Saturday, October 17, 2009

Budget schmudget: A research coordinator's anxiety

I've kept a good secret. My untold secret at work is, evidently, that I Can't Do Math. I'm asked to do math and then I end up doing it--fuzzy math, real math, calculator math, math on the fly, math on Excel. Sure, it's only adding and subtracting and the occasional percentage adjustment, but geeze, do you really want your paycheck coming from the grant budget I prepare? Do you feel lucky?

Evidently, they do. With a whole lot of coaching and a whole lot of (necessary, for dolts like me) bureaucracy, I submit grants through the university channels and they make their way into the hands of the government. And they are reviewed by study sections. And funded. Or not. And people are paid. And accounting is complete. And, maybe at the end of the day, I can remember I did something sort of correct once.

Deep breaths.

What is more anxiety producing is the sheer volume of acronyms and procedure surrounding the process of fuzzy and real math and draft and final budgets and draft and final proposals. I work in chemistry, so that's the easy part. I watch as a narrative slowly, carefully, emerges like those swatches of blah in the color comics on Sunday that revealed an outline of something in 3D. Only upon sneaking a look at the answer key printed upside down did I say "ooooh" and know what the 3D lump really was. It is that way when I look at the science, written up in agreeable Arial pt 11 with 0.5 margins. I can see a 3D-ish lump, but I need someone to say something layman-y and then I can go "oooh." Then I get what's going on. Or, it stays a lump with no answer key. That happens too. Not a chemist, I.

Not a natural administrator, I. We learn a facilities and administration rate, we learn modified indirect cost bases, we learn consortium costs, we learn OMB circulars, we learn effort reporting, we learn voluntary cost sharing. I'm nomenclatured out and it still feels strange to walk into a room to talk about cost transfers and institutional endorsements and go out into the sun and drink coffee like nothing crazy just happened in there.

Then I saw C.D. Wright read at the Art Institute Thursday night. And all was well with the week.

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