"You may have heard that you are included as a candidate for the MEXT grant. It will be a great honor and of huge merit in research fund if you are selected. I have to discuss with you, however, about some possible demerit you would face ..."
I sat back in my office chair and pondered this email. The grant in question I had applied for at the end of July; the details had been scant but it involved a HUGE SUM OF RESEARCH MONEY for five years.
… or possibly the details hadn't been all that scant but I hadn't read further than the HUGE SUM OF RESEARCH MONEY.
Either way, it was apparent to all involved that I wasn't aware of the small print.
Money for academics comes in two types: First, there is my salary which I may squirrel away to spend on a stack of Pokemon plushies if I desire. Second, there is my research grant. This grant money broadly covers items such as paper publishing expenses, conference trips, laboratory or computer equipment and sometimes students. While my salary is part of my job (and I'd have to be sacked not to collect it), research grant money needs to be applied for through different national or international bodies. MEXT is the Ministry of Education in Japan.
'Small print' in this context usually applies to what the grant money can be spent on. For instance, my last grant allowed me to buy my computer but not an office chair.
Evidently, comfort was not considered essential for work.
This particular grant, however, turned out to be different.
"MEXT would take over your salary as well as supply a grant..." It was explained to me at a subsequent meeting with our faculty office. "… the University will be very pleased and this would be a prestigious award for you...
So everybody wins?
… but you'd lose your pension contributions, your annual leave would be halved and you'd get no maternity benefits."
Except my mental health.
I opened my mouth to make a response and then closed it. Well, what does one really say to that?
The message was clear: people who receive this grant are supposed to RESEARCH NON-STOP UNTIL THEY DIE!
"However, the Japanese Government has made it compulsory for pregnant women to take 5 weeks maternity leave." The plot thickened as the details were expanded on. "But, on this grant, it is not possible to pay you."
"Well … uh …" I had a sudden image of nursing a small infant surrounded by cans of pickled eggs akin to wartime rations.
In truth, I had no plans to have a baby but the whole process did feel like a Borg-esque assimilation. You are now 3 of 5: research drone. There was however, some light at the end of the tunnel.
For a start, the chances of me actually getting the grant were slim. My name had been put forward by the University but my competition was researchers in every area of science all through the country. Let the medics eat the pickled eggs.
Secondly, while the rules surrounding grant administration were strict, a few backdoors might appear. Such as 'work days' at that …. World renowned… astrophysical... institute in the small Leicestershire village my parents happen to reside in.
Of course, I could turn the grant down but it would be rather hard to refuse a HUGE SUM OF RESEARCH MONEY when there is no guarantee of getting funds through an alternative source.
FUNDING… SANITY… FUNDING… SANITY…
Feeling dazed, I returned to my office and promptly took a 90 minute lunch break in protest.
The final part in this stage of the saga came in an email yesterday evening:
"The dates of individual interview in Tokyo at set for September 21 and 22. They ask you to save the both days for the purpose intended in case you are selected."
Where am I planning to be on September 21 and 22? North Hokkaido on a holiday with my parents. I sniffed the air. I smell cubic space ships.