Saturday, December 22, 2018

Is resilience the name of the game in academia? Part 3: Sophie is keeping both her kids, b!tches!

A year ago I wrote about the struggle to keep different projects going in my lab. I've been working on two separate and related lines of work that fit into the grander scheme of my lab. I like variety, and started with one scientific identity and then developed another. I kept both projects funded through my postdoc and at the beginning of my independent career, but it has been hard to keep them going lately.

Everyone was telling me to drop my original work and focus on the new one. Maybe it's silly, but it felt much like a failure. So, I threw a Hail Mary and pushed as hard as I could to sent out both R01 grants back to back...not quite twins in the same cycle as in my original plan to go for two R01s as a new investigator, but Irish twins. You see, if you submit as a New Investigator (NI), your grant remains in the NI pile for review even if the previous one was funded. I really wanted to make sure I sent something to the NIH in February because I heard that magical things happen in September/October when the fiscal year ends.

I almost didn't make it.

The grant just wasn't gelling and everyone's recommendations were going against my instincts. I decided to trust the coaching I was getting from colleagues in the field, and follow my PO's suggestions. If my PO had to choose to push for this grant, he needed to see that I listened to his advice. By the end, I was so exhausted, confused, and dejected waiting for the previous R01 to get reviewed on the same day the new R01 was due. One of my friends had to come to stay with me and watch me write. For a while, I didn't look at the grant after I submitted it. I wasn't sure if it was just word salad.

Then everything turned around. I found that the first R01 was going to be funded in the Spring. In July the second R01 was scored 1% from the payline! The NIH said that wasn't good enough, and I put on my big girl pants for the resubmission as an established investigator. But then, in an FY18 rebudgeting miracle the payline was changed! I didn't need to resubmit! And now everything will be funded again. I can't even express the joy at the idea of the science that we will get to do. The sense of wholeness and possibility.

I love and hate the emotional rollercoaster that comes with this job. But now I have 5 more years to keep going and do some very fun science. As we approach the holiday season I have been so thankful for this twist of fate, for my lab, for all others who have helped and supported me. It took a while to internalize this success after so many years of struggles, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. And now I get to have fun at my job again!

I wish that 2019 will bring the same joy and awesome science to all of you.


  1. Congrats! It's very satisfying to see hard work and perseverance pay off at this funding climate. I'm still a new PI and this is inspirational to me.