Sunday, November 25, 2007

In which I reprint an email sent to ILA faculty in order to make a point

I was really surprised to learn that no one from English had signed up for the intensive grant writing workshop put on by the CHI and CSPS in the spring -- particularly since the new Graduate School rules for research funding will require that students asking for more than $2500 (cumulative) will need to submit proposals to a competitive review. And then an e-mail from one of the workshop organizers, Prof. Ivan Karp, to some ILA faculty found its way to me. I reprint part of it:
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Interesting news
Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2007 16:36:26 -0500
From: Ivan Karp <>
To: [names deleted]

The number of applications to our Intensive Grant Writing Workshop has
gone from 8 to 25 this year, an indication that the changes in the
funding guidelines from the Graduate School and the increasing emphasis
on producing a grants oriented culture at Emory is taking hold, at
least in some places. Some Departments are represented by 0
applications and History, on the other hand, has produced 50% of the
total, up from 2 last year to 12 this year. This is an indication that
what I think is going to happen, that funds will be programmed away
from departments which have no proposals being written in them, like
French and English, to departments where proposals are being written,
mainly Spanish and History, will indeed happen.

The email goes on to say that ILA is going to end up with us, on the losing end of the money game, unless they start getting their students to go to these things.

How many of you think you'd like to have a CHI fellowship -- or even better, a dissertation fellowship from Mellon or the AAUW? Get funding from a research library? How about a year to write a book? How about placing your book with a top publisher? How about getting enough money from Emory to pay for a month in an archive? All of these things -- even, under the new guidelines, getting substantial funding from Emory -- require being able to write a proposal aimed at an audience that goes beyond your dissertation committee, and even your discipline. (In fact, the dreaded dissertation paragraph of the job letter is a lot like a grant.) You learn these things by practicing them, and workshops like the ones the CSPS offer a chance to get that practice.

I can describe the importance of fellowship grants best by describing the career I know best: my own. There are two fellowships that were incredibly important to me. When I was researching my dissertation, I received a one-month fellowship to work at the American Antiquarian Society. At my institution, winning an award like this was the only way to receive funding for research travel (we did sometimes receive $50 or $100 to go to a conference), and I applied because I needed the money to support my stay there. But what I gained from the experience was far richer than I had imagined: Not only did I find things in the archive I hadn't dreamed of (archive librarians are more helpful to fellows), but also I had the chance to talk to other, more senior scholars working on related topics. Finally, I think having the fellowship helped me make the case that this research was considered of interest when I was applying for jobs.

The second fellowship that I received was a year-long fellowship at a research center similar to the CHI. I took this fellowship in my second year on the tenure-track, and used it to rewrite the dissertation into a book (as well as to make progress on an edited collection). By the time I returned to Emory, my manuscript was out with presses, and I was much, much less anxious about tenure than I might have been otherwise.

Are these the only things that helped my career? No. I'm pretty sure that an article I published from my dissertation helped me immensely on the market, and I also had a lot of luck (thank you, Katherine Stubbs!). But they surely helped. Would I have made tenure without the fellowships? Probably. I would have used summers and Emory's junior leave to finish the book, and that would have helped me make tenure, but it would have been very different for me.

I can go on about this. When I was starting my second book, for instance, I immediately sought out a library grant because I knew it would do the same two things for me: Give me valuable time in an archive, and give me a kind of endorsement on the project that I could use.

Enough autobiography. Here's the important thing. Many of you will be going to institutions that do not have the teaching load, leave policy, or travel funding that Emory faculty have access to. In fact, many of you will have less access to travel funds as a faculty member than you do now as a graduate student. To pursue your research agenda -- however modest or ambitious -- you will need to find funding for course releases, semesters off, and travel. You should be taking advantage of what Emory has to offer to learn as much as you can about the skills needed to do that. And before you say that you plan to teach at a teaching college and not at a research university, think about whether you wouldn't like to continue some kind of research agenda -- one that might include an occasional Fulbright research fellowship or a reduced teaching load to finish an article.

We are, at bottom, in the business of not just knowledge, but the management and communication of that knowledge. Learning to write effective proposals is a lot like mastering the skills of teaching. You all work very hard (much, much harder than many of your peers) to become some of the best teachers in the university -- so that you can share your knowledge effectively. What I am suggesting is that you need also to labor so that you can effectively share your knowledge about your research.

Expect more musing, quasi-autobiographical screeds in this space as I go into my DGS dotage.


Blogger Roobee said...

I think there's a mildly self-defeatist attitude about acquiring funds as English students. Before I even started course work here, I had heard variations of "All the money goes to History students who need to go to Africa for research, so why bother applying."

9:54 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'm going to disagree with Roobee. I think the funds are there for us--it just happens that many of us don't need as much funding because we're not necessarily going to Africa. As such, we have been able to get by on the English Department's largess. This is obviously going to stop.

One of the reasons that I didn't apply to the workshop is that the timing is difficult. I'm not necessarily 6 months ahead of myself right now with my fellowship plans. I perhaps should be, but so it goes.

Also, it definitely seems geared for continuing students and not the old, dessicated husks that are "advanced" grad students.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Michael E. said...

For someone on the verge of finishing of finishing a diss, a workshop like this would be a perfect place to work on a post-doc or junior NEH proposal. Post-docs are magical, and they often have deadlines in the fall. (You can take a tenure-track job and then apply for post-docs; that's what most people do now, I think.)

10:52 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Now you tell me...

*Sigh* Rooked again by not knowing the system as well as I should.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Michael E. said...

I'm pretty tired of this "rooked-by-the-system" nonsense. There is more information available about academic careers than ever before.

Want to know how to build an academic career? Find role models. Find the junior/recently tenured faculty you want to become and spend some time looking the shape of their careers. There's no one pattern, because every career is different. But there's a lot to learn that way.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Jenni Brady said...

I think that it's much too early to make solid projections about the allocation of research money to specific depts., at least past this coming year. The changes to funding guidelines do have the effect of giving every student $2500 to do research without the need for a grant or other application. I would guess that the dearth of applications from our dept. originates from people's not being able to project going through that amount of money before the next intensive grant-writing workshop rolls around.

Like Brian, I also think timing is an issue. While we may need to re-think how far we are able to plan ahead in terms of research trips and the like, that process of re-thinking doesn't happen overnight. Perhaps that's something that needs to happen in a more public discussion than one that takes place between faculty mentor and graduate student.

1:14 PM  

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