We had a group meeting today. Our first since we lost Winnie. It was typically the place I saw her. Our conversations would often begin with discussing how very much bacon was on the pizza that was provided for lunch. I would have rated my fondness for the breakfast meat quite high before my arrival here. I’ve come to understand that I have no comprehension of a love for bacon that requires piles of it on a slice of pizza. I’d often shake my head and wrinkle my nose at her across the room if one of us arrived late. She’d nod in understanding, brushing bits of bacon off whatever slice appeared to be the least greasy.
I went late today – continued to work on something online until I thought most people – drawn by bacon pizza – should have arrived. I found one of the last seats and settled in with a single slice of chicken pizza – just a little bacon on it that I smiled over – and opened my notebook. We were going to talk about grants.
Boss said that I was one of the experts – having just submitted a grant recently. I shrugged modestly and noted that we’d certainly have to submit it again. Only a precious few are awarded grants on their first attempts, and I had no expectation of being any different. I did, however, internally acknowledge a glimmer of hope. A funded grant would certainly be the sign that I was headed down the right path. That research might be for me after all. That I somehow stumbled upon a career that could be sustainable in an increasingly tough environment for research.
I was pleased with myself, sitting in the dark, looking at screen captures of NIH websites. I had submitted a grant – for better or worse, funded or not scored – and that was important. I asked some good questions, participated in some of the discussion, and noted that 2 of the other postdocs looked at me with some sort of envy. I knew stuff! Finally wasn’t a half step behind as we talked. Could answer questions easily rather than flipping through a journal article I was presenting while saying softly, “It’s something like… Wait, let me find it.”
Boss closed the meeting by announcing details for Winnie’s memorial service. After some delay, it will occur soon. And I closed my eyes against the sadness. The problem with distracting yourself is that the pain is sometimes surprisingly intense.
As we left, one of the more senior fellows asked if I used eRA Commons.
“Nope. I submitted a paper copy of the grant.” I told him.
“Me too.” He nodded, then continued. “But you can check the progress online through that site. See how things are going.”
“Get the bad news sooner.” I smiled and he laughed.
Instead of watching my pendulum swing toward my magnets, I decided to check out the website. Review was this month, so I knew my results would be available soon if they weren’t there already. I had to request registration from my contact at work. Then I left to pick up new contacts, did a little shopping, then returned home.
After changing out of my work clothes and into my pajamas, I settled on the loveseat with Nick and checked on people who might want to talk to me. I was able to confirm my registration with the NIH, then started doing some other work as it would take up to 2 days to get my official log in. After submitting a paper, but continuing to deal with an abstract, I received my 2 emails – one with my username, another with a password. Like a bank card and PIN, I thought with some amusement, then tried 4 different times to create a password that contained numbers but didn’t begin or end with them, incorporated a special character, and put together a string of letters that I quickly wrote down because I wasn’t likely to remember them.
Then I entered the information that was missing from the little tabs, then clicked on status. Found the fellowship I had in grad school. Below them was the most recent application, and I sighed when I saw it was “Not Funded.” It’s too early to be overly disappointed – the comments will indicate whether the effort was wasted or if we can make some changes and try again. I know people who have done both – abandoned all hope for that particular funding avenue, and who have made changes, added personnel, changed agencies, and even institutions. I don’t know what I’ll do quite yet.
Grad school, for me, had its share of rejection. I’ve been quite lucky in working with people who are eager to pick me back up, assure me that I’m doing good work in a competitive field – journals, grants, fellowships, collaborations – and I’m not going to get everything I want. I have, however, made some progress in certain areas, and that’s nice. As far as this particular work? The grant would have been lovely. But I’m doing the projects regardless – think they’re quite important and cool. I’ve convinced a couple of people I’m right, and if I can keep talking folks into it, perhaps I’ll keep working for the next little while.
That’s enough, I think. I’m here. I’m adjusting. Making friends. Writing up the last of the papers from my graduate work, acknowledging that one may not get published, though it’s the last one I’m submitting after significant changes were made. I’m sad about a number of things and have some questions on what I’m doing here – where I’m heading – but that’s fine for now too. It’s hit or miss lately, but when isn’t it with me?
I wonder sometimes where this story is headed. If someone might read this a year from now and think, “How perfect! Here's someone who struggled with publishing and funding and finding balance! I feel the same way sometimes.” Then she can click over to the main page and see how things are going for future-Katie. I don’t know that I can predict it, frankly. But I have a feeling I’ll be OK.