Archive for: May, 2018

Repost: Grant writing advice

May 16 2018 Published by under Uncategorized

At the old blog (which is still kinda around), I posted a bunch of grant writing advice. Some of it is still useful. I shall repost some here. Now.

As I have said before one of my favorite quotes, from one of my favorite movies is:

There’s nothing further here for a warrior. We drive bargains. Old men’s work. Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men. Courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace. And the vices of peace are the vices of old men. Mistrust and caution. It must be so. —Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia

One of the other vices of old men, implicit in the advice, is compromise. The non-black and white nature of life is something with which I wrestle . Less now than when I was young. But as I was struggling with my last grant proposal, I was reminded of how grey the world of grant writing can get. And how difficult that grey can be.

There is an axis of risk that runs through life, but I don’t think about it much till it comes to writing a proposal.

high risk <————————— funded —————————> tried & true

This is not an issue of right or wrong, good science or bad science. This is an issue of what gets funded. And please, spare me your pure-boy tantrums about you do science for science, and not what gets funded. That attitude falls into the bucket of the virtues of war. Study sections and program officers and reviewers want to know that you can do the work (not too high risk). And, they want the work to be interesting and exciting, also known as significant and innovative (not too tried and true).

Here is another way to frame it in your head. Rather than black and white (which also has religious overtones, etc), think about blue and yellow. You want green. It bluish yellow or yellowish blue. Now, that doesn’t seem so bad.

Where one can run into trouble of course, is when one considers problems that are reddish-green


Our brains (hard-wired color processing) don’t do well with “reddish green”. Or “bluish-orange” for that matter. What is a reddish-green grant problem? Something you want to do that NIH isn’t interested in (right now): evolution of almost anything, physiology of obscure animals with no human relevance, almost anything to do with abortion, contraception or other hot button topics. Invasive research on children. A study that doesn’t include ethnic diversity and gender balance, when it is a health issue that impacts all. Something for which compromise doesn’t really exist. Stay away. There be dragons and monsters and triage.

aside: my favorite hot button issue is still:


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Community Colleges and how easy it is to make fun of someone else

May 15 2018 Published by under Uncategorized

So there was a quote on the Tweets:

Just learned that not only do community colleges hold graduation ceremonies, they also shell out honorary Associate of Humane Letters degrees. This is the funniest shit I’ve read all day. And I’ve been grading fucking final exams, too.

Really? You think giving degrees is the funniest shit you've read all day?

I have a former-sib-in-law who teaches at a local CC. We got to be close, for a bunch of reasons (she's cool, I'm cool), but also because she's not from an academic family, didn't marry into one, and I understood what she was trying to do. She had been a high school teacher, a great high school teacher, but had done an adjunct stint at the CC, and found she loved it. It was work to get a full time job, get on the tenure track there (yes, they have a tenure track) and eventually get tenure. In doing this, she developed some really incredible programs.

What did she love?

She teaches remedial math, lots of algebra. She teaches calculus to the folks who want it the least but need it, perhaps the most. Some of her student go on to 4 yr degrees in various science disciplines. Some are getting credits for something work related, or continuing education, or hoping to move in their field. Lots are in 2-year programs that require some math to get going: all those other folks working at hospitals and SNFs (Skilled Nursing Facilities), IT programs. Vet Techs. Various criminal justice jobs. Media and visual communication. Work that falls between blue collar manual labor and engineering. Things that are solid jobs.

What did she love? She loved the students. They were older. They were committed. They appreciated the opportunity. Many had another job. Some had two other jobs. Lots were supporting a family. Some had made mistakes in their youth, or at least done things that in retrospect they recognized as compromising future choices. Some were younger, with priorities in partying, friends and minor substance abuse.

What did she love? She knew, deep down and without qualification, that she was making a difference to many people every term. Sometimes they said thanks, and sometimes they didn't. But it was like watching rabbit ears grow: you could actually see the change from day to day.

So, when these people finish, you think they don't deserve a ceremony? They don't deserve to be recognized? That somehow pompous ceremonies are reserved for four year schools? That honorary degrees, the goal of which is to bring somewhat/perhaps distinguished people with possibly something interesting to say, to honor the graduates, is worthwhile? that it's funny?

Crap. The older I get the more I want to honor not the glam stars who discover DNA, but the folks who figured out a way, through hard work, to do something more.


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Mother's Day Thoughts

May 13 2018 Published by under Uncategorized

You cannot get to be this age without having had great love and also great loss.

To my mothers, and their mothers, and their mother's mothers, stretching back through time: Thank you for the joy. Thank you for your gifts. I love you. No matter what.

To my children, all my children, here and gone. Thank you for the joy. Thank you for your gifts. I will always love you, come what may.

Sometimes, I used to have a ritual, like Havdallah, to end Mother's day. To celebrate the separation, and the start of the week and month and year. Not today. I will just be glad when this beastly day is done and gone.


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