So, we get to the end of November, a strange month of transitions that ends with me lolling on the sofa feeling grotty, instead of jetting off to Barcelona to attend a workshop. After a week of trying to fight them off I have let the bugs win.
I say a month of transitions because November has been exactly that. Alongside the excitement of growing my first ever Movember moustache (a fine specimen that has raised around £200 for Mind), taking part in the excellent IAS2013 (and winning it), I have reached the end of the long-process of putting together the REF submission for UoA6 in the University. To be honest I can’t remember when I started that task, but we might quantify it by the number of Heads of School for Biosciences that have overseen my efforts in that direction (three in fact- so that’s a long time). The button has been pressed by someone in Research and Graduate Services and now I have my life back.
So, the last few weeks have seen me reactivating those neuronal pathways that are responsible for having ideas. I’m just a little concerned that some of them have decayed through lack of use, but a steady stream of possibilities fighting their way through my cold reassures me that a good grant funding idea is somewhere in my brain, fighting it’s way up to the surface.
This space to think does strange things to me. On the one hand it is incredibly exciting to be able to flick up an idea, scrutinise it and then either bin it or file if for further consideration. This is what makes the life of an academic so fantastic. On the other hand it generates pressure. My employers want me to bring in research grants, they want the money probably a lot more than the ideas and the research outputs if the truth be told. That’s one source of pressure but the internal pressure is far greater than that. At the moment I am very conscious of the fact that I am rather lacking in external funding for my research and that induces a sense of panic. I look at colleagues elsewhere in the School and regard those with substantial funding with a mixture of relief that their efforts are helping the School as a whole, but terrible jealousy because I want that money for myself. It is easy to be caught up in an attitude that says we have to perform or be purged, that the bean-counters are watching us and monitoring our actions. None of these things are true, but the idea is propagated by some people’s unwise words and a suspicious academic community. This plays on the mind and forces premature funding applications, ill-thought out ideas and paralysis.
I know that I am not alone in feeling burdened by the pressures that are generated in a research funding vacuum. I was talking to a colleague about it the other day and learning how it can undermine confidence and impair a healthy work-life balance. The trick is managing the pressure and turning it into a healthy mix of positive action and disdainful rejection. There are times when I can manage that very well, but as the horrible man flu bugs ravage my cells today, I am a mote tossed on a sea of adverse reviewer comments that are yet to be made about the funding proposals that I have not yet written.