Thursday, December 4, 2014

a work in progress

Hello blog (and any loyal readers out there). I've missed you! I haven't written lately because I just plain have not been able to find the time. Kindergarten and two pickup/drop-off locations is a game changer. You know how it feels when you turn the clock ahead for daylight savings and you lose an hour? I feel like that every day now. I am struggling to get everyone out the door in the morning with full tummies and in clean clothes. And then again at night everyone must eat, bathe, sleep. Basic events that have to happen and should be so easy but sometimes feel impossible (someone in our house is 3 years old. Need I say more??) We're all working on sight words and letter sounds. Learning to read is important stuff! And yet where does it fit in the mad dash of the post-work-pre-bed rush? It is a work in progress for sure.

I've written here in the past about the pros and cons of my career. I love the variety of my days that sometimes have me in the research lab or in the classroom, in meetings, on the road, in my office sorting through data or reviewing manuscripts for publication. My job is flexible and there are days when I can work from home, put in a load of laundry, prep for dinner and feel way ahead of my game. It isn't always easy, but I can schedule doctor's appointments and plan to be the mystery reader in Charlie's school. I can even manage the occasional impromptu trip to the park on an unexpectedly warm late Fall afternoon. This flexibility is the reason I keep doing what I'm doing.

The downside to my job is the need to fund my research with external grants. Academic researchers like me typically get funding from the National Institutes of Health or from private agencies like the American Diabetes Association. NIH funding is the ultimate prize and comes with a healthy dose of respect from your peers and your department chair. With NIH funding I am my own boss, call my own shots and no one asks too many questions. I can hire researchers in the lab, take on new graduate students, dream up cool experiments and then carry them out. Life is good with an NIH grant.

For the past 4 1/2 years I've had an NIH grant. My grant will run out in 6 months.

The pressure to get another NIH grant is immense. Without another NIH grant, my research technician could lose his job and my graduate students might not be able to finish their dissertation work. My lab space would sit idle and empty. Success rates for NIH funding are the lowest they've been in 30 years (NPR did an entire series on dire NIH funding this past fall). Twenty years ago every grant submitted to the NIH had a 25-30% chance of being funded. My grant now has a 5% chance. The odds are seemingly impossible.

And yet, I must continue to pursue an NIH grant, or any sort of grant. It is what I was hired to do, it is the expectation of my job. At the same time, I can't let it consume me. I can't lose years of my life and my children's lives to the stress of a 5% payline. I will do my best. I don't want to fail - myself, the people in my lab, the university.  But I also can't fail my family. That is a price I am unwilling to pay.

I've missed writing in this space, documenting my days and cementing my memories in words. I feel like the crazy full days that are my life right now go by even faster when I can't stop to write and reflect upon them. This blog has allowed me to slow down and recognize the little and big things about raising my family that I always want to remember. I hope to make my way back here soon.

At the end of the day, I have this...

and I know it will all be OK.