Mole was revising his rejected grant and moaning about how unfair it all is, when the shade of Francis Bacon, the Father of the Scientific Method, appeared to take him on a tour of Grant Hell. Sir Francis (‘Frank’) looks like Dumbledore but talks like a wanna-be hipster but, hey, maybe Mole is just dreaming all this. Anyway, they went to Grant Hell. There, they met lots of wretched souls who were not successful in revising their grants, and had lots of reasons why not.

Oh, one more thing. For some reason, the story is told in triplets that don't rhyme. Probably they did in some other language, but it would have been too much trouble to translate it and make it rhyme. Mole may be getting lazy. Or maybe he's up to something? No, most likely he's just lazy. We join our travelers, having passed the Fifth Circle, and have continued up to the Fourth.

“Here is the Fourth Circle,” said Frank. This was Greed.
“But hey,” I said, “I thought greed is good. That's what they tell us,
It makes the market work.” Frank shook his head.
“Wait,” I said, “Are you saying that these poor people are here
Because they wanted to do too much? They wanted too many grants?
I mean, what's wrong with a little ambition if the science is good?
“Listen,” I went on, “I'm getting a little tired of hearing that somebody, who
I think is a really terrific scientist, has ‘too many grants.’ I mean, if they are
Getting the best work done, maybe they deserve the grants. You know?”
“And now,” I think I was on a roll. “Now you tell me that they are here,
In Grant Hell, because they work too hard.”1 “Easy, Big Guy,2” said Frank,
And I looked to see if he was talking to me. He was. Nobody calls me ‘Big Guy.’
He went on. “You've got it all wrong. They aren't here because they wanted
Too many grants. They are here because they confused grant funding and power.
Their greed is not to do more great science but to amass influence.”
“Oh,” I said. “Then they get what they deserve.” Because being ‘powerful’
As a research scientist is a bit like being the King or Queen of Cheese.3
It isn't worth very much and can smell pretty terrible. Frank cracked up at that one.
We had moved to the Third Circle, where the wretched never stopped writing,
Except to eat the paper they were generating. Or electrons, but I couldn't see that.
Then they would write some more. “Here is Gluttony,” whispered Frank.
I stopped one poor soul who was eating a page as it came out of a printer.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked. “Oh,” he moaned. “You know how it is,
I don't get my grants funded, so I write more and more and more.
“I was putting in a grant every cycle, but that didn't work, so I went to two,
Then three. I don't have anything new to say, and I spend all my time
Regurgitating my ideas and sending them in. Eventually I'll get one.” He belched.
“But wait,” I cried, “Maybe you need to stop and actually think about what
You are writing! Maybe if you took some time out, you'd frame the work
In a way that reviewers will see why it is important?” He wolfed down a page.
“No, this is how I do it,” he sputtered between mouthsful. “This is how I roll.”
“How's that working out for you?” I asked, but he wasn't interested.4
“Let's go up,” said Frank. “Not much more to see here.”
We found the Second Circle. Souls were flying in the winds that blew around us.
“This is Lust,” said Frank, watching them flit around us. “Their only crime, I think,
Is to want their grant too badly. They don't want to change it, because they love it.”
I could understand. Maybe this was my own circle. I really, really want my grant.
I lust for it. The work is lovely, and elegant, and important. But it wasn't funded.
I could feel myself starting to float off the ground and my clothes began to flap.
“Whoa, there, Compadre,5” said Frank, grabbing my leg and bringing me to earth.
“Get a grip. I mean, its just a proposal for what you want to do. There's nothing
of value in a grant, except as a way to get the support for the work, right?”
I wasn't so sure. I mean, when I write a grant, I think about the project,
Really think about it, often for months. The act of writing helps me to formulate,
Consolidate my thoughts. It's a plan for the next few years of research.
But yes, he was also right. The act of writing a grant, really, is just an approach
To supporting the work that has been formulated. Yes, thinking about it is good,
But actually doing the work is what this is all about. I needed to think.
And found that we had entered the First Circle. Limbo. Nothing to do but wait.
And while we all waited to hear the results of our submission, we were happy.
Because until we get the bad news, we can imagine that we'll get it.
We emerged in the light of Hope. And there, before us, was a mountain.
“We'll climb that in a while,6” said Frank. “But first, I know a good place
Near here to get some lunch. You down for that?” Me, I didn't know down from up.

Mole is correct here, and despite FB's words to the contrary, many experienced investigators have their grants fail because of a perception that “they have too much money.” Indeed, funding institutions sometimes place limits on total amounts a program may have, and in those that do not, the reviewers may take this position themselves. But Mole feels that this is inappropriate; some investigators are simply more productive than others and, given the opportunity, more support can result in substantially more impactful research from such investigators. Of course, the opposite is also true – there are investigators who will not be productive, regardless of how much support they have.


Grande Salame


(il re o la regina di formaggio) It is possible that Mole is referring to either King Camembert (1411–1489) or, perhaps, Queen Gouda (1536–1590). Or he may be referring to his friend Weasel who is, indeed, very fond of cheese.


This approach, of flooding granting institutions with applications in hopes that one may “stick” is becoming much too common. Mole doubts that it is a viable strategy, unless such multiple applications can be done with the same care that goes into only one. As this is rarely the case, the strategy might, at least, be reconsidered. Given that the result is an avalanche of hastily prepared applications converging at any one competition, an exceptionally well-crafted (and well-reasoned) application might stand out and be favored. It's just a thought.


(Fermati, il mio Ferrari)


The mountain, Grant Purgatory, eventually leads to Grant Paradise, which lasts only until the period of the grant runs out, and a renewal applied for. Mole points out that it may be interesting to note that, whenever a grant is rejected and we find ourselves in Grant Hell, we blame the process (“they killed me”). When it happens that we emerge into the light of funded Grant Paradise, though, we did it all by ourselves (“yes, I got the grant”).