Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Whilst & Heretofore

I printed the fellowship application yesterday at my office on campus, wheeling my chair the few inches necessary for me to reach the documents resting neatly in the paper tray. Having decided to work from home today, I woke this morning before 7, happily poured cold coffee leftover from yesterday in a mug with cream and sweetener and flopped on my loveseat to get more Matlab code running.

It slows down the laptop considerably, so I had to choose between figuring out a technical question or reading the application. The latter won since it felt too early for derivations and Fourier transforms. I moved to the couch and covered up with a soft blanket. Then I lifted the edge of the fabric striped in shades of blue and green so Chienne could curl at my feet. I began to read, nodding with agreement at the significance and points in the introduction. I was distracted by the word 'whilst' and stopped to put a smiley face in the margin with the thin purple marker I held in my right hand. I wondered briefly if I might someday be kissed by a man with an English accent, then forcibly returned my attention to the sheaf of papers I held.

I was doing fine until I reached the end. As I moved the final page to the end of the stack I held, I was faced with the blank reviewer forms I am to turn in before mid-December. Apart from the other happy face I drew next to the sentence that contained 'heretofore,' I didn't make very many notes at all. I understand the premise, am familiar with the techniques and hold one of the listed mentors in extremely high regard. He was friendly to me at several international meetings - asking questions and making a point of introducing me to people. I'm therefore quite fond of him and would like to help him - and therefore his trainee - out.

It's not that I don't have ideas. I can and will list technical suggestions and suggest potential problems and limitations. But I've never reviewed a grant before and upon having this realization as I was leaving for my morning perambulation (insert smiley face here), I paused to frown. I'm not great at peer review for publications - I'm far too worried about someone's hurt feelings and am naturally encouraging rather than critical. But my skills in this area are developing slowly so I'm not overly concerned. But when it comes to grants, I'm very much a writer. If it lacks technical detail, I know how it feels to run out of room to tell all about my plan. If I feel it's very ambitious, perhaps that reflects my own feelings of failure when I tried to complete something rather similar and couldn't pull it together.

The truth is, I'd be much more comfortable having coffee (or perhaps some tea! Isn't tea more British?) with the fellow in question. We could talk lit searches and collaborators and I could tell him what I learned. Definitely do these three things, but try to avoid those 10 problems. Don't worry when this happens or you're really lucky if you can get the data to do that. I want to help - offer analysis programs and new acquisition schemes. I'd like to offer my email address in case he needs any help. (And maybe so I can get email with 'hath' and 'to wit' and maybe a 'chap' or two.) But when it comes to offering an objective opinion? I'm all befuddled.

So I've decided to make notes on my ideas, then ask Boss to walk me through a grant review. Given that I find him exceptionally kind, my feeling is that he'll be thorough and fair while retaining a sense of encouragement, especially toward young scientists. I'm content with this decision and will learn how to review grants later this week. Perhaps after I learn to outline articles for high profile journals tomorrow.

But now I will delve into complicated papers I'd rather ignore. I'll find a different pretty marker and some scratch paper and try to make sense of correlations and relationships and mapping against different independent variables and what the full width at half max of the Fourier transformed graph represents. Those words will not receive little smiley faces in the margins or elicit fantasies about walking hand in hand through rainy streets of London with some wonderful man who uses words that make me smile. But one of my technical papers is written from a group in the UK. Maybe they'll at least spell words differently than I would - ou and extra e and s instead of z. Beggars can't be choosers, I suppose.

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