Advice on dealing with sickness during grant period/impact on research?

(12 Posts)
dontrunwithscissors Mon 11-Jan-16 13:20:54

Hi all, I've only recently discovered this part of Mumsnet. I apologise in advance for the long post. I have nobody at work that I feel I can approach for off the record advice.

The background is that I'm a lecturer in the Humanities at a Scottish university (been here since 2004). For 2014-15 I have had an AHRC research fellowship grant. Although I completed my PhD in 2003 & I published a book in 2012, the fact I have had 2 periods of maternity leave and disability-related sick leave meant I still qualified as an early career researcher.

After having DD2 in 2010, I developed bipolar (I'd never suffered any MH condition prior to this.) My condition stabilised 2012-13, which allowed me to write the grant application.

The grant was for a year to 1) organise conferences and academic networking; 2) public engagement; 3) write a book, which included 2 research trips to the USA. I promised that I would have the first draft of the manuscript, not the entire thing finished.

I got no support when writing the application and, on reflection, it was an impossible amount of work to do in 12 months. When my current Dean (line manager, no HoD) was appointed, he said that it would 'kill me' trying to get all the work done.

Unfortunately, the grant period coincided with a decline in my health. I was admitted to the psych ward 3 times and had 2 months (or maybe 3, can't quite remember) off sick. This meant I had to cancel a research trip twice. Even when I was back at work, I had to wait until I was well enought to travel & to be able to make new arrangements. This meant I lost even more time because I was 'stuck' until I had made the trip. Alongside the bipolar episodes, I spent much of the year feeling exhausted and struggled to concentrate a lot of the time. I started getting palpitations, was breathless, I fainted twice (once in the USA and was in hospital over there for 2 nights), I was losing hair, constantly had cracked/bleeding skin. My GP kept putting it down to depression. I couldn't figure out what was wrong; no matter how hard I pushed myself, I struggled to focus on the writing.

Fast forward to now: the grant is finished. I managed everything, except writing the book. I've currently got 3 chapters/25 000 words written. I've got all the ressearch done, and greatly refined my approach & ideas. I reckon that if I can work like a demon, I might have a full draft done in a year. However, going on my health for the 12-18 months, there's a chance it could take me years.

A month ago, my GP finally did blood tests and discovered that I had quite severe aneamia. Also, last week, I finally saw a cardiologist about the palpitations etc and have been told there's a good chance I have a very rare heart condition that brings the risk of cardiac arrest at any time. I'm waiting genetic testing to confirm that, but it will take around 6 months. The fatigue, poor concentration, fainting etc now makes perfect sense.

So, I'm panicking over the fact I need to submit my report to the AHRC soon. I will not be able to say I did everything I promised. I haven't dared look at the consequences of this. I think that I have genuine reasons, but the AHRC only seems interested in times when you're signed off sick & not for periods where you felt crap, but didn't know why and tried to keep pushing on.

Of course, at some point, I will also have to tell the Dean that I haven't achieved everything. I don't know whether to make an appointment now and tell him everything, or whether that will come across as me 'struggling' too much. Maybe I should just my head down and wait until it comes up (esp. as I don't know for sure whether I have this heart condition.) He's very, very good and has already said he supports me fully & called me 'heroic' in continuing to research (really don't think it is heroic, but there you go.) Nevertheless, we're under huge pressure from the REF. I'm worried that the amount of sick leave + the fact I've not finished the book will lead to discplinary measures, or me being thrown on to the research 'inactive' dump.

Again, sorry for the very long post. If anyone has advice on how I might be able to get out of this in one piece, I'd be very grateful.

MedSchoolRat Mon 11-Jan-16 22:13:08

honestly... my dept. is full of people who are still working on research they were supposed to finish yrs ago... or even better, they are ignoring research they never finished yrs ago.

I've worked in other disciplines-Unis, they were the same. Every lecturer has a small pile of unfinished to-do-research-promises festering in shadows unloved.

So panic is never required, imho.

I don't understand REF & don't get REFd, & never get to be a PI so probably not one to advise... but honestly who cares? There are other career options, life is what happens when you're making other plans.

Don't public engagement & conferences go into impact statements?

MarasmeAbsolu Wed 13-Jan-16 20:14:18

I think you have a pretty good case explaining why the delay!
Go to your dean - highlight that you have done everything BUT the book. And ask him advice on how to liaise best with AHRC.

Research councils are very good at agreeing no-cost extensions, especially when you have a super decent reason for the delay!

dontrunwithscissors Wed 13-Jan-16 21:47:39

Many thanks for the advice.

possiblefutures Thu 14-Jan-16 13:49:54

Good idea about asking the Dean how to liase with AHRC. And honestly - don't worry. It's just an organisation staffed by human beings in mostly administrative jobs. Some of them are really nice. They are not god! All will have experience of things not coming in on time / as promised. You never know - they may just be impressed that you've done as much as you have in the period!

kalidasa Fri 15-Jan-16 13:04:06

To be honest this sounds absolutely NORMAL. I agree that the proposal was overambitious, and I'm surprised the AHRC didn't pick up on this in the first place (when I am asked to assess grant applications I always say if I think it's a great application but the proposed outcomes are unrealistic, and it would be better to focus on just one or two - and for all you know one of the referees might have said just that). I mean, I think it would be NORMAL that you hadn't finished the book even if you had had absolutely no other problems. Whereas in fact you have a serious chronic mental health problem, two (by my reckoning) primary age children, plus at least one and possibly two additional serious health problems. I think to absolutely cover your bases you could get your GP to write a letter saying *on DATE a blood-test revealed that dontrun is suffering from severe anaemia. Anaemia of this level causes chronic fatigue and immune deficiency (or whatever) and dontrun will have been feeling unwell for at least NUMBER OF months as her condition developed". Obviously your cardiologist can do something similar if you get bad news.

But even without the anaemia/cardiac probs you have 2-3 months of documented serious illness, since you were hospitalised/off sick - that's a pretty big proportion of a 12 month grant (c. 75%) and in fact it sounds like you've achieved roughly 75% of what you promised. But really I doubt the AHRC will be very bothered at all. I don't know what proportion of academics in receipt of these awards tick off everything they said they'd do but I doubt it is very high, and you have done most of what you promised despite extremely adverse circumstances.

dontrunwithscissors Fri 15-Jan-16 22:10:59

Thanks possiblefutures and kalidasa. That's reassuring. I've arranged to speak to the Dean next week--he's a very approachable and all-round nice person so it will hopefully go OK.

dontrunwithscissors Fri 15-Jan-16 22:15:14

And, yes, two of the reviewers said the amount of work was 'very ambitious.' The third essentially said it was impossible to get everything done.

MultishirkingAgain Sat 16-Jan-16 13:22:00

I wrote a looooong response to this thread a few days ago, basically saying what the others have said.

Good luck - I don't think the AHRC will mind - what are they going to do? The contract is between your institution and the AHRC, so I suppose your university could make you pay it all back, but really that's never going to happen repressing the 4 years it's taken me to finish a project after the grant ended

HPsauciness Tue 19-Jan-16 11:14:31

I think I also was on another thread where you mentioned this. I think the answer, in addition to getting the support from your Dean, is to show off what you do have- which is if I remember rightly a lot of public engagement as well as the three chapters you have done. Ask the Dean's advice on how best to play this, and emphasize what you have achieved, not what you haven't. I know lots of end of grant reports which do this and even one which I thought was really under what could have been achieved, and it was rated A. You may be worrying for nothing, plus you have done incredibly well to have kept going work wise through such a difficult time.

Hope the anemia treatment works quickly and that you at least get an answer re the heart issue.

murmuration Fri 22-Jan-16 09:25:14

dontrun - don't worry! It sounds like if you write up all you've done they will be happy, especially if you note the mitigating circumstances. You might ask around to find out what AHRC does with these reports, but I suspect it isn't much.

I'm in sciences, and when I started I was told that reports were graded A-D, and if you got something like 3 D's they would be cagey about awarding you money for a while. But before I ever got my first grant that thing was scrapped, and an individual never even gets feedback on their reports, and I think it's just used by the RC to show the gov't that they are doing stuff with their money.

And it sounds like your grant is finished now, but for future information there are sometimes things called 'no-cost extensions' where they don't give you any more money, but you get extra time to finish the objectives of the grant. I've actually had quite a few of these, ranging in length from 5 months to a year! For reasons ranging from I'd been on maternity leave (pretty reasonable) to I just wasn't done yet and needed more time (and they still gave it to me). One from a RC, and two from charities.

HPsauciness Fri 22-Jan-16 11:33:22

murmuration I forgot about those, I also have had no-cost extensions as well.

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