Academic Coach Taylor Has Some Advice for You
“Write drunk and revise sober” – Peter de Vries
“Easy reading is damn hard writing” – Maya Angelou
“It is a pity that doing one’s best does not always answer.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steve Furtick
“Basically, every piece of scholarly work is a hero’s journey. You are the hero. The topic is the field of battle. The dragon is ignorance/misinformation/poor scholarship. And your enemies? The scholars who have misled the populace with their false dogmas. You must save the day. You must uphold the standard of truth. It falls on your trembling shoulders to right the wrongs of the false scholars and rescue the populace from the dragon of ignorance.” – Karen Kelsy, The Professor is In
“Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” – Cary Grant
Despite my best intentions to have solid drafts of all my grants at least a month before the deadline, I find myself a week before a deadline with a stinky, gloppy mess of a grant started too late and severely lacking in lovability. A big part of that failure was simply part of learning the process that works best for me in writing academic grants*, but thank goodness there were also a couple of people (my adviser, the friends who shared their successful grants with me, my Grant Writing Buddy, and a couple of peers who selflessly pretend to actually want to read and edit my grotesque early efforts) to keep me from wholesale fail.
In addition to those indispensable and wonderful support people, I have also found a number of online resources helpful for staying on track. One I already mentioned, but bears repeating, is Dr. Karen’s Foolproof Grant Template, by Dr. Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is In (http://theprofessorisin.com). Another, too obvious for links, are the guidelines and links provided on each granting agency’s website. The last is the treasure trove of advice on academic grant writing found in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
- Debunking Some Myths About Grant Writing, by Kenneth T. Henson
- Grant-Writing Tips for Graduate Students, by Lisa Patrick Bentley
- How to Fail at Grant Writing, by Elizabeth Jakob, Adam Porter, Jeffrey Podos, Barry Braun, Norman Johnson, and Stephen Vessey
- A Writing Group of Two, by Rachel Toor
- The Rules of Writing Group, by Claire P. Curtis
Academic grant writing resources for all!
* A key turning point was when I realized I shouldn’t try to write lit reviews by starting with the narrative and filling in the citations, but rather making a list of all the people I want to cite, categorizing that list, and then writing a synthesis that ties them all together. My adviser tried to explain this to me previously, but I still needed to learn the hard way for some reason …
Socially Awkward Penguin Letter of Recommendation
If I were writing my own letter of recommendation for another professor, here’s what would really come to mind.
To Whom It May Concern,
It is my orgasmic pleasure to recommend Samantha Grace. I know Samantha best in her capacity as house dishwasher, a role clearly well suited to her capabilities and aspirations. I’m sure that families here in the country where she wants to work would love to have her around for that reason, if no other. I can attest to her adaptability and intellectual curiosity based on her ability to take the bus from our house to the downtown mall almost every day.
While I know little to nothing of her research goals, and frankly have no interest in learning more about them, I whole-heartedly suggest that you (who are you again?) give her lots of money. Maybe she’ll mention me in a future publication or something. Oh oh, I thought of something! She totally talked about her work a lot, like she cared about it or something, so that’s probably good. She even sometimes did it in the language we speak in this country, demonstrating a truly basic grasp of a language often described as “one of the easiest to pick up”.
In sum, Samantha is really the best person in the entire world that I haven’t talked to in five years. I’m happy to provide any more details if you want, just give me some notice so I can have her write up some bullet points for me.
Professor Roped Into This
Grant Writing Forever Alone
I am a happy, confident person. I generally do the things I have learned are beneficial to my learning success*. But grant writing is the loneliest, awful-est, ego-destroying-est task I have ever had set before me.
As I mentioned previously, this is my first semester of dissertation grant writing. I am keeping in mind the following pieces of sage wisdom:
- this process sucks for pretty much everyone
- it will eventually get better as I practice more (even though it may still suck a lot)**
- getting support from peers is a good thing (think samples, writing groups, and editing)
This wisdom, while good to know, generally doesn’t make me feel better. Neither do assurances of my awesomeness. I think this feeling of soul-wrenching inadequacy has a great deal in common with how I have felt in some of my most socially painful phases: when I have experienced personal rejection that I took as proof that I was fundamentally flawed. The best advice I ever got on how to deal – at least temporarily – with these feelings was to call the person doing the rejection a “dumb bitch”. So I think the time has come for me to stop thinking of Fulbright as my “new best friend”, and to realize that she might just be a dumb bitch*** whose opinion of me should not reshape my world.
Any other strategies for dealing with the similar yucky feelings are welcome. Except for @xarkgirl‘s because liquor is expensive and I’ve got a long semester ahead of me.
* These vary so much by person that it does not seem worth wasting a blog post enumerating them.
** Getting better at it is simplified with such awesome tools as Dr. Karen’s Foolproof Grant Template, by Dr. Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is In (http://theprofessorisin.com), which I highly recommend.
*** Yes, “dumb bitch” is a vitriolic and sexist thing to actually call someone and not something I endorse “in real life”. But the point of the original advice, and the application here, is to utterly disengage from one’s sense of obligations of appearing to be a good person to the rejecter in question. Thus, the immorality of it serves as a way to really turn off one’s instinct to “be good” so that instead one can focus on the task at hand.
This is my first semester of real grant writing, and that means that suddenly my whole life revolves around getting to know what sorts of things I need to do to become BEST friends with the people distributing that money. I want to know everything about them so that they think I’m the coolest. You like salsa and pickle flavored ice cream? What a surprise! Me too! Allow me to introduce them.
Fulbright is super eager and new to the area (she probably just got a job at a local NGO). She imagines you to be potential soul-sisters but she’s not really interested in your work*. She likes to hang out, but not just chatting over a drink or anything like that. She’d rather go dancing, volunteer at soup kitchens, and ride the double decker tour bus. She also wants you to tell her about all your other friends.
By contrast, SSRC and Wenner Gren are work buddies from the University. In fact, it’s hard to imagine hanging out with them in any other context. They each have their little quirks. SSRC is delighted when he recognizes dropped names. Wenner Gren is a bit of a luddite (keeps paper back-ups of everything) but loves to sit and talk about new ideas and directions. In election season SSRC keeps track of the constellations of political alliances and Wenner Gren likes to forecast what will happen next. SSRC reads the literary fiction recommended by the New York Review of Books but you’re more likely to find Wenner Gren with her nose in a good dystopian fic.
Secretly, though, I know I’m just barely scratching the surface with these guys and if anyone knows them better, they should give me the inside scoop.
*Even though you’re pretty sure that your work is your soul.