Friday, January 30, 2015

Show your work

I was turned down for a grant recently and got the feedback.  Basically, they liked the project but wanted to see more relevance to broader contemporary concerns.

I get that and am okay with it.  What I thought was self-evident about the value of the project was not, and what I needed to do was to show my work, the way kids are taught to do now with math.  The grantors wanted it to be more relatable, and I already see a way to do that.

Although I view applying for grants as equivalent to spending 20 hours buying a Powerball ticket with about the same likelihood of success, I will probably apply again, and, yes, this time show my work.

There's some resistance to this, though, in some subfields, and I keep seeing comments that roughly translated would be one of these:  "Scholars in old traditional field X just don't understand how groundbreaking my work in kitten studies is and are persecuting me because they won't fund it" or "They are just the olds and are stupid jerks incapable of understanding technology because yay shiny technology is a good in itself." Maybe the complainers are right, and maybe they're not.  But that's the game.

Showing your work is what you do with grants. You're essentially betting that the vast time suck of applying is going to pay off.  You have to be a gambler who thinks that very small odds and small rewards are worth the rush of winning. (For scientists, most humanities grants don't amount to a rounding error in what they apply for and get.)  But as with any gambling situation, the odds favor the house, and if you don't play by the house's rules, you don't get to play very long.

Show your work.


Historiann said...

You're right to compare gransmanship and granswomanship to a game, in that WHO CARES if the advice and feedback you get is ultimately fair or just to the value of kitten studies, or whatever??? You need to take account of that advice, and write your grant proposal to address those concerns. You can go on to write the book or do the project howeverthehell you want to; your goal in rewriting your proposal is just to get the money!!!

Seeing it as a game of "will you give me the money" is also a good way to get a little critical distance from the project. You are not the project, and if your grant is not funded, it doesn't mean that either you or your project are worthless. It just means try again--next year you might do better and/or have a more sympathetic committee.

undine said...

Historiann--you're so right about the critical distance. If you figure from the start that you probably won't get it, you'll be pleasantly surprised it you do. Write it any way that works!

CarlD said...

The same thing just happened to me, and you're exactly right on every point. I'll just add that I give this advice all the time, and help others strategize it for themselves; why it's so much harder to do it for myself, I'd likely be embarrassed to learn.