Meanwhile, I also have to start preparing for a life post-PhD, by keeping my eye out for possible jobs and postdocs, since in Australia your funding is cut off the day you submit your thesis. As part of that, on the urging of my review panel, I applied for a prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship this week. The odds are challenging and chances low, as with all grants, but if I'm successful I'll get to spend two years in Switzerland studying subtropical cyclones.
Writing the grant proposal has taken up a lot of my life over the last month, and caused a lot of stress - it's scary, putting so much work into something you know may all be wasted, and makes you think a lot about if you're really good enough or if you've somehow made a horrible mistake and invalidated the whole proposal - this is why it's important to follow Sophie Lewis' guidelines.
But it's done now, which is a relief, and it's making me reflect on the differences between being a PhD student and the grown-up scientist I'll soon need to be.
Independence: One of the big things the grant proposal asked me to demonstrate was independence and maturity. When starting to write the grant, I wasn't fully prepared for how much it was my responsibility - my future supervisor helped, of course, but all of the decisions about what to research and how to do it had to come from me. This is a big change from a PhD, where ideally your project plan is very collaborative, with your supervisor providing a lot of guidance and support. But when applying for grants you have to be able to do it on your own.
Confidence: One of the notoriously hard parts of grant writing is having to write about yourself, and convince someone that you're just this incredibly talented scientist who will change the world. I'm probably more confident/arrogant than many students, but it was still hard to be sufficiently glowing when writing about myself. Especially when writing in the first person, ugh. This is where you often need a lot of help starting out. But if you don't believe that you're going to do great work, why would anyone else?
Preparation: Writing a grant requires a lot of preparation - not just for the grant, but for the project. How are you going to design your project? What milestones are there, what will you do when, what risks can you see and how will you deal with them? While a PhD is a big project, and we nominally have plans, in reality I often find myself focused on the next step and not thinking about how it fits into the broader project or if I'm on track enough. When you're planning your own research career, that's not good enough anymore. I feel like I'm going to have to do a project management course soon.
Self-evaluation: I've been doing a training course on "Beginning to Teach" in the last month, and yesterday we were learning about feedback, and how one of the goals of university is to give students the skills to self-assess their progress instead of needing external validation. I've found, as I've gone through my PhD, I've received fewer and fewer comments from my supervisors about how I'm going, and fewer edits on my draft papers. And I felt like I didn't have nearly enough comments on my draft proposal, despite having given it to four people apart from my future supervisor and the grants office. I find this challenging to deal with, because I thrive on feedback and find myself wondering if they really read it at all if they don't have more comments. But after graduating, you have co-authors more than supervisors, and you have to be able to assess and trust in your own work and know when it's ready.
Of course, all these things link together. And luckily I don't have to leave my supervisor quite yet! But it's not long now before I'm going to have to give up the training wheels, and hopefully I'll be ready.