Resolution Fail!

We’re not even at the end of January and I’ve already failed at one of my goals for the year. Okay, not failed, but postponed.

I’ve been working on applying for a career transition award through NIH. This means proposing research I will perform as a trainee in my postdoc, as well as in my independent laboratory after I get a faculty position (don’t laugh). This all must fit together in a way that works with my past experience, transitions nicely between postdoc and independence, and distinguishes me from my mentors, all while being a compelling (fundable) research plan. It’s pretty challenging and I’ve been working for months on my aims and getting advice from many different people. It was a pleasant surprise to find how many people, some of whom didn’t even know me at all, were willing to put time and significant effort into carefully reading my aims and giving advice.

The biggest challenge for me was getting the preliminary data I needed to show that my proposed approach was feasible and that there was some basis for my specific hypotheses. There were some logistical issues in getting things up and running that kept me from really getting started on the most important pilot experiments until December. I worked every single day over the holidays to get these things done and didn’t really mind – the planning had been the hard part and now I was going to get the payoff, in the form of beautiful pilot data, just in time to polish my application!

But then my first experiment didn’t give me the results I expected – not only did the drug I was testing not lead to the hypothesized effect, but I didn’t have the expected baseline differences between groups I needed to even show an effect if there was one, so basically the experiment was worthless for preliminary data purposes. And then my second experiment failed due to an unforeseeable procedural issue. So frustrating!

After each of these failures I still held hope for my third, and most important experiment. This was the one I needed to show that my methodological approach was sound, that I could actually do it, and that it supported my main hypothesis. But to my surprise, my results showed that this was not true at all – this approach was not going to work for my goals, and there was no support for my hypothesis. This was the final nail in the coffin, which I had already seen coming after the first two experiments – there was no way I could submit this grant as planned.

Now I need to do a few more exploratory experiments before I can even settle on an approach. Then I need to rewrite my aims – at least altering the approach, but maybe my actual hypothesis and entire research plan! So I hope I can do this before the next submission deadline, just postponing my application by one cycle, but it’s now clear to me that I have a lot of work to do be confident that my proposal is sound, not just a nice plan.

One of the disappointments for me on the personal side is that this inevitably delays my career progress. If I do get the award, whether it’s on the first or re-submission, it’s at least one cycle later than I’d hoped, and longer for me to remain in this training phase of my career, which I’ve mentioned I’m really ready to move on from! If I don’t get the award, I’ve spent a LOT of time doing things for this application that arguably take away time from other progress I could be making in my research and/or career plans.

And honestly, one of the biggest reasons I feel like not meeting this deadline is a failure is because of all of the people who worked to support me in reaching this goal. I have mentors, people writing me recommendation letters, collaborators, advisers, and administrative staff who’ve all been helping me try to make this deadline, and I feel embarrassed to tell them I’m postponing my submission. I know these people all have been a part of the game and know very well what it’s like, and it’s not like I was lazy or inattentive to deadlines – the science side just didn’t work, and that happens. But I still feel like a failure going to each of these people to tell them I have to postpone my plans.

I can only hope that I have continued support from both colleagues and data by the time I reach my next deadline. Here’s to flexible goals and a happy and productive mid-2016 – wish me luck!


8 responses so far

  • Anonymous says:

    This is your 2nd pdoc, no? It has been debated far and wide on the Intertubes whether a K99 is really necessary for getting a TT job, and many experienced folks say no. If you feel ready to move on from being a pdoc, then you should go for it, grant or no. You are focusing on the wrong stuff, IMHO.

    • babyattachmode says:

      I'm not sure this is focusing on the wrong stuff, although I do agree that if you feel ready to move on, why not do both: submit job applications and write the K99? Because both will require you to put together plans for future experiments and your own line of research and I'm assuming those preliminary data are not just for your grant but also the start of papers.

      • Anonymous says:

        By focusing on the wrong stuff, I meant the idea that she must get that grant 1st before considering applying for jobs. If she can do both, more power to her!

    • sweetscience says:

      Yes, this is my second postdoc, and yes, as babyattachmode suggests I am trying to pursue both roads to independence. I have applied for a few jobs in each of the last couple cycles but have not put all of my energy toward that in the past - this year that will be a major focus!

  • Collheesi says:

    Good luck! My husband is currently in his second postdoc and will be working toward transitional grants in the next year. I jumped ship about a year ago and work in industry now. Very glad I found your blog. Next on the to-do for me is to go through your recent posts!

  • Dave says:

    How many years as a post-doc?

    • sweetscience says:

      At the beginning of my 4th year now, which is part of the time pressure on this application - you can't apply more than 4 years after earning your PhD (with some exceptions). Hopefully I will still have the opportunity to submit and resubmit within this time frame...

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