Columns Opinion

The March Madness

Ram Mishra

The saga continues, each month brings about new experiences, some enjoyable, others baffling. Setting my own lab has been an exhilarating feeling, which I have thoroughly enjoyed the past few months. Mid semester recess brought the much-needed break and without much realization month of March knocked at our door. I was absolutely oblivious as to what was in store for me. I was already confronting issues pertaining to purchasing when I learnt the importance of March. What began a bit chaotic in the beginning and felt pretty maddening towards the end hence my title March madness”.

It all began the first week of March when we resumed classes after the mid semester recess. I was busy with my teaching assignments and following up on what was pending in the purchase and accounts section. It’s a known fact that the financial year ends in March, though the real meaning and its effect on me remained illusive till I realized that I must clear dues, bills and reimbursements and projected approved purchases for current financial year by the end of March.

Having joined only in November, I had ordered many things for my lab. My list for accounts proved to be pretty long — multiple instruments/​equipments, consumable items, settling the payments of things that I had already received, reimbursement of office related stationery, medical bills to count few. I submitted multiple claims for payment release for purchases received, processed new approved purchases and medical reimbursements. If you have been with me in my journey in this new venture you will appreciate how much of non-academic work is involved in all this. My only mode of satisfaction was teaching and regular interaction with students.

At this point, a yet another interesting dimension of the March madness was introduced to me by one of my more experienced colleagues. I was till then oblivious to the fact that any balance remaining in your account for consumables or equipment will lapse and hence become unavailable to you after the current financial year. Of course no one likes this money to lapse. However, it is a big challenge to spend that money in wisely and timely manner. I still hadn’t spent even half of my start up fund, hoping to have it in ample for this year. So of course, I was a bit taken aback. Finalizing what you can buy, where you can buy from and submitting all relevant documents in time gave me no time to overcome my shock/​surprise keeping me on my toes the entire month.

Slowly but constantly, I am learning many things, much of it the hard way. Apart from science there is a lot of skills required in this job, which I hope will help me in lab management. These can well be the positives that I can take from March madness. I am yet to receive my first grant and have heard from others that similar managements skills need to be applied to projects sanctioned by various funding bodies. I can positively say that I am getting a rehearsal for something that is in the future. Ideally, I would love to deal more with this madness indicating more funding to do research in future but practically how feasible is it to handle on a more regular basis, is very premature is to say the very least.

I should not deter from drawing your attention that this chaos is also felt at non-academic strata where you manage the income tax related last minute investments/​purchases in the month of March.

March Madness” is something that all of us in the fraternity have to live with but I wish to ameliorate its extent in future years to come.