Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Funding and Self Confidence

So as I sit here waiting to find out if any of my 6 currently outstanding grants will be funded and facing the possibility of running out of funds in 10 short months (prayers accepted), I have been wondering what all this means. If I am unable to fund my lab effectively (say more than 1 student at a time) does this mean that I am an ineffective professor? or is it simply a sign of the times and the incredibly poor funding situation (near 8% success rate in the divisions I apply to)?

In the past funding rates were near 20-25% (or so I've been told by senior faculty). Given my scores and ratings, its likely many of my proposals would have been funded in those times, so by that mark I'm doing okay. But the point is that right now, which is what matters, I have had one grant funded, which has already expired, and will have difficulty running my lab if another does not materialize soon. Yet, I know of people, junior people in my field, who *are* able to fund their labs effectively (i.e., more than 1 student) even in these times. Does this mean that they are simply better scientists (or at least grant writers) than me? If so what does this imply?

If I am able to perform research, not at the scale that I wish, but still achieving a low level of funding, is that okay? My goal has never been to be a research superstar that sacrifices every waking moment to achieve NAS/NAE success, but I guess somehow I always hoped it would just sort of happen anyway. Am I okay with being an okay or good scientist, but not the best?

My institution is very supportive of me and seems to think that I am doing a great job, so I am not worried about tenure. My goals have always been more advanced than what would be required for tenure. The real question I guess is, if I cannot achieve my goals, can I settle for only some of what I want?

Now, for perspective, I am in my third year as a faculty member, and have been told by everyone that that is when grants start to hit, so maybe tomorrow I will be blogging about all my funding success and none of this will matter, but right now, in this moment, I have to ask if it is okay to be less than great.


At 10:26 PM , Blogger Candid Engineer said...

Perhaps being a third-year faculty member is like being a third-year grad student: the tunnel is never darker, and just when you're about to give up, the good stuff starts rolling in.

My fingers are crossed for you.

At 10:45 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am just amazed that as a mother, you have 6 proposals in review. That is an enormous amount of work!!! I am at an undergraduate institution and have maintained NIH funding for 6 out of 9 years here, which is fairly good, given the fact that I have 2 children at home. Good luck and I hope to hear some of those grants get funded!!!!!

At 1:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in my fourth year on the tenure track, female, with one child at home, and about this time last year I didn't have ANY major grants. I only had small grants, an PRF-ACS, couple of internal ones, one NSF--educational (doesn't find any of my grad students) and that was it. I was even dreaming about grants at night. I also sent out about one grant a month. It was the most stresfull year on the TT. Finally, this summer the money started to come. And when it started to rain, it poured!! So, I am sure that out of your 6 applications AT LEAST one will pay off. You'll see! Good luck to you!

At 9:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 11:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's more a sign of the times, and you will find some funding if you stick to it. But more importantly, I wanted to say:
YES! It is ok to be less than great.

It is ok to choose to balance things out. And it is also ok to try your hardest and not have an amazing result. And to do something in between...


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