Ümitsiz Bekleyis

This page written starting 6 September, 2007.

Dan pointed out that I deserved a slap upside the head on account of To Die For being so negative, and when I reread it, I have to admit it sounded more negative than I intended. Valuing Dan's opinion I immediately resolved to look on the brighter side. That was last week.

Arriving at UoW a year ago, knowing my skills and assessing the national needs, it was almost too easy to see what research would be the most beneficial and most appropriate. My application to fund GaN MMIC work through foundries went to the Marsden Fund, clearly the correct body, and indeed the only one targeted to fund true research in NZ, rather than development. This body funds less than 10% of requests, so I was not too hopeful... almost as bad a Australia's ARC at the time I left... was that 7%?

I can return to the application, and it still reads like a storybook. You can see the whole application here, particularly pages 4--8, but the heart is easily summarised in an abstract. As things progressed, we got excellent reviews. I mean, I could not have got better reviews if I had dictated them myself, with lines like "greatly enhance IC design skills in New Zealand", "an excellent team which has a very high likelihood of making a significant contribution to the state-of-the-art", "the proposal is very timely and important because it can lead New Zealand into one of the new frontiers of semiconductor IC design", "likely to produce excellent results" and "proposal is high quality in its current form". This is as good as it gets. You can see the first three reviews here, here and here. Then came the fourth review, very late. This review appeared to be written by someone who had not actually read the application, and who certainly did not know what he was talking about. I hate to identify a cultural trait, but it was written with that know-it-all, offhanded tone and vague phrases that is a hallmark of academics from a certain part of the world... many readers will know just what I mean. In any case, in response to reviewers, moderate and polite is the recommended tone, and one is supposed to rely on the assessors to pick up the absolute idiots and throw them out, so I wrote reserved.

Well, the proposal did not succeed, and I fear it won't get much better. Perhaps the bad review was not rejected. Maybe I should have said something along the lines of "patent idiot", "I consider this an insult" and "I expect such libel to be stricken from the record". (I hope for the sake of New Zealand this pompous prat is not an academic in this country, though if I guess correctly he is). On the other hand, maybe it was rejected, and they simply did not have enough money to fund at this level. In either case, the prognosis for NZEE is gloomy. I've had proposals rejected before, but it never felt so unjustified as this.

Aagh, I see the fate that befell EE at Sydney University all over again! Vojin Oklobdzija recently resigned from Sydney after a short stay, and when I sopke to him last year I understood exactly how he must have been feeling---partly frustrated, partly disappointed, almost angry at the waste. Is it small-pond syndrome or constipation by idiots? Does it matter? What a far cry these times from the Sydney University engineering department I knew as an undergraduate, boasting the likes of Bob Frater, Dave Skellern, Chris Christiansen, Dick Small, Godfrey Lucas. Their ilk earnt the respect of students and wise men far and wide. No arrogant poo-bahs or immodest fools, and an environment where significant things happened.

Worse still, our GaN MMIC Marsden proposal is not one likely to be repeated; it depended upon synergy with my friend Andy's movements, its timely nature, the willingness of fabs seeking establishment, and frankly also upon my enthusiasm and committment. This and other failed oases leave me in a situation I have faced before: I am supposed to be doing a job for which there are not the tools or the resources or any other incentive. Wanted: A job that people need done badly enough to pay to have it done properly.

This last week, for the first time in 30 years, I found myself neither wanting to be at home nor to be at work. I have become accustomed to having one or other into which I could retreat. As visible in the Extension Progress Report, we face the prospect of spending this weekend still sleeping in the cold loungeroom, and quite possibly welcoming Tony into it the week after. Hard to put on a positive face in the circumstances.

Today however, I drove home early (while still daylight!), figuring why sit and be sad at work? The trees were glorious, this property looked superb, and soon it will be warm inside and I will not feel like a sardine stepping over boxes and loose toys. We are so close to having this place finished, and it will be truly paradise when everythng is done. Already the view from the attic is delicious.

Late Intelligence: What factors influence panels when they have more "perfect" proposals than they have money to fund? Factors such as these tend to count against one: Having used less space than the proposal permits, i.e., you did not pack every page with words; not having had a previous proposal funded, i.e., funding you is as novel as your concept; putting too much emphasis on the fact that you are going to educate people, i.e., emphasizing that you will be funding postgraduates. Imagine the results if someone was to fund a study on the peer review process in titsy-witsy countries.

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