"It's been a long time, I shouldn't have left you, without a strong rhyme to step to."
Eric B. and Rakim.
It has been two months and some changes since I begun my faculty appointment. It has also been two months and some change since I have posted anything :/. It's a coincidence, of course. And I am sure you will understand. I have two words to describe the experiences thus far: intense and exciting! The train has left the station, and there ain't no stopping it.
Right out of the door, I began writing a huge grant with a colleague at Boston's Children Hospital, as well as two smaller grants. These were the first major grant writing effort I have been involved in. It was a highly pleasant experience overall. Like with anything you do for the first time, there is bound to be a certain amount of doubt/discomfort: the trick is to push through despite the discomfort. If you are currently a postdoc, what they tell you (and I think this is great advice), is that you should get some experience writing grant, so that you can hit the ground running. I consciously decided to focus on more research during my postdoc, as I was aiming to get stuff out that I thought would make me more marketable. I think both approaches have some merit, you should make sure you discuss this with your mentor and consciously pick one. We wrote the grant fully in Tex, and used git for version control. It was a great and seamless process to update files and compile the final document which, whether it gets funded or not, I am extremely proud of. Now, for the intense part. The novelty of it all is what I struggled with the most: here I am, having just started my job, and having to figure out how to put a budget together (WTF is fringe? direct/indirect costs? modular budget?!!), a bio sketch (nerds, we're not too good at speaking highly of ourselfves), figuring out my needs for the grant (students, postdocs, equipment etc...), while trying to maintain 100% focus on writing the science. I'm sure that sentence was exhausting to read. It was exhausting to write. I am very lucky that there is staff in place to help with the details of formatting and budget etc...I was equally lucky that my colleague at BCH and I share the sentiment that it is important to start writing early! This might have been my first grant, but I am convinced that the only way I'll be able to do it again is by giving myself plenty of time between start and submission - it's just how my mind operates. This deserves a separate post: I really think of writing science/a paper/a grant as storytelling. You are telling the story of your work/idea/result. And this takes time. Because the story starts one way, and morphs into ways you may not have expected. But if you're like me, the early days of the process are painful because you're mostly starting at a blank page on a screen!
It's been really exciting because now I am running my own show. With the excitement though, comes a certain amount of fear. It's like an oh-sh+t-the-training-wheels-are-off moment. I have been very fortunate that my thesis and postdoc advisor gave me lots of freedom and space to explore my own ideas. That has equipped me with lots of confidence with my ability to generate and write about ideas that are worth writing about. It's one thing to have your own ideas, though, and execute them yourself. It's another animal altogether to guide someone else to execute your vision. It's the part of the job that is requiring the most shift in mental attitude, and I love it. It's a great opportunity to grow as a leader. I do not think a lot of people appreciate how challenging it is to have conceived/solved in your mind the path of an idea from beginning to end (publication), only to realize that to convey the route to someone else is much much more difficult. I am much more appreciative of how patient my mentors/collaborators must have been with me. But I am loving every moment of it, because equally eye opening and exilarating have been moments when, while discussing a research idea, my mind felt like a train, my thoughts passengers on this train, and to see that some people just have the ability to hop on this train and get it! That's what collaborative research should feel like.
I promised you a few posts on the academic job search. Tis the season, and I already have outlines for these posts. I shall start posting them soon. In the mean time, if you know students interesting in a PhD and would want to join the train of my ideas, holla! And stay tuned for posts about some of the exciting research we've been working on with my group!