If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cat Fight

Sometime early this morning (around 0'dark thirty) b and I heard a cat fight going on outside of our house. Since TOC (a) lives most of her life outside and (b) is hated by every other living cat on the planet, it is not unusual to hear her screaming for her life when another cat invades our yard. As is the normal custom, b and Pupzilla got out of their respective beds and raced to the backdoor. Pupzilla loves a good cat fight and, although she normally doesn't notice TOC is alive, she is more than happy to rush out and defend her against the neighborhood toughs. However this morning the fight was (a) not in the backyard and (b) did not include TOC. b came back to bed and reported that the orange tabby (toughest of the neighborhood cats) and some unknown grey cat were in the feline version of the Mexican stand-off on the front lawn. Both he and Pupzilla proceeded to fall back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, lay awake in bed (normally it is b who can't return to sleep so this morning was unusual on many fronts). As I lay there, I started thinking about a problem I am having with a grant application. It is one of those good problems. I am currently writing a medium-sized NIH grant that is designed to solve a problem (Solution Grant). The solution to the problem is based on a theory that I have been slowly developing for the past few years. In addition to wanting to solve the problem I also want to understand the application of the theory to the problem, and I am particularly interested in how the theory works across time. To do this I would need to write (and eventually get) another grant (Theoretical Grant). Last month there was a call out for an internal award for faculty who want to write a grant application over the summer. It is not a lot of money but it certainly would be helpful to get summer pay to write this grant. So I submitted a very brief outline of my idea for Theoretical Grant. I honestly thought I didn't have a chance (they were only choosing 2 faculty members) but I figured it couldn't hurt to apply. Much to my surprise I got the award.

Now I have to respond on whether I will accept the funding and while that may seem like a n0-brainer, it comes with a few stipulations. The most troublesome stipulation is that I would need to submit Theoretical Grant by the end of the fall semester. I know how to do almost all aspects of the study in Solution Grant and for the parts I don't know how to do I have collaborators who have expertise in those areas. I also have a strong background in designing and implementing solutions but I am not as strong in studying change over time. The study design for Theoretical Grant would call for some very sophisticated statistical analyses and I don't have any collaborators who are experts in what I would need to answer my questions. So before I could even really get started I would need to identify and then assemble a new team. While this is quite doable it does take time and I still do have to get Solution Grant submitted. I am hesitant to commit to the stipulation since there is a good chance it could take me until the spring semester to get a competitive application together.

So as I was lying in the dark thinking about this dilemma, it occurred to me that I had left something out of my theoretical model. It was one of those flashes of insight that occur when you turn your attention slightly away from the problem-at-hand. You see I had just spent two days working on Solution Grant, where I describe intervening on three levels of a unit but my model only accounts for two levels. Once it clicked the discrepancy was completely obvious but neither myself nor my collaborators had caught it in the grant. By trying to think through what I would need for Theoretical Grant I stumbled upon an important problem in Solution Grant.

Eventually I got up and started working through the model and I am very happy with the progress I made and I am more excited about the direction of my research than ever before. I really want to tackle both issues: solution and change in the theory over time, as they do and should go hand-in-hand. I must admit Theoretical Grant is a little scary but there is no way around the doing of it. I just have to march straight through it. And I will have no better opportunity to devote time to it than the one being given to me this summer. I will do everything within my power to make the fall semester deadline but if it ends up being the spring semester than so be it. Ultimately I have to believe my university will understand it is more important to get it right than to get it in on time and I will have submitted Solution grant by then, so that should count for something.

The long and short of it is (a) I've decided to accept the funding and go full steam ahead with both applications and (b) I'm so excited by this model that I'm willing to put other projects that I have brewing in my research portfolio on hold in order to pursue it.

After working for several hours, it was time to for b and I to go to the store for dinner fixins'. As we walked outside of the house I saw what looked like a significant amount of grey fur in front of the steps. While I feel bad for the mysterious new kitty that succumbed to the wrath of the orange tabby, that cat fight did me a world of good.


Drax said...

The grey kitty cat did it FOR YOU.


Fought, and succumbed... FOR YOU.

Not just a price for each victory, but sacrifice.

Maggie May said...

You got flow!

Julie said...

Sometimes, a little down and dirty fight is good for the creative soul:) But I'm glad TOC wasn't involved (this time).

Congratulations on the epiphany. It sounds exciting.