we may have to consider the alternatives.