2017 – my year so far

Nothing like a long-awaited vacation. My wife and I take our yearly two-week vacation in September. Although it is a bit late, we enjoy the timing as most summer spots are still warm but have few tourists and low prices. This year we are in Francesca’s hometown of Marostica, Italy, for not one but TWO weddings. It will be a true test of my self-discipline to not gain several kilos on this trip!

That being said, phew am I ready for some vacation. The later date means that as the summer stretches on, my work ethic flags a bit and I become prone to take more and more staycation days. I really believe this mid-summer lethargy is some kind of holdover from grade-school conditioning; the body just cannot forget the joy that is the first day of summer vacation. And I do believe that to avoid becoming repetitive, creative, passionate work requires long periods of rest and enjoyment. And so, I’ve had a fun summer of travelling, building collaborations, and putting pieces in place for new projects and applications.

Overall, this has been a busy, if somewhat odd year. Most of the first half was taken up by my first ever fellowship-level grant application. In 2016, I had just found my publishing stride, seemingly clearing one item of after another off my desk. Publishing finally felt ‘normal’, like a part of the job with manageable known-knowns and known-unknowns. I even enjoyed it. And of course, there was a much needed, although transient period of enjoying the feeling of accomplishment. It is nice to have a stable of new papers across a spread of journals and think, ‘well, that is dinner for the next few years secured’. It was in the midst of this semi-tranquility that I realized the end of my long and luxurious post-doc was looming near. Suddenly I would have to do something entirely new; the complexities and uncertainties of applying for start-up funds for my first lab made me again feel like an anxious graduate student.

Of course, my first attempt took ages, was rife with errors, and was overly complex in almost every way. Grant writing, like everything, is really a learning process; I wish I had applied for more smaller grants in my postdoc, just to better prepare me for the process itself. Writing papers does not really train you for this task, which is much more ‘sales’-oriented. And it doesn’t feel very productive. Here you are pouring out an amount of work which could easily produce 2-3 new papers in itself, into an endeavor which is overwhelmingly likely to be a failure. It feels a bit like taking all of your hard-won momentum and dumping it into a bin labelled ‘unlikely hopes and dreams’.

But in the end, it really was worth it, at least for me. Even if the outcome itself is uncertain, just the process of collecting all of your achievements under one banner will strengthen and clarify your view of yourself as a professional. More importantly, having to think in a highly unconstrained, big picture way will force you to find the strongest themes within your research. Nevertheless, the process of comparing yourself to the best of one’s peers is quite emotionally draining, and doubly so when one is worried about losing steam on their research.

And then you submit it. 2-3 months of writing, years of planning and dreaming, all boiled down to one button-click submission. And then you try to go back to your research agenda for the year; it’s important to not to let the hot irons cool too much while you are out begging for seeking funding. This is where I am now; awaiting a massive decision, while still trying to forge on with my ongoing research. And we’ve got some terribly exciting new projects and collaborations in the works this year, ranging from my first ever registered report, to big-data fueled investigations of brain-body connectomics and a new computational neuroimaging task, which we’ll be scanning in both MEG and fMRI. I’m really looking forward to the new challenges, techniques, and discoveries this year will bring.

And that is the thought that keeps me going! I know that, even if I am unsuccessful in my quest for funding, I will always find a way to pursue these questions.  Because it is what I do, and what I live for.

Next post: the year to come! I’ll give some teasers about the different projects we are currently working on. Also, in the next weeks I’ll be overhauling this website to give more information about my research, and also plan to start blogging my backlog of recent publications.

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