A Week in Research Life

At some point someone said “A week is a long time in …” and maybe finished with politics but more importantly left us with a ready made boring opening statement for almost every topic. A week probably can be a long time in politics but probably not as long as a week in grass germination documentary film-making or freehand toenail scissoring art projects.

This week really was a long time in research though. (My humble apologies, couldn’t resist. Let’s allow a brief awkward pause then carry on, repressing the history of my banality until it festers deep inside this blog.)

I’ve actually posted on what a part-time PhD week can look like. This particular week was a little different though. That’s partly a result of external things but also because the project is in a very different phase. So here’s a new story of a week in part-time PhDland.


Well, it’s a full day at the hospital. Except for the breaks where I’m working on the ethics paperwork for a case report. Case reports used to be a bit more popular I’m told but medicine has moved on to focus on attempts at big trials. It’s a bit of a pity in areas when you’re dealing with very, very infrequent situations. Anaesthesia fits in that basket.

The other thing that is bubbling away is that whole national competitive grant thing run by the NHMRC. Everyone knows the decision is made and sitting on a desk. People probably want to plan. We actually made it past the first knock out round with our serious researchers who know things really drinking the buzz from the reviewers’ comments.

At least until midnight when we get the notification that we’ve been rejected.


Yes. That was pretty much how I felt, female Pallas cat.

Yes. That was pretty much how I felt, female Pallas cat.


That midnight missive is under embargo though so officially I can’t say anything. Not even to the many, many people on social media making their results clear.

Our project not getting up isn’t entirely surprising in a setup where around 12% are expected to get funding. It’s a niche area and the clinical types in the team just can’t help the track record stuff that much. It does throw a bit of a slump into the project though, as not getting funding makes you wonder where you’re going exactly.

In the meantime, there is a simple little project we’re running testing really compact devices for warming blood to give to patients. That warming step matters because the red version of the blood we give to patients to boost their ability to circulate oxygen and stuff around the body is stored at four degrees and if you give that straight into a vein you cool down very quickly. Cold patients create more problems.

Today though, the warming device is having a complete fritz. It’s not working and not bothering to give an indication that it isn’t working.

As it would. Simple research is even against us.


I actually bother getting the feedback scores for the grant today. After all the warm and happy thoughts we sheltered in for the last few months it’s a wake up call. We were certainly in the top half of applications, but not that close to funding in a round that is rumoured to have seen a further fall to a 10% a success rate. My one bonus is that on Friday I can go to my day job. No need to start an alternate busking career. Actually that’s everyone else’s bonus too.


Finally Thursday is a day that is about the good things in research. A colleague and I head up a quite long motorway to my old uni town to meet people. The first people are helicopter people who might help with the PhD or just other projects where we think alike though hundreds of kilometres apart.

The second is a researcher in a very different field – communication. Bronwyn Hemsley has a whole team looking at the way people communicate in emergency medical settings. It’s partly about how the communication happens with patients but also about how it happens between the workers.

This sort of stuff could be pretty profound. The prehospital environment in particular requires a lot of very rapid communication moments with scared patients, unhelpful bystanders, more helpful emergency service colleagues of all sorts and all done in the sort of environment where the ‘jaws of life’ might be in action. (Incidentally people think they’re called that because they look like jaws but it’s actually because they’re run on hydraulics which need a compressor so they’re kind of always jawing off – they just won’t shut up. Maybe that’s the reason anyway.)

The great thing about that sort of chat is that over an hour we find a bunch of new ways to explore the questions, all while getting a bit of schooling on how to run a research team from a pro.

Thursday turns out to be a collection of all good things about research. And it’s about the people you meet.


By now, I’ve had days to dwell on that funding result and it feels like the national competitive grant people are just pointing and laughing at me. That’s total rubbish because they’ve got far bigger things to worry about.

Being open and communicative isn’t one of them though. Officially the embargo still runs. I’ve seen so many law procedural shows where people can’t talk about a case for a bunch of reasons. I bet it’s just like this. Except with more sports cars. Not many sports cars in research.


We actually submitted a paper for review overnight. Enough’s enough though. Maybe a weekend would be an option? In fact we even get dinner out and it’s the sort of dinner where the lentils are so good they actually make the dish even better. Lentils. The week still feels a bit weird.


The highlight of the day is probably going fishing on a thing organised by other people with my son. I actually don’t particularly like fishing but my attempts to make sure we haven’t caught anything haven’t actually dissuaded the little guy from thinking it’s awesome.

Then of course he touches a wriggling fish today. In the name of research.

He’s not so big on going back fishing now. On balance this is a good research result. Perhaps I shouldn’t quit yet.


The image here is of a female Pallas cat. It was on Flickr creative commons and is presented unchanged from Tambako the Jaguar’s post.


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