Take a moment to celebrate

This blog has been very quiet lately, mostly because I’m just starting year two of my professorship at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Today, I submitted my first grant application as an independent principal investigator (PI).

As I went to congratulate another colleague, who had also just submitted his application, he quickly said, “Don’t celebrate now, you haven’t got the grant yet. We can celebrate if they give us the grants”. I understand where he’s coming from. This moment of submission is largely symbolic. It won’t really mean much if the project doesn’t get approved. After all, I can’t put “But I tried!” under the grants section of my CV.

And therein lies the problem. In the first couple years of a new professorship, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you have to accomplish and haven’t yet. There are always more grants to submit, more papers to write, more students to graduate. There will be many things you shoot for, grants especially, that won’t be successful. When things are tough, we’re all familiar with the idea of taking things one day and one step at a time. Slow down. Breathe. Don’t try to do it all at once. But what about when things are going well? We don’t seem to apply the same logic. We don’t slow down, breathe, or celebrate one victory at a time. We rush through these moments and don’t give them the pause they deserve.

The other day I was speaking to a friend and collaborator over the phone, who asked me how things were going with the new job. I told him that in the last year I had published two book chapters, one peer-reviewed journal article, and secured a grant as co-PI. I immediately explained how this wasn’t enough and began to list all the things I still had to do this year. He stopped me and said, essentially, “Wait a minute, that sounds like a lot! Why aren’t you happy?” He was right, of course. I should be happy. But I was so worried about what comes next that I hadn’t allowed myself very many moments to enjoy what I had already done.

So, here is one simple way I think we survive these stressful pre-tenure years. We celebrate now. Right now. At the moment of submission. Sure, the grant I applied for today is only internal. It’s not for very much money – it covers basic laboratory supplies for 1-2 years and some student salaries for 3-6 months. I have no idea if I’ll get it. But it’s mine. I wrote it. It was a push to get it to submission, and even if I don’t get it, it does mean something. It is part of the process that will eventually get my lab funded and doing science. There were moments I thought I might never have a lab, and now things are moving. I think that’s worth celebrating.

None of this means we rest on our laurels. Tomorrow we start new proposals, new papers, new projects – I’m far from having check marks in all the boxes I need for promotion and tenure review. But tonight, I’m not worrying about that.

Tonight, I’m taking a moment to celebrate.

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