Chris tiptoed over to his door and turned the lock very quietly. He looked back at the path to his desk and memorised the position of the piles of files and printouts which littered the floor, then switched off the overhead light and tiptoed back to his desk without skidding. Result!
He made sure the desk light was pointing away from the door, then switched it on. He reached for his noise-cancelling headphones. $250 on his last research trip to the US, but worth every penny.
He sighed. How could four different funding proposals be due all together like this? He was never going to get them all finished in time for the internal deadline. Well, he’d already missed that, but how could they need three whole weeks to check over a few bids? All the work came in the writing of them.
Choosing some Mozart from his streaming service – he’d heard that it helped concentration, though that was probably some social science mumbo-jumbo – he tried to decide which bid to work on first. Maybe not the really big one to the research council. That needed a big block of time. Maybe it was better to knock out one of the smaller ones first. It was pathetic, scrabbling round for these little pots of money, but needs must at the moment. He was having a bit of a dry spell, if the truth be known. At least he got merit points for applying for the funding. In fact, he’d get almost as much recognition for doing four applications as he would for getting one successful bid. OK. The Royal Society one.
Chris opened the file containing the bid information. Oh, Christ. It was all about impact and public engagement. That wasn’t science. He closed the file in disgust. Maybe he’d come back to it if he had time before the deadline.
What was next? Hmm. Enterprise partnerships. Whatever they were. He opened the next file and skimmed through the contents. At least it looked as though they could actually do some experiments with this one. He leafed through his ‘ideas’ book. What would be best? He really wanted to look at that weird effect he’d noticed – well, which his last research student had noticed – when they warmed a mould spore and then cooled it again quickly. He started making some notes about a possible experiment. Ha. This would be easy to plan and cost. He’d have this one dusted off within the hour.
Chris was on a roll. He didn’t even grumble out loud about the length of the form – actually, it wasn’t too bad – or the idiocy of the boxes. He was on the last page before he knew it. Just the track record stuff to put in. He filled in his title, qualifications and contact details. The next box had him stumped, though: Details of Enterprise Partner. He snorted. What was this? Star Trek? Chuckling, he picked up the phone and dialled the Research Office.
“Kay? It’s Chis here. ”
“Oh. Which department are you from?”
“Biology. You know, Nuffield trust grant?”
“Nuffield? I don’t think we’ve had one of those for a while. Sorry, Professor, perhaps that was before my time?”
“Well, maybe it was, but I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It was the biggest grant we’d ever had at the time, in microbial applications.”
“Oh. Well done. Great work.”
Chris hesitated. Was she being sarcastic? Surely not. Just some lowly assistant in the Research Office. “Never mind. I just have a quick question about a bid I’m writing.”
“OK. What’s the area?”
“The internal deadline for that was two weeks ago, Professor.”
“Well, yes, I know, but it’s only short, so I thought you could probably manage to fit it in.”
“We’ve got a lot of them. We need time to do them all justice. We need to check the costings and the strategic relevance.”
“Oh, come on, Kay, you can’t have that many to process. They’re only short. ”
“I’ve got thirteen to review.”
“Really? Well, it’s good that people are so busy, isn’t it? Keeps you in a job? And surely the strategic relevance is up to us academics? Anyhow, about my question. Do you have a copy of the form in front of you?”
“Well, I can find one…but it’s really too late.”
“You can give me some advice, can’t you? It might be handy for next year.” Chris wheedled.
There was an audible sigh. “OK. I’ve got a copy.”
“On page 16, I’m not sure what to put in the box marked ‘Details of Enterprise Partner’.”
“Well. Um. What it says. Details of your enterprise partner.”
“What do you mean? What enterprise partner?”
“The bids are for enterprise partnerships, Professor. You need an enterprise partner.”
“It didn’t mention that earlier in the form.”
“Did you look at the guidance?”
“Of course I looked at the guidance. It said we could look at problems of community interest in biology. I want to look at mould spores. Nobody likes mould, do they? So there’s a community interest.”
Kay breathed in deeply. She made herself smile. The HR team had taught her to do that, to help her to moderate her tones when she felt outraged. “The guidance also explains that you have to have an enterprise partner. To exploit the community interest.”
“Did it? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I just did, Professor.”
“No, I meant, why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I didn’t know you were interested in the enterprise partnership. Everyone else who’s applied came to the briefing meeting in September. And I’ve helped them to find partners, if they didn’t have them already.”
“Well, I don’t have to tell you everything I’m doing, do I? You might have realised this would be of interest to me.”
“Professor, with the greatest respect, I’m not psychic.”
“Ha bloody ha. No, I’m damn sure you don’t have special powers.” Chris paused. “Well, putting all that to one side, and I’m not sure that I like your tone, do you have any enterprise partners for me?”
“You can’t set up a partnership now. You’ve already missed the deadline.”
“No I haven’t. The deadline’s on Friday. Well, OK, that’s today. But it’s no wonder I’m behind. Am I expected to do all the science, and my teaching, and my administration, AND go out and find enterprise partners? What are you for, then?”
There was a pause. “Professor, er, Fletcher. I appreciate that you must be under great strain, so I’m going to ignore that, and your tone, and I won’t make a complaint about you this time. However, if you talk to me, or a member of my staff, like that again, then I will be forced to take this further.”
“Your staff? Your staff? What kind of an outfit is this, when some slip of a girl can threaten a senior member of the research staff?”
Kay hung up and backed away from the phone as though it was radioactive. She stared at it. Outrageous. Outrageous. Forgetting her promise not to take it further, she stepped back to her desk and dialled. “Hello? HR? This is Dr Jones, Head of Enterprise. I need to make a complaint about someone.”
Back in his office, Chris was also staring at the phone. “Outrageous.” he muttered to himself. “How dare they? Bloody pen-pushers. What do they know about research? Well, sod that enterprise bid, I won’t bother with it, then. That’s one less to worry about.” He turned to the next blank application form.