The Trouble with Service.

Sep 14 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

A couple of weeks ago I wrote, in high spirits, about finding an NIH Funding Opportunity Announcement that matched perfectly with something I’ve thinking about doing. It was an R21 grant, which is a small 2 year award for novel, exploratory research. The little bit of funding would have covered someone on my team to try and do something new and fun with one of the tools we have at our disposal, and see if we could broaden its impact and predictive power. If it worked then we could apply for a larger R01 type grant and fund expansive and scalar development of this tool. If it didn’t work, then no-harm, no-foul.

I called my dear friend and co-Scientopian, Dr. Becca, because I know she has been funded by this exact FOA and she encouraged me to apply, and even very generously shared her successful application with me so I could get a handle on the constraints such a small award carries (you only get 6 pages to explain how you’ll take over the world).

I met with the professor who would be joint-PI on the grant with me (adding the clinical & professional clout we’d need to get on the NIH radar). She was super supportive and had some great ideas on how to focus down the project to make it very straightforward and predictive. She was aware of some other work in the general field and offered to make some phone-calls to check out the possible “competition”.

This was a little over three weeks ago. The grant is due, in its completed form in our Office of Research Administration (the institute submits the grant for you) in 27 days time. I had 7 or 8 weeks bookmarked to work on this bloody thing and I haven’t even jotted a note or drafted a budget.

I guess I still have time to rattle something out; 27 days isn’t bad really, but there have been made on my time new and un-refusable demands that is making focusing on this personal project almost impossible. I run a core service unit – we are “contracted” (if you will) by faculty to perform their biomedical databasing and computing needs for their research (what a horribly clumsy sentence!). One of these projects has arisen and it is for a MONSTER of a project. It involves working on another grant ($4million/yr), due at approximately the same time my paltry little R21 ($120k/yr), and alas I’m having trouble multi-tasking with this.

I am not sure if I should just call my Program officer and tell her that we’ll apply for the R21 next Spring when “things calm down”.  I guess one of the hardest parts of this “new” job is learning how to balance my time to fulfill contractual obligations with the prospective demands on my career development.

I’d appreciate input, especially from faculty readers. Am I being a wimp? Should I be doing both, or is prioritizing the big a more useful and productive measure?

2 responses so far

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    I guess you have to satisfy your "contractual" obligations before you can get to your personal ones. After working on the MONSTER grant can you try to work on the R21 and circulate it to other faculty for comments before the spring deadline?

    Sounds like if you try to both right now its going to be very difficult to develop a strong proposal.

  • BrooksPhD says:

    That last part has been much of the advice I've gotten from round here. Better to postpone and submit a strong A0