Friday, September 26, 2008

Grant Season

I think one of the most frustrating parts of academia has to be the process of applying for grants.  My first experience with grant-writing was quite positive.  I applied for two important grants in 2006 to try to fund an exploratory research trip to Madrid.  I received the first field grant through my university, which funded my airfare from the US to Madrid and back.  I also received an important grant from the Spanish Ministry of Culture - nicknamed the PCC.  It didn't cover all of my costs, since it is a matching-funds, 3-months maximum grant.  But it certainly helped to offset the living expenses a bit.  

Last fall I went through an intense grant-writing semester.  Beginning at the end of August 2007, I worked furiously to try to develop my dissertation idea into a real, workable, coherent proposal.  It was quite difficult, and took up the majority of my time.  But by mid-September I had what my committee thought was a decent proposal and so grant-writing was my next step.  I spent most of September and half of October applying for the IIE Fulbright Full Grant - first writing the proposal and personal statement, then enduring a horrendous and traumatic on-campus interview, and then having to not only make changes to the proposal/statement but also translate both into Spanish in the event my application made it to the second round.  I spent the rest of October writing a proposal for the Social Science Research Council's Mellon Fellowship.  And most of November was spent writing a proposal for the Council for Library and Information Resources' Mellon Fellowship for Original Sources research.  I spent part of January 2008 on a proposal for an AHA grant, and then in March applied for another PCC grant.  And somewhere in there I also applied for an internal Social Science research institute grant at my university, as well as funding from my department.

After all of that work, I ended up with three grants - an $800 internal research grant to fund a trip to the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles in July; $2000 from my department from various funds; and $4000 from the PCC.  Everything else fell through.  Which, in hindsight, is probably good, because I was nowhere near ready to take my exams last spring.  I have had next to no courses in my major field thanks to being the only modern Europeanist in the program right now, and trying to read 600 books in less than 3 months (plus grading, and grant writing) was insane.  

So here we are in the fall 2008, and everything that I had to do last year, I'm having to do again.  
1) Grant writing - I have just applied for the IIE Fulbright again, after a good deal of stress and debate about whether it was worth it.  I have my on-campus interview on Monday and am just praying it is a better and more productive experience than last year's.  I seriously considered just not applying for it, despite the fact that it is my best chance at funding for my dissertation research year.  I get to apply for the two Mellons again, and I have submitted a pre-application for a grant specifically for women scholars.  I won't find out until the end of the semester if they are going to invite me to submit a full application.  

2) Teaching - I will probably talk about this a good deal, but I am currently teaching a freshman-level course with a horrible adjunct professor, and it is causing great stress.  The adjunct gives horrible lectures that either do not tell the full stories (like not explaining the long-term explanations for the French Revolution, but simply saying it happened because France was bankrupt and the "middle class/aristocracy wanted more power") or get things blatantly wrong.  So I am struggling to find the balance between not challenging the professor's authority while still teaching my students the immense amount of material they need so that anything makes sense.  

3) Comps preparation - yeah, this has been the thing that falls by the wayside.  It doesn't help that my physical health makes the 25-hour work days that graduate school is so well known and hated for virtually impossible.  But I still feel wholly inadequate when it comes to my doctoral exams.  They should be occurring later this semester, but, again, we'll see how that goes... 

The grant writing is made even harder by the fact that I am applying for the same exact grants as last year, but since I had no feedback on where my proposal was perhaps too weak or difficult for examiners to understand, I have been making changes somewhat blindly.  I have no idea if the changes I made were the best choices, and that's a slightly frustrating place to be.  My committee seemed to be exceptionally pleased with this new incarnation of my dissertation, so I can only hope for the best.  

Here's to all of us who are spending 20 hours a week preparing grant applications, begging for consideration in a shaky economy, trying to get someone else to care about our research.  Best of luck.  Unless, of course, you are also applying to go to Spain on the IIE Fulbright. :-p 

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