Thoughts on Grant Applications

First off, the good news is that I finally have a version of this grant application that pleases me. It’s taken too damned long and involved an awful lot of wailing, but now I have something that I believe both fills the requirements of the format and also intrigues me as a research proposition. That’s not an easy feat to achieve!

Part of the challenge with this grant and others yet to come is that I’m being forced out of my lone-wolf mode. Employing students is the key priority and that’s always been a bit scary for me. Not that I don’t admire my students: I’m fortunate to have some of the finest junior scholars working with me and others in my department. No, it’s more a fear of how do I properly employ them without exploiting them or pushing them somewhere unsuitable in the demands of the research program.

I don’t know about you but it’s rare for me to supervise a student researcher whose work closely aligns with mine. This might be different in the sciences, but in the humanities and social sciences, students and faculty are often only connected by one link in a chain of interests. So my research focus right now hits up subjects in sixteenth to eighteenth century social, family, legal and gender history. The closest we come in the current crop of grad students is one who’s working on late sixteenth-century historical memory in literature, sermon and on stage. That’s not really much of an overlap, though!

When it’s teaching, the matter feels oddly easier: learning how to prepare, present, assess and mark are clearly transferable abilities. I can even, with enough warning, work in course elements that allow a graduate student to teach topics that play to his or her own strengths or ambitions. But research pushes that to a higher level – if the object of this is to for me to come out with more scholarly publications, the work has to be directly related to my scholarly program and it has to come together in such a way that I’m able to digest what they’ve put together and apply it in my writing. All of this on a maximum of 10-2o hour/week – not enough to truly support them as they do both their work and mine!

So when I pencil in thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours for prospective student research work, I worry – how far off their own tracks am I taking these junior scholars? How can I balance what needs to done against their skill sets, availability and interests? How can I make sure that they reserve enough time and energy to build their own skills and pursue their own research during the rest of their time?

As it stands, I’m coming to appreciate the difficulties of managing employees and collaborators as well as realizing how big an industry university research has become since I started on the tenure track. The application process has become far more structured, maybe even formulaic: structures that try to be appropriate for every discipline but are a good fit for none. Spending so much of the month of March trying to articulate my research program in ways that fit the grant structure instead of just getting on with it hasn’t been easy, either, particularly as I contemplate the chance that I won’t be awarded the monies.

Will I be destroyed if my application is unsuccessful? No, I’ll chalk it up as a learning experience, schedule some time with a colleague who can advise me how to improve for the next go-round, just a year away. And then there’s the next even bigger grant deadline coming up in a few months. Got to get myself ready for that!

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