Proposals, Decisions, and Waiting

At the end of my PhD I wrote my first proposal, that is over eleven years ago now, and it was for a Google Summer of Code (GSoC) project. It felt like an eternity waiting for the decision, it turns out it was quite quick! These days a lot of my work involves seeking funding to develop open source code, it is a great job in so many ways and something my successful GSoC project helped to seed. There is a huge amount of writing, then a lot of waiting until you find out the decision which is usually measured in months.

There is currently a proposal that we submitted back in January, and we should get official word on Monday (April). This is one of the faster turnarounds when I look at different agencies we work with, and it is a big project so the need for time to review is entirely justified. When I write a proposal it is hard not to get attached to them, and this particular project is one where we already worked on a short Phase I feasibility study. When I think of this I think of the feeling waiting for that first GSoC proposal, vastly different projects, scope, funding, etc but proposals I put a lot into.

I think many people who work on projects that have these funding cycles have similar experiences, maybe some people don’t get quite as attached to them. I have had plenty of proposals rejected, but a few years back had my first Phase I project that was not selected for a Phase II. You have to learn to pick yourself back up, see if you can learn from any feedback, and get back in there (or figure out what you want to do next). My position affords me the opportunity to collaborate with amazing people, and work on stuff I absolutely love, but at times it can be tough waiting on those decisions.

The more you learn the systems in place the more you realize when you get to the week or two leading up to announcements most of those decisions have been made. You also know that once you hit submit there is little else you can do, other than hope you were able to convey everything you needed to, after days of figuring out which things deserve space, which can’t fit, whether a figure, a paragraph, or both are needed for elements. You need to weave a story in an often very limited amount of space, and point to examples that indicate our team is capable of doing this ambitious work.

Once you hear back then (for me at least) the real pressure mounts as you need to turn that vision into reality. I remember how excited and daunted I was when I started my GSoC project, and when I got my first funded project. If you are successful you create a virtuous cycle where you are able to work on even more amazing projects, with more amazing collaborators, and the opportunity to have great impacts on the work you care about.

Missing a big proposal, at least when it is government funded, can unfortunately mean years until you have the opportunity to get something in the same area funded again. The picture is different on the commercial side, but there are often weeks or months from initial discussions to the point at which code can be developed. That is why I still find it fun to just sit and develop some things in my own time, funding can change the amount of time I have to work on projects, but I can still spend some time on developing stuff I find fun.

This has been a small piece of my mind as I await decisions on Monday, and wish the best of luck to everyone else out there waiting…now I need to go get on a plane and wait to get to the other side of the country ;-)

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