I’ll apologise now, as this post may well be somewhat downbeat. As one of life’s optimists, I often face accusations of being an idealist. If being an idealist means straining to see exciting things on the horizon and then trying to find a way of getting to that horizon, then I’ll take that accusation. But I think I’m also quite pragmatic when I need to be – maybe that comes with parenting? Or perhaps it’s a significant part of being a researcher? Whatever, I definitely have a logical, analytical side to my brain – hence my self-definition as optimist: I prefer to see the good things, but I’m totally aware that shit sometimes happens!
This past week, shit appears to have happened. Despite some very supportive lobbying on my behalf by a senior colleague, my home School decreed that I should have no money, as they continue to apply the blanket rule that posters don’t really count in the great academic game of ‘putting your research out there’. This places me in a difficult position: I can still apply to the Graduate School Travel Prize, but they like to see matched funding from your home School – my favourite kind of catch-22 now comes into play. I could write angry emails about the discrepancy between the Graduate School and my home School, as the Grad School thinks it’s absolutely fine to present a poster in Australia, on principle. I probably will write that email, but I’m not naive enough (or should that be idealist enough?) to think it will make the slightest difference. Maybe it will make me feel better, though…
My lovely colleague then came up with another idea: she suggested that I write to the conference organisers explaining my difficulty, and ask whether I might be able to change to an oral presentation. It took me a few days to work up the courage, as it felt a bit cheeky to do this (I know, but I’m English, what can I do?), but eventually I put my case in a very jolly email. More bad news: they can’t accommodate an oral presentation until they have all the registrations in – and here’s my second beautiful catch-22 of the week: I would have to register to attend, which involves a mighty £461.95 (for those of my friends who don’t know this bit of academic life – yes, it costs a lot to send your research out into the world :/), but then I might not get the presentation changed from poster to oral, so I’d be in exactly the same situation of having no funding to get there!!
Does my mood seem slightly cynical? I hope this comes across loud and clear in what I’m writing today, because that’s how I feel. Yes, I can have a budget to attend conferences. But only in the capacity decreed acceptable my my School. Making an individual case does nothing – the School applies a broad brush approach. I’m not a fan of feeling disempowered – I doubt anyone is, really – but that’s how I’m feeling just now. I’m a tiny step away from abandoning the whole project – even if the Graduate School give me the maximum amount available, it wouldn’t even cover my air fare, and finding the rest makes my brain actually ache.
And yes, I will definitely be sending carefully worded emails – but maybe when I’ve counted to a thousand and taken some very deep breaths.