Saturday, June 2, 2012

Back to Reality

I fully intended to blog about my vacation with my mom, but a lack of reliable internet sort of put a damper on that plan. It is also completely non-academic, and although I have posted about things other than graduate school on this blog, I don't want to make that too much of a habit.

I will say though, vacations are important for maintaining the sanity of a graduate student. We all need breaks, and anyone who tells you any different is a dirty filthy liar. Our trip to Arizona was one of the better vacations I've taken in a long time, and it was nice to finally see the Grand Canyon. It wouldn't be the kind of thing I'd want to do every year; but, sometimes just staring over something so vast and outside of yourself is what you need to bring everything else in reality back into perspective. It's the main reason I miss being close to an ocean, and why I want to see the Pacific some day.

Hance Rapids. Taken with my mobile, so forgive the lousy quality.

But now I'm back to reality. First, I'm going to do the cliche thing and comment on how I can't believe that it is June already. I'm completely unapologetic about this. Summer intercession is almost over, and come Monday there will once again be college students wandering about. This won't change my working environment much, though. Working in my office over the past few weeks has been incredibly boring. No one is around, and by that I mean I sit in my office for 8 hours by myself, only seeing other human beings when I leave to go to the bathroom or get food/coffee. The PiBBS space is a different world when classes aren't in session. Furthermore, I think a lot of other people are traveling, so it is extra dead.

Another dose of reality came recently when I finally got my rejection letter for a big grant I had applied for back in the fall. The big yellow envelope of depression showed up right before I was going to Arizona, so I put off reading its contents until I got back. I finally went over the reviewer comments the other day. I had myself mentally prepared to get ripped to shreds, but it actually wasn't that bad. I agreed with pretty much everything the reviewers had to say, and they will help me write a stronger proposal for the next go around. Three years of support is just too good to not try again. I didn't really expect to get it this time around, they only funded something like 80 proposals with this particular award.

The reviews I got were also mixed. One reviewer rated my entire application as "fair" and provided the most detailed comments and criticisms. The other two rated it as "good" and "excellent". Even I know that my application wasn't "excellent", so I'm going to just go ahead and average everything out and say that I did "good" on my first attempt. Which isn't too shabby. All three reviewers commented that the whole proposal was really well written. The primary complaints were that I didn't elaborate more on my methods and statistics and that I was vague about the broader impacts. It was only a 5 page proposal, so I'm going to have to really try to fit some of these details in and trim up other areas. I'll also have some publications by the time I try again, so that will also boost my application.

The complaints about my broader impacts section kind of threw me, however. Almost all funding agencies now require applicants to explain how they are going to make the world a better place with their research. Kind of like a Miss America pageant for scientists. I thought I had included enough in this section, but clearly not. Apparently they wanted to know how the specific project I was proposing would be relevant to my community (aka NM). I was more broad about how my activities as a scientist were beneficial to my community. Wrong! Looking back on it, I can easily make my project applicable to NM because it is on the role of large carnivores in communities. NM has a lot of issues with wolf populations and managing their larger carnivores, so this should have been a no brainer. But I wasn't sure what they wanted from me and I gave them the "wrong" thing. Next time I'll know better. These sections are becoming more important and less of a kiss-off, and now I know to put more into it.

The next month is going to be all about me tying up loose ends with projects, and thinking about my comprehensive exams. I'm thinking those will happen in the fall, but I'm kind of on the fence about it. We'll see.

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