I have always since the last five years, subscribed to the view that you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket, and if funding is <10% then you gotta put in ~10 grants to get funded (more or less).
So, I've been hitting at least one R01, and often an additional lesser proposal (r21/non-NIH) per cycle for the last 4 cycles. A year and a third. It takes a toll. I've been good (hahaha) about not getting funded. Mostly.
Today, I got a score back for an r21. Scored, but not fundable. For a first submission, I'm happy. So is the young scientist who wants this project. It was in danger of "who the fuck cares" since it is a very women's health/science issue. Scoring means there were problems but someone thought it worthwhile at some level. We'll see when get the reviews.
But thats not the doing it right part. The doing it right part is my chair at almost-MRU.
I found a potential (non-NIH) source for some funds. Enough to get a new project going, get some prelim data. This is important because I am on a no-cost-extension of my current grant (ie I didnt spend all the money, I asked for another year from NIH to spend it. They said yes, mostly because I moved from MRU to almost-MRU in the middle of hte project and lost a year without a lab). My dept chair saw this as a VeryGoodThing for me to be doing. Commitment. Initiative. He said so.
But this still isn't what I'm thinking is doing it right. The next part of the conversation was show me your budget. Do the math. How much are you going to need to keep your lab going? At this point I re-iterated that I was trying to make every NIH deadline, and in get 1-2 proposals in for each cycle. He didn't ask how I felt about it (which is fucking tired), he just said: thats too much. You will kill yourself. He said that he appreciated I was working hard, but that that pace would kill him, and he knows, because he's done it. He would rather get me some bridge funding.
Everybody (that would DrugMonkey and Comradde Physioproffe, here, but others, too IRL) always says that the caveat on making every deadline is that what goes in has to be great. The best you can do. That making every deadline with half-assed attempts isn't worth it. I think, for me, in my head, that I am reaching the point where I need to stop writing proposals and go back and do science.
I am not going to stop writing proposals, but perhaps not so many. I do remember when I *loved* writing them. I loved taking a new idea and what happened to that idea as the design solidified to become a submittable proposal. When PCs (ah yes... I did grants before word processing) took away the mechanical/logistic angst of producing something neat looking, I was ecstatic. But I have to say, while it still seems not a huge burden to write a grant, I don't love the process as much as I used to.
I am going to go back and do some research. If I get a bit of seed money to do the new project, and if I can get some loose ends tied up with old projects, these will be deeply satisfying. Then there is this other possible thing that can be done, and a med student thinking about doing a PhD with me which is a whole nuther thing. I think I will be happier.
What is doing it right? My chair has an idea about what life is like for me, doesn't think its good, and took some concrete steps to give me the tools & resources to make it better. I'm going to pass this on to the folks in my lab. Here's to getting funded, but more, here's to doing what we love that brought us here in the first place.