Hitting your marks

July 10, 2011

I am not a very scheduled person. No doubt to my detriment in many areas of life. I don’t make ’em, and I have a hard time sticking to externally imposed ones.

But I have almost always hit my grant deadlines.

In the generic, investigator-initiated grant submission to the NIH, schedule is not all that critical. If you miss a deadline, you just have to wait another 4 months. There are plenty of people who would actually advise you to miss a deadline if your grant is less than perfect.

I’ve always erred on the side of getting the application closed out and submitted. Some of this may be in recognition of my own procrastination. Submitting grant applications is hugely important in my job and maybe I figure that if I let myself skip a deadline that I will never make one again. Or maybe I see myself as someone who is a closer. As being good at getting the application finished and out the door at crunch time. Perhaps I take pride in that…

I’ve fielded questions now and again about PIs that are horrible at this. That seen to habitually fail to meet their grant deadlines. By this, I mean they’ve told their lab and/or admins that they are planning to submit..and the lab could seemingly make good use of another grant, pronto…and yet the proposal never gets submitted. I had a few queries during this recent submission round. The details vary but it all boils down to the same binary issue- you are either giving yourself a chance to win funding or you are not.

The most I can usually do is shrug my ignorance. I don’t understand this phenotype at all. Increasingly, I see trainees, and even techs and admins, that *know* that this is a problem. They are more cognizant these days that grants are hard to come by, that money is tight and safety nets are weak or nonexistent. So they start to worry..about their job, their science and even the personal well being or mental health of the PI.

I mutter platitudes. Maybe the PI got busy with kids or spouse or family. A divorce? Maybe she has other irons in the fire due to collaborative grant writing. Maybe he decided writing papers was critical. Maybe her read of summary statements finally got through to her that revising was a nonstarter. maybe some other proposal recently got scored in the fundable range?

None of these explain the repeat offender, of course.

But I have little else to offer.

Strategically, DearReader, there is a prescriptive lesson herein. Don’t do it. Don’t get a reputation with your lab or admins as a chronic misser-of-grant-deadlines. It makes them really nervous about your competence…and the lab’s medium-term prospects.

You don’t want your people losing confidence in you.