You will probably have noticed by now, DearReader, that the NIH grant game is not exactly a distasteful part of my job. Don't get me wrong. I'd be much happier if I had landed in some hard-salary situation with exceptional institutional support, local funding sources procured by the philanthropy side of the institution and just generally had fewer concerns about actually funding my laboratory.
That didn't happen, however. I landed in a job which requires me to be at least minimally competent at acquiring major research funding. I was not particularly prepared for this.
Which in hindsight is my own fault to large extent. I was one of those idiots who was never really focused on career. I was doing the science I wanted to do and following the steps. Graduate school...okay. Then I'm supposed to post-doc? Alright, can do. All throughout I was mostly engaged with trying to do the job I already had. I was pretty clueless about the idea of preparing for the next job.
For better or for worse, the scientists I trained with were not the types to put on a big show about the amount they worked to keep the funds flowing into the laboratory. In one of the stops (the most useful one, as it happens) I did see a lot more of the sausage making. But not all of it by any means.
It should not strain your credulity to accept that I exhibit a fair bit more of the process of grant-getting to my lab staff than anyone I ever trained with did. I talk about it with friends, academic peers who aren't in biomedical sciences, etc, as well.
One thing I occasionally hear is something along the lines of "I once thought I'd like to do a job like that but from your description it sounds like a nightmare! All that NIH grant policy geekery, study section strategy and the endless cycle of submitting proposals would be the worst kind of torture. I could never, ever stand it. ...and this isn't what I got into science to do, anyway."
Maybe there is some truth to this. Maybe, just perhaps, the system of NIH-funded research as we currently know it selects for a certain type of scientist. Perhaps there are going to be people who would otherwise make fine (superior?) lab heads and research team leaders who are screened out because of the whole grant game. It is not impossible.
I submit to you, however, that for a very large number of job categories and career paths we do not realize at the start just exactly what the job will become later on. I further argue that for a lot of jobs there are aspects down the road that would seem pretty annoying or abhorrent at the start. Aspects that you may come to tolerate. Aspects that may be slightly aversive but are more than adequately compensated by other advantages of that later career stage.
Even more to the point, there may be parts of the job that are lying in wait for you that you think might be annoying but it turns out you are pretty good at doing. Or at least that you don't find to be as unenjoyable as you initially thought.
And in the end analysis, like it or not, these things that you have to do are part of the job. Inextricable. And you have chosen to do this job. So you do the dirty bits along with the fun bits.
Is there really any reason to think that we get to define our job just exactly how we think it should be, just because we are in academics or in science? Are we really so unique?