Sunday, November 22, 2015

Losing my project, but hopefully not my job

It's been a long time since I've felt the need to blog as much as I do tonight. I need this space to work through my grief. Based on a few meetings that are scheduled tomorrow, who they are with, and what they are called, I'm 99% sure I'm going to be told we're laying down my project. I need to write this because I need to get my anger out before I go into these meetings tomorrow. I need to be at least passably in the acceptance phase of grief tomorrow instead of feeling like I'm going to cry.

I was hired 18 months ago to work entirely on this project. It had a sizable grant to support it for about a year. I joined at the beginning of a massive institutional reorganization that is still happening. Four months in, my project lost its most powerful and important champion. I worked on a three-year project plan with a vision and mission for the project that was supposedly endorsed but then never resourced. The last year has been a long, slow decline under leadership that hasn't given a shit about this, and it's been a self-fulfilling prophecy on their part. I convened a meeting last February to discuss funding options and was told I couldn't write my own grants so instead I was at the mercy of institutional priorities. I had a couple of employees who I lost in the reorg, but they weren't great fits anyways and weren't invested in the project so that wasn't a huge loss. I picked up a woman for whom it's a much better fit in terms of interests and experience, but she's honestly overqualified for me to be supervising her and the other 50% of her time is on a project that is near and dear to leadership. The writing has been on the wall for months (e.g. being told there's no funding for us to attend a conference where we had two proposals accepted) but there has been no clarity whatsoever. I tried to have "leadership" meetings and I repeatedly canceled them because "leadership" could never make time to come. My project has been stuck in time for several months and has been dying a slow, silent death of starvation. I feel like I've staked some of my professional reputation on this project and it feels like a personal failure on some level even though it's not clear what I could have done differently (I guess this is the "bargaining" stage of grief).

I've written here about how much I love my job. I think I've been in denial about how doomed it has been because I still believed in it. I've continued to hold onto hope because it so clearly fits with our mission and other things we are doing. For months though I've been torn about whether I need to double down to make this work or work my way into other things. I've managed to do the latter while managing my project in maintenance mode.

The magnitude of the other project I've taken on along with other changes here mean that I think it's highly unlikely that I'll lose my employment, for which I am grateful. But I still feel both like a loser for whatever role I might have played in its failure and pissed at leadership for starving this project. I'm especially annoyed that they don't see the value in one particularly enormous opportunity that we're probably going to let fly right by.

I suppose it will be something of a relief to have clarity about what I should be doing (then again, I might just get conclusion with no clarity for future direction). It has been so frustrating to not know what my boss's boss wants us to be doing. I know my boss has been frustrated too. Our department as a whole spent the last year working on a bunch of things that just got dumped, so I know I'm not alone in these feelings.

I think tomorrow I'll have to come up with a plan to shut down my project and I think I'll be told my 50% of an employee will get moved fully to her other project. I've already started composing in my head some of the emails I have to write to colleagues and collaborators. I'll be asked to pick up more loose ends from one or two other people who recently left (I won't even get into that). I'll get to work on the project I'm excited about, and then I'll be asked to think big about what we should do next. I know my situation isn't that bad but I think it's important for me to face my grief about this project head-on instead of letting in fester. I have to be able to let my resentment go and fully embrace what is coming next. Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog for a long time. When I started reading it I was considering grad school, and even though I opted for a different path I've kept reading. I just wanted to let you know that there are people out in the world who care about what happens to you. This whole situation sounds really frustrating, but by writing about it in public (even with details) you're helping folks in similar situations (whether it's working in the field, getting through grad school while pregnant, caring for a child in academia, or handling funding issues). Thank you.

penn said...

So sorry to hear this. Best of luck for job things becoming stable for you. I hope the project is something you could pick up in the future.

Karina said...

Thanks, Anonymous and Penn. Anonymous, comments like your are the reason I keep blogging sporadically. I know how helpful I've found other people's blogs to be a different points in my life so it's nice to hear when I've similarly helped someone. Thank you! :-)