Thursday, April 25, 2013


So, a year away from this blog (nearly) and I come back to process a huge disappointment in my professional life. Not exactly what I envisioned when I started this nearly-defunct opportunity to put down my thoughts in writing... On the other hand, if I can't use this space for my mental gymnastics and processing on topics that are relevant to me at this point in time, then...what's the point of having it? I guess I view this as more of an online journal than anything else. It's easier for me to type than to handwrite, so the journals of my youth are pretty much out. And I am finding more and more that I need the outlet of just .... writing. Just being able to put my thoughts out there, not worry about what someone is going to say or how they are going to react, or requiring me to then provide feedback on what they are currently worried about. The best part about this computer screen is that it does not talk back. Yet. And I think I would leave that option turned off, if ever it became reality. Sorry, I just talk to myself too much.

Anyway. This week was truly sucky, professionally, for me. It just. Sucked. Big time. I'm trying to think of how to describe it without identifying myself to the random Googler who might happen across this blog. But I don't think I should worry about that too much. Anyway!

So here's what happened. I was nominated by my department for a very prestigious fellowship in my field. As in, 12 people generally are awarded the fellowship annually. And they have only had it for a few years and there is no guarantee of how long it will continue. So I was nominated - which I *should* view as an honor in and of itself. The complicating factor was, of course, that I was going to have to propose a study that they would fund as part of the fellowship. And I was less than 3 weeks out from emergency surgeries that I had to have on my arm last fall (more about that in another's been a long year...).

So I wasn't at my best, mentally, as I was still on pain meds and doing IV antibiotics (I told you it was a long story) and dealing with the after effects of two unplanned / emergency surgeries on a body that was previously healthy and...yeah. But I was up for the challenge - I wanted to apply for this, since they were willing to go out on a limb and nominate me. I wanted to move forward with one of my areas of research interest - and get the next study rolling, since I'm kind of tired of pilot studies. And, to be honest, I wanted the honor and prestige and recognition that comes from being awarded a fellowship of this stature in my scholarly world. To most people, it would not mean much, but...for me, the impact on my CV, my future scholarly career, and future job opportunities was amazing. Getting something like this would really propel my career into the upper levels of the people who do what I do. And that would be, quite simply, awesome.

I have to admit, I went into this thinking that it would be a lot easier than it actually was. I worked nearly full time on the application from the end of the fall semester (mid-December) through the due date in mid-February. I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into it. I worked on it over winter break - at my parents' house - at my in laws' house - at home. I worked on it so much that it started to become almost an obsession. And I was - I thought - typically conscientious of the other elements of the application (the part I was focusing on was the research study plan). I had good mentors and great mentorship plans. I had ideas of where I was going to go in the future with this. I had ideas about how to integrate findings from multiple studies - mine and those done by others - and make a difference in the lives of people in particular circumstances, with particular health problems.

At the same time, I was going through my mid-tenure review. In year 3 of our appointments, we are reviewed by our peers in the department, to determine whether we are on the right track for receiving tenure after year 5. The idea, of course, is to get rid of dead weight / course correct for people who are having difficulty / and encourage and facilitate the continued growth of people who are pretty much on track. All indications from the review were that I was completely on track. I just needed to focus on publishing more and making sure that I was publishing in my areas of interest (I have 2 lines of research and many, many fewer publications in one than the other).

So despite the health issues - the mental and physical energy I was expending on this - the time away from my immediate and extended family - I was feeling really positive about this application. We made sure that it hit the highlights of what the committee *said* it was looking for. We endeavored to show that it was relevant to the purposes of the body granting the fellowship. We made sure that we had a good mentor ship plan, that the study itself was groundbreaking and not something I could do otherwise.

I was feeling good right up until 2 days before submission, when I had my usual last minute "hey, did we hit everything they said we needed to say in this application????" And on review - both mine and that of my  mentor - we thought we had. I submitted it feeling really really positive.

And then it was rejected. Completely. The first stage of selection for this fellowship is being chosen for "interview day". So you put in the written application online - they take a few months to review and score the applications - and then they offer interviews to half of the applicants. Those people interview a few months later, and a month after that, they decide who in that group will receive the fellowship. The number of people interviewed and the percentage of those interviewed who will be offered a fellowship varies year to year, depending on the number of applications received. If they receive 50 applications - interview 25 - and accept 12 - it's pretty straightforward. But in the current funding climate, they are apparently receiving more applications. So it might be something more like 75-80 applications received - half interviewed - and still accepting only 12 people due to funding constraints.

I didn't even make it to the interview stage. My application was apparently so not what they were looking for, that I didn't even make the top half of people who applied. I am completely, totally mortified. Thrown. Unsure of what to do  / where to go from here.

I *assumed* (obviously, I was wrong) that I would at least be offered an interview. That would allow me, of course, to address any questions / concerns /issues that the committee might have in person, and in my own voice, and with the power of my passion for this topic behind me (which doesn't always come across in scholarly writing...). I was rejected right off the bat. And, even worse, I don't know WHY. They do not provide individual feedback, even though these fellowships are aimed at people who are early in their careers and developing as scholars / writers / researchers. Really, would it kill them to identify the main 1-2 reasons for the rejection of the application? Otherwise, I have no idea if it's me, the application / study itself, a mismatch in focus area, or something else entirely that has led to my rejection. I can't change that - although I wish I could - so I can just speculate about what happened.


1. The application sucked. Really bad. So much so that it was in the bottom 50% because my scholarship is not up to par. The study was not well-described / conceptualized, the impact of the study was unclear, the methods weren't clearly outlined - whatever it was, it was something study-related. This is both more palatable and more daunting than some of the other possibilities I've come up with - palatable because it should be fixable, but more daunting might mean that the area in which I hope to do research in the future is not a GOOD one - for science, or funding opportunities, or really anything. Fixable vs. not fixable. Which do I hope for? And I'll never know if this was the reason, either!

It does make me think, of course, what I do with this study idea going forward. I want to pursue it - I was planning already to submit for another grant on the same topic in the (unlikely, ha) event that this one did not fund. But I didn't realize that I would then be putting all my eggs in THAT basket. It makes me think that I need to diversify how I am applying for funding, in some ways -have more ideas about where to go / who might fund this research / who else I should talk to / how I should conceptualize what I am doing.

But at the same time - although it wasn't an EASY study (maybe that is another possibility - that it was simply too ambitious for the time frame / money provided / etc? although that is rather optimistic thinking...) I thought it was relatively straightforward to understand. We know that x, y, and z contribute to a, and usually b, in this particular group of people. But those elements have all been studied separately, and not necessarily in people this age and with these health issues. So I wanted to incorporate these findings from earlier work into ONE study to try to answer the question of what matters, and what matters more in terms of outcomes of these individuals.

2. Mismatch in focus area...Maybe it's that their focus was on a particular type of study done by a particular type of scholar this year. This was an option brought up by 2 of the (few) people I have told about my rejection in a professional context. That maybe, just maybe, my research interests are in the "close but we're not really interested in it" category. This is plausible - because the foundation funding these fellowships definitely does have a particular agenda, and they do tend to have a particular focus for the studies that they DO fund. But...I thought I made the case about the fit between my proposed research and the funding foundation pretty well.

This is the explanation that my emotional brain wants to hold on to. In reality? It's likely that the study was poorly conceived, conceptualized, and explained. I probably did not do a very good job outlining what I wanted to do, and why, with this particular population. That is, hopefully, fixable, but it calls into question my thinking, writing, and communication skills. WHY am I not able to clearly conceive of my overall interests? How can I better communicate that to others who are not necessarily in my specialty / interest area? How can I bring all of the disparate factors of interest to me together, in a way that makes sense to someone other than me?

And then, once I figure out how to share / communicate what I am interested in - how on earth do I make the argument that a foundation /body / institute / whatever should fund ME instead of someone else? How do I get over my impression that my writing is so much better than others', and that I'm able to make a better argument for the importance of the study now and in the future?

3. My qualifications / mentorship team / plan for my career

Maybe there was something unclear in the mentorship plan? Or what I want to do with this study once it is finished? I can't imagine that I was perceived as OVERqualified for the fellowship, but...I have had a good amount of pilot funding, and maybe they saw that and thought I'd had enough support? I did have a postdoctoral fellowship as well as another current trainee grant, so again - maybe they thought that was enough training? Time to move on and be a big girl as far as grants go?
Maybe it's that I haven't published much in the area, as it's a new investigative area for me and I didn't have my dissertation publications focused on this?

4. Something else...large group of applications? Focus on people who are of minority status of one type or another? (this is a focus of this particular foundation)

Not much else to say about this one -  I can't alter how many people applied, or my personal / professional characteristics, so...yeah.

Why has this completely derailed me this week?

1. I'm tired from traveling / didn't get to go home last weekend / etc.

This is certainly contributing to my current mental state (which has significantly improved since dumping this all out on-screen, even though I am certain that no one has or will ever read this...). I do terribly when I cannot go home on the weekends to recharge my batteries. This is related to something ELSE that happened while I was writing this grant, which was that while I was recovering from 2 emergency surgeries, my husband determined that he needed a career change, interviewed for and accepted a job in a town 2.5 hours from our old town / where I work, and we put our house there on the market and moved up here. So now I am commuting weekly to my job down there - an arrangement I actually enjoy - and sharing a condo with a colleague. Yeah. That was another potentially complicating factor that kind of drew my attention away from the whole writing-a-really-important-grant focus. I can't believe that I forgot the timing of that - will outline that in more detail in another post, because...I can't believe we got through that, to be honest. Wow.

Anyway. I need to come HOME on the weekends to recharge. I cannot be away from my home base for long. And I was this past week - I worked last Monday, traveled from Tues-Sun, arrived BACK at my work location on Sunday, jumped into work on Monday morning, the rejection email Monday morning. Yeah. While I was in the middle of reviewing graduate student projects and having to project a professional - not falling apart - image. That was...interesting. And I wasn't doing too well - I didn't tell many people about the outright rejection, but those I did tell are in positions to get the info out to those who need to know. I figure it will trickle down through the department, and that more and more people will learn about it (or forget that I ever applied) over time.

Which kind of brings me to another point...I am so, so afraid that I disappointed / let down my mentor, my boss, and the higher-ups in the University. Because quite frankly - I failed. They put themselves out there - they nominated me - they wrote letters of support and were willing to support not only the nomination but also the buy out time that it would require - and I was completely REJECTED at the opening stage. Didn't even make it past the first cut. What did I do SO BADLY that I wasn't even able to make their nomination of me worthwhile? I mean, that's significant professional capital they are spending on my behalf. And yet - I wasn't worthy of the fellowship - I wasn't even considered in the top 50%. How did I let them down so badly - and what does that mean for my future opportunities???? Both here and elsewhere?????

2. I had gotten good feedback on these ideas at the meeting I attended last week, so I assumed that everyone would have uniformly positive impressions of the study / ideas that I was presenting.

This was bad - I had good spontaneous feedback on these ideas at the meeting I attended last I assumed that everyone would see the study in the same way. Well, if X person thinks it is worth funding, and that it's an interesting idea, etc., then of COURSE the others are going to think so as well. Why wouldn't they??? And that, clearly, was just not correct. Whether it was the scope or focus of the study - it was not nearly good enough for this fellowship application.

Which begs the question ,what do I do with it now?? Do I submit it elsewhere? Change my plans? Change my study direction? without feedback I don't know what to do, whether it's my approach / writing / something fixable, or whether it's the core ideas behind the proposal. If it's the core ideas - then I really need to shift perspectives and do something different. But if the ideas are inherently good and I'm just not managing to communicate what I need to share with people who are making these decisions, well, that is more salvageable.

3. I know so. many. people. with this fellowship. And I considered myself a scholarly peer of theirs - that I was on the same level, essentially, and could hold my own in the group. I really thought that. But now, knowing that they all GOT the fellowships (and so made it to the very final group, obviously), while I couldn't even get into the top 50% of applications, is completely mortifying. Completely. It's particularly galling in the case of one particular colleague...

4. Speaking of that one particular colleague....I know that she has one of these fellowships. I also know that her grants are, quite frankly, terribly written and poorly conceptualized, and that she is not a positive person to work for or with. She's a chronic complainer - everything is always, always, ALWAYS someone else's fault - and she refuses to take ownership of the study and make it work. She's always waiting for someone else to come along and do the leg work and / or make things happen. In between, she sits back and wants other people to do the work while everything just kind of...falls into her lap. She's a terrible "team" leader, too. And I thought - maybe - that she was going to be a colleague / friend of mine. But now I am seriously reconsidering that. Because I don't know how much we have in common, and she treated me like dirt in the process of another grant application that went in recently.

Her interpersonal skills suck. She treated two people I know in another department very poorly during the same grant application. She got information from them - never acknowledged their assistance - and then didn't provide them with info on what she was going to use from their contributions, whether they were going to be on the final grant submission, etc. They didn't hear from her until they were asked - rather tersely - for their CV's for the final submission. One friend was surprised to get the request, as she had asked to be taken off the grant (and really wasn't on it - it was  a mistake from the person requestingthe CV). And the reply that she got from this "colleague" of mine was such that I was completely embarrassed / mortified to be associated with her. A terse, rude, and snippy email that had no place in a collegial exchange, particularly at our institution, where one rarely if ever encounters a colleague from another discpline who is anything but accommodating, kind, and helpful. She used language that I gave her. I offered references, if she needed them. She asked me for them less than 48 hours before the grant was due. And then, when I saw her in the hallway and told her that it would be at least the next afternoon before I could get to her request, she got snippy with me and told me to "just give [her] the names, and [she'll] look them up on her own". The lack of kindness and respect to one's colleagues just astounds me.

I don't think I can be friends with her. I certainly - after the experience with her grant application - cannot collaborate with her on a study. But I also can't get my mind over the hurdle that this person - this person who thinks the world revolves around her - who thinks she is the bee's knees - who writes terribly and cannot clearly state the concepts  /ideas that drive her work - that SHE GOT ONE OF THESE AND I DID NOT. And that is perhaps the most childish reaction possible that I can have to the news that I didn't even make the goddamn interview stage. I mean, really. They gave HER money, they couldn't even find a reason to interview me? It is completely mortifying and embarrassing to me. Completely.

Even worse? She is not a product of my profession. In other words, she did something else, got a graduate degree in my profession, and then latched on to an area of "underserved" research that is kind of sort of of interest to her, but not her passion. I have been passionate about this type of research - this group of people - and this type of study - for YEARS now. And yet...they give her money. And I didn't even get an interview.

I am supposed to have lunch with her on Tuesday. I already canceled it once, in March, for a presentation that I needed to attend. I want to cancel it again but I have a sneaking suspicion that would go over ... not well. Not well at ALL to be honest. Let's just say that I had a perfectly valid reason for needing / wanting to attend the presentation in March, vs. having lunch with a friend / colleague, and she was pissy with me.

You know what? I'm going to post this ridiculously long diatribe. I have more to say on this, but I have to attend a webinar and then skype with a colleague, and while I might come back to this later today, I have had enough processing for the moment. Just need a normal lunch, some laundry, and a boring presentation on online course software. ;)

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