Here are a series of guides to applying for various awards and general advice sheets that I’ve written over the past few years.
Guide: Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowships
Guide: Fulbright Grants and Research Awards
Guide: How to Make the Most of your PhD
#ECRday2021: Academic opportunities after the PhD: postdocs, fellowships & more
I’ve applied for a lot of grants and Fellowships in my time; my ‘success’ has been coupled with a lot of rejection, too. I’m more than happy to admit to these rejections and failures. After much trial and error, I think I’ve done okay on the funding front: I’ve had Fellowships funded by the Leverhulme Trust, Irish Research Council and European Commission (a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship), plus two British Academy/Leverhulme Trust small grants, a Wellcome Trust small grant, a Fulbright Commission grant and an Irish Association of American Studies bursary, in addition to various other small sums and awards. I’m currently a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow.
Academia is hugely, hugely unfair: it is systematically and structurally racist, sexist, ableist, classist and it privileges a particular set of heteronormative values. It is not right and it is not a level playing field. This is, of course, in addition to enormous demands that universities expect from their staff and the general horror that is the academic job market. We need to acknowledge that very, very few people are going to be hired based on potential. And we all know what kinds of people do get hired on ‘potential’.
I also want to be totally honest about my ‘success’ and acknowledge the extreme anxiety that my precarity caused, despite the string of Fellowships. In the past seven years, I’ve moved house over 11 times; I’ve moved back and forth between Ireland and the UK four times. This would have been impossible if I had any caring responsibilities. Despite the grants and Fellowships, I’m six years post-submission and I have not got a permanent job. Again: I still know I am one of the lucky ones. I don’t want for a second to suggest that I don’t feel grateful for my career and I know how privileged I am (white, able-bodied, middle class, cis-gendered).
Academia is a mess and the odds are stacked against most of us. This is a structural problem. However, if you’re committed to trying to make your way in it – and I do promise I’m not trying to make individuals responsible for all the sins of capitalism! – there are things you can do to help propel yourself. I hope the guides on this website give you a little taste of how you might want to think about that. I would never want anyone to feel like they have to stay within the academic system for a minute longer than they feel comfortable with but I also want to highlight that my success wasn’t always what it seemed. I was the reserve candidate for my PhD funding, my Leverhulme Fellowship and my Irish Research Council Fellowship.
You do not have to wait around for opportunities – you can make your own. It can be hard to recognise this when certain types of people consistently get opportunities handed to them. But try to fight the imposter syndrome (I’m still trying!) and remember that your work has value. Think about things you can do to build your profile. I’m 99.9% sure me seeking out small pots of money to organise tiny events for my peers while I was a PhD student, and building upon that, was the start of things for me.
I know how hard academia is. But I hope that these guides are empowering not demoralising. I wish you the very best of luck.
Please note, these guides are written from my perspective as an Arts and Humanities researcher and might not be 100% relevant to you. There is truly no one right way to approach applying for funding and your mileage may vary. That said, I hope you find something of use.