Ann and I had many conversations about my putative plans to go to Paris to do my postdoctoral studies. She felt that she could not spend a whole year out of the country. She was close to her family and did not want to be away from them. Her pilot lessons were also going well and she couldn’t afford to lose that much time from them, either. She was concerned as well about the fact that she didn’t know anyone abroad, nor did she speak French. I had started taking lessons, but did not yet speak French myself yet either. She was supportive of my plans to go to France, but we needed to form a strategy to keep our relationship strong and maturing. I desperately wanted her to come with me, but understood her reasons for not wanting to be away that long.

We finally decided that I would go to Paris and scout out jobs for Ann as well as a place for us to live. I would try to pave the way for her to come to live with me, a role I found exciting with lots of potential. This represented a compromise for both of us that would offer a way for us to continue growing our relationship.

A lot of planning was still needed for me to set up my next job in France even before my job at Michigan State University was finished. I felt that Ann and I were in a good place and that allowed me to focus on what I needed to do to finish my degree and get to France. Mail, phone calls and email[1] were helpful in organizing a research year abroad, but a face-to-face meeting between myself and my future boss Renee Ventura-Clapier was needed. It would be great if I could go to France to talk to her, but I didn’t have a passport yet and nor could I afford to travel there. I enquired around the university to see if there were funding options to pay for Renee to come to Michigan. I discovered that there were guest speaker programs and sponsorship opportunities available. These programs generally required a speaker of stature to qualify for funding. Renee was a world-renowned researcher, so it was the university might fund her trip to Michigan.

I decided to sponsor a proposal to pay for Renee to come to Michigan and do some lectures. It seemed like a good idea to facilitate communication and solidify the plans for my year in Paris. Little did I realize the enormous amount of work I had committed myself to doing.

My plan of attack was to first determine a budget for the trip. Then to get Renee to suggest some dates to come and visit as well as make sure Dr. Dillon and the rest of the department were interested in having her as a speaker. Then I would just need to assure myself that all of this would be a good use of my time. I estimated that a trip from Paris to Michigan for about 5 days would cost $3000 to $5000, depending upon the availability of cheap flights. This included airfare, accommodations, local transportation, meals and the traditional honorarium for her lectures. I presented a cost analysis and funding strategy to Dr. Dillon and the other faculty in the department and got the go-ahead.

Now I wrote proposals to the Student Activities Committee (called SAC) and the graduate students’ board for funding. The graduate students board offered $500. The Student Activities Committee was less enthusiastic. They seemed to think that Michigan State undergraduate students would not be interested in talking to a professor from Paris. Michigan State University was big into students going to Oxford University with a Rhodes Scholarship, but Paris was not serious enough. They said no funding. I lobbied individual departments for funding, too, and was fortunate to get funding from Radiology, Physiology, Engineering, Biochemistry, and Women in Science. I had estimated that Renee would be here for 3 full working days, and each department wanted either a talk or a discussion opportunity. Each piece of committed time for Renee was time away from us planning my future. This was a real case of time is money. I was selling Renee’s one on one face time for sponsorship dollars, and at the same time decreasing the time I would have to plan our research. I would haggle over every half hour that I had to part with when negotiating with department chairs and administrators.

Even after all of this, I still needed another $1000. Renee was willing to come and could cancel if I failed to raise the rest of the cash. She assured me that my position in her lab was safe, but I was committed in getting her to Michigan. It quickly became common knowledge that my fundraising was coming up short and Renee’s visit started to be discussed with question marks and uncertainty as to if she were coming. I was finally able to get some funding from Family Practice because of Renee’s publication history on heart attacks and heart failure. Creatine Kinase is an important diagnostic test for these patients, and Family practice physicians were willing to talk to her.

The international center would sponsor a luncheon for her to talk at, as well, for a small contribution to her travel fund. But, I was still short. I filed an appeal with the Student Activities Committee with a new tactic. I told them that Renee was an experienced scientist and mentor of medical students, including students from English-speaking countries. I was granted permission to apply again and tried to sell the committee on the opportunities that would be available to undergraduates who wanted to do a short stint abroad or go to graduate school in France. They were a little more receptive, but suggested that I charge admission to Renee’s talks. While on the surface this might seem logical, the scientific academic community rarely charges admission fees. The ethos for this group of professionals is open and free access to information. We do not charge for talks. The Student Activities Committee at last made an offer for a very modest amount of financial support, but it finally brought me to the minimum level of funding needed.

This whole undertaking took several months of effort and I had committed Renee to a huge amount of time during her stay. Nearly every breakfast, lunch and dinner was booked. She had talks, discussions and meetings with numerous organizations and faculty members. All the sponsors would get their return on investment. My investment in the visit was the time I put into setting it up and organizing it, and I would protect that investment by shuttling her from meeting to meeting and chatting with her every opportunity we had. I was very selfish—I filled in all the “down time” with grant and research plan discussions with me.

[1] My first ever emails were sent to France to organize my post doc in Paris.