21 January 2014 3 Comments
I’m keen on planning for the future. Whether it is a plan for the near future, like a to-do list, or a plan for the far future, like a bucket list, I’m in favour of it. In part, that is because research funding is all about planning for the future.
A long time ago, when I was just a young whisperer, I used to feel guilty when I had to prod researchers to write funding applications. They were all enormously busy. A common refrain was “I don’t have time for research.”
Then a wonderful physicist, Bill van Megen, changed my attitude. Exactly what he said to me is now lost in time, but it was something like this:
I enjoy writing grant applications. It’s the only time I ever get to plan for the future. The rest of the time I’m either working on experiments or writing up experiments. Grant applications let me think about what comes next.
He was right. More importantly, as an activity, research enquiry inhabits the tension between the past and the future. Most of the time we are looking at the past: What happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen? But at the same time we have our eye on the future. That is, will it happen again?