I’ve been trying to get funding for my research, but nothing has come through. You, too? I’ve had past success with the National Institutes of Health and small foundations. But I haven’t received new grant funding in six years and my last award ran out two years ago. This is well past discouraging.

I’ve felt this before. Turned to my spouse and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” Said, “I don’t have another good idea in my head and I’ll never write another grant.” And yet, somehow, when the next cycle presented itself, I found a slice of hope and truly felt some enthusiasm for the next round. “Round” fits this situation, because I sure feel like I’ve been through a boxing match. I’m not sure if my natural scientific curiosity is a curse or a blessing, but it has helped me to keep moving forward. And I hope it kicks in soon.

I see a blog post here at Edge Scholars about taking a creative retreat to be able to really set aside time to delve into a task. On a related note, my husband suggested I take a few days off to recharge. Between having submitted yet another NIH grant application three weeks ago and, in that same interim time, having learned that my grant from last fall didn’t score well enough for funding, I think he is right. So I went to a local park yesterday afternoon. Found a scrap piece of paper in my car, and wrote and wrote like I was writing in a journal. Then went for a walk. After my time in the park, I didn’t feel like diving into another grant application quite yet, but I definitely was in better spirits.

What do you do when discouragement roars like a lion?

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1 Comment

Dr. Liz,
Boy, this is a tough one.  I myself struggle with how to recharge the batteries when they’re completely juiced.  I certainly don’t have anything that’s tried and true, but I can tell you about a few things that have helped me over time.
– Taking a *deliberate* block of time for myself.  I think this is what people mean when they suggest “taking time off” or “taking a vacation” or whatever.  I have some trouble with that, as I find that it’s all too easy for guilt to overtake any generic time off.  But, what *is* helpful is being very deliberate about carving out some time that is 100% for me – “reclaiming my time”, to borrow the words of the mighty Rep. Maxine Waters.  This can take many forms, but for me, often the requirement is that it’s something I do by myself and for myself (helps to re-establish an internal locus of control that gets eroded by the peer review process).  If others are around, I don’t focus enough on my own well being and my own needs.  As Dr. Alyssa Hasty has pointed out, you wouldn’t tolerate interruptions while teaching (a valid and important activity), so don’t tolerate them with other valid and important activities.  She was speaking of writing time, but I think the principle holds.
– Hearing about other people’s work.  I find that I can draw connections more easily than I can come up with brand new stuff whole cloth.  A great way for me to do this is to go to seminars outside my usual, or to talk to folks that I don’t normally work with about their science.  Sometimes stimulating those creative juices is enough.
– Reconnect with first principles, the “why” that drives me.  For me, this often happens while I’m on clinical service.  Talking with real people who have these conditions can be very motivating, invigorating, and can definitely provide perspective.  In general, I think taking time to really meditate on why I bother to do this at all is very helpful.
– Commiserate.  At the risk of being a downer, I try to talk with colleagues whom I regard as good friends.  They get it in a way that other friends outside of science don’t, and they can offer support beyond empty platitudes like “hang in there” or “tenacity and resilience will be rewarded” or whatever.
There’s lots of other things, I’m sure, but that’s a sampling.  Drop me a line anytime if you want to talk more!

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