Early Career Researchers

Some practical thoughts on short-term research fellowships

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I’m currently on a Short-Term Research Fellowship at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, and next month I’ll be on another at the Harry Ransom Center, at the University of Austin, Texas. These are my fourth and fifth short-term fellowships/research trips sponsored by an institution, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some thoughts and advice about the process of applying for and undertaking these kinds of fellowships.

*n.b. lots of institutions also offer short-term fellowships for maker/creators, although the advice here will probably be most relevant to historians and scholars of english literature undertaking research fellowships in American collections.

Before you go

Although short-term fellowships have been amongst some of my favourite things I’ve done as a scholar, they’re often quite complicated, so plan early.

Applications

Like other kinds of research fellowships, often you apply for short-term fellowships for the following academic year, meaning that you need to think about the process as early as possible. Keep a running list of potential institutions, with the dates that their fellowship competition closes, handy. For example, I applied for my current Huntington Fellowship in November 2016, which feels like a lifetime ago (n.b. I could have taken up my fellowship anywhere from June 2017, although accommodation would have been harder to get and travel would have been more expensive at shorter notice).

Also bear in mind that applying for these things can be a relatively substantial undertaking. Most short-term fellowships require a CV, detailed research proposal, and a list of objects/texts/archival materials that you will need to consult during the fellowship. It’s vital, particularly in an age of the digital facsimile, to be able to tell the committee exactly why you need to see these objects in person, and furthermore, why they are essential sources for the completion of this project.

Thirdly, remember that if a short-term fellowship of a month or longer seems like a quite a time commitment, several institutions (such as Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library) also provide travel grants to go and use their collections for a shorter period, usually around two weeks.

Career Benefits

Short-term research fellowships are highly competitive, and are offered by prestigious institutions. As research proposals are reviewed by a committee and then awarded funds to complete them, successful applications demonstrate that you are undertaking internationally-recognised, fundable, dynamic research. You may have also heard that fellowships beget fellowships: this was certainly true for me – once I’d received a couple of short-term fellowships, I was awarded two more short-term fellowships, followed by two longer-term postdoctoral fellowships. For postgraduate and early career researchers building their CVs, this sort of progression is hugely important for making you competitive on the job/postdoc market. Perhaps most importantly, the short-term fellowships I received were also vital sources of encouragement and success when it felt like a time of overwhelming rejection, and really made me feel like a valid researcher when I had just finished my PhD.

Costs

Although such fellowships are always remunerated, the extent to which this is the case varies vastly. Some institutions provide extremely generous lump sums, some provide smaller bursaries, and some provide a less generous bursaries but will book travel and accommodation for you, or offer the latter free. Depending on which of these is the case for your chosen institution, the amount may not cover the costs of transportation, accommodation, visa fees, and living away for a month or more. Furthermore, payment often comes after the fact, once you’ve been at and maybe even left the institution, so be aware that you may have to pay upfront for things and wait to be reimbursed at a later date. Additionally, not every institution will reimburse for the hidden cost of getting a visa (although some will), and many fellowships are taxed quite viciously (some up to as much as 30%, although getting a Social Security Number will help to reduce this number significantly – many institutions will say you don’t need this, but for heavily-taxed fellowships, like the Huntington, this is well worth it).

On the topic of the visa, again, this can be quite a lengthy process, requiring multiple forms and an in-consulate interview, something that can be expensive if, like me, you don’t live near a visa-issuing consulate. I’d always recommend scheduling the interview in Belfast over London, as it has quicker wait times and accommodation in the city is cheaper. Interview slots are often booked-up a long time in advance, and visa processing can take around a fortnight, so leave plenty of time for this at the other end so you don’t have to worry about not having your visa and passport by the time of your flight!

My final tip for things to do before you go, is to book accommodation as early as possible. If the institution offers accommodation, then it’s good to book this early as they’ll be scheduling multiple scholars into a single residence, and summer will always be oversubscribed due to term-time and teaching commitments. If you’re booking external accommodation, most institutions offer a list of recommended places, but once again the best/nearest places often fill up quickly. As a guide, I booked my accommodation for this trip in May 2017, over a year in advance, and the place I am staying was already nearly full for this Summer back then!

 

Whilst you’re there…

First few days: plan the trip 

Although fellowships seem long – two months away seems like ages – they go unbelievably quickly. As such, I’d recommend preparing for your research trip before you leave. However, this isn’t always practical, and I inevitably end up doing this the first few days after I arrive. For me this means re-reading my application, redoing my collections searches (this is particularly important as the kinds of objects I am interested in has expanded since I first wrote the application), and working out what extra-fellowship things I want to do and see (and eat!). Bear in mind that the first few days are often also taken up with orientations, having to visit the University’s international office, and other kinds of introductory events, so it can often take a full week to feel fully settled in. Finally, I’d recommend getting in touch with any scholars who live in the area who you’d like to meet – this is a great way for ECRs to make contacts internationally.

Writing retreat 

Short-term fellowships are also a great opportunity to get some serious writing done. I personally find I am the most intellectually generative during research trips, so I often feel inspired to write during fellowships. Although wonderful in other ways, fellowships can be lonely (particularly if the institution doesn’t offer shared accommodation) and the evenings and weekends can feel long and boring. At the same time, they’re also free from everyday work and home-life commitments, making them ripe to be treated as a kind of writing retreat. Depending on the length of the trip, I normally go away planning to make headway on one specific thing (usually a book-chapter or article length project for around two months of fellowship). Don’t be too ambitious with this though, as time always goes much more quickly than you anticipate.

Exploring 

Although it’s tempting to spend all of your time away working (see above), do spend some time exploring the area. I’m currently in California, having never visited before, so I’m currently enjoying weekends exploring Pasadena and LA. If you have twitter, make sure to ask your colleagues and followers for recommendations. Ultimately you won’t be able to do everything that is suggested, but it’s nice to have a plan for your downtime as much as it is your work time.

If you have any further questions, or would like to ask me more about any of the fellowships that I’ve been on, please do feel free to contact me via email or twitter! I’ll keep this post updated with any additional comments and suggestions as I get them.

*Addenda 

Dependents

Lots of people on twitter have asked about the practicalities and realities of taking short-term fellowships with dependents and care responsibilities. In short, short-term fellowships definitely privilege those who can drop anything and uproot for weeks and months at a time, meaning those with dependents and care responsibilities at home are inevitably less able to apply for them. Additionally, the costs of bringing over a whole family are higher, and if you’re on a visa, then you’ll also need to apply for dependents visas for your children. Some institutions, like the Folger Library, the Bard Graduate Center, and Yale Center for British Art, are actively aware of this, and offer family-sized apartments, and other kinds of support necessary, like organising education for visiting children at local schools. The best advice I can offer on this is to talk to each institution on an individual basis to discuss this, and see what they can offer. As a whole however, fellowship-offering institutions need to think about and address this head on, citing how they can provide for families visibly on their fellowship webpages. As noted above, fellowships can be great for career progression, and an individual’s home-life shouldn’t be something that prevents them from undertaking them.

Visa Issues 

As others have pointed out to me on twitter, the ease of being awarded a J1 visa can differ greatly depending on your race, ethnicity, and even your marital status, so this is definitely something to bear in mind. Be sure to talk to your fellowship-awarding institution about this, and see what advice their international office can give you regarding the process. Remember that often travel grants (eg. those of around two weeks or so) don’t require full visas, but ESTAs instead (if you’re from a country where the visa waver programme is an option), so this might be a way of getting around this.

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Looking Forward to 2018

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Just as I did last year, I wanted to make a post on this blog reflecting on 2017, whilst also looking forward to what’s happening in 2018. I find these kinds of posts interesting for a number of reasons, but primarily as an exercise in accountability (and specifically, for countering inaccurate feelings of ‘I didn’t do anything last year!).

2017 was a challenging but hugely rewarding year. It was a year of many exciting firsts. Travel-wise, it was my first time in America (on fellowships at the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale Center for British Art, and the Winterthur Museum), and my first time visiting Sweden, Umeå for the International Society for Cultural History 2017 Conference. I delivered my first lectures as part of Edinburgh’s History of Art 2 course, and I taught an honours course on my own for the first time, having previously taught at pre-hons for a number of years. I was also awarded my first postdoctoral fellowship, at IASH, the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, and I received short-term research fellowships from the Harry Ransom Center and the Huntington Library. Perhaps most excitingly, the last few months of 2017 have also seen the acceptance of my first journal article (to be published next year, in the journal Eighteenth-Century Fiction), and, in the last few days (!), my first book (more to come on this asap).

I also taught. A lot. In fact, I taught six courses across three schools, although my teaching load has been massively reduced since beginning my Postdoctoral Fellowship at IASH in September. IASH is a wonderfully engaging and supportive scholarly community, and I’m glad to be there until August of next year.

Indeed, 2018 is looking just as busy as 2017.

In January, I will continue writing and revising an article on collage, masculinity and Modernism, which will also form the basis of my January 10th Work in Progress Seminar at IASH (details here). I’m also delivering a Research Successes Forum workshop on ‘Fellowships’ on January 22nd. January will also see me back to teaching, as I cover Prof. Viccy Coltman’s hugely exciting 4th-year course, ‘From Jacobitism to Romanticism: The (Re)invention of Scotland in Visual and Material Culture’.

Apart from teaching, February to May will see me do lots more writing – particularly for my article, ‘Reflective and Reflexive Forms: Intimacy and Medium Specificity in British and American Sentimental Albums, 1780-1850’, an abstract for which was accepted for Journal18: a journal of eighteenth-century art and culture‘s special issue on ‘Albums’, due late 2018.

I’ll also be writing and revising the remaining chapters of my first book at this time, as well as editing mine and Katie Faulkner’s special issue of Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies on ‘Making Masculinity: Craft, Gender, and Material Production in the Long Nineteenth-Century’. The submissions we’ve had are hugely exciting, and I’m so looking forward to seeing this published next summer.

In April, our conference Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700-Present, will be held at the University of Edinburgh. We received over 120 abstracts for the conference, attesting to the vibrant and dynamic nature of this area of research. We’ll be finalising speakers and the programme very soon, and I’ll post that here then.

In June and July, I’m back to America, this time spending two consecutive months away, at the Huntington Library and the Harry Ransom Center, respectively. In August, I’m back to Edinburgh for a final month at IASH, which will provide the perfect opportunity to round things off.

As last year, I’ll have to end my post at a fairly-uncertain-September 2018, but what I know for sure is that I’ll be desperately trying to finish my book at that point, which is due by the end of 2018.

What are your plans for next year? Let me know using my twitter handle @Freya_Gowrley.

ECRS – 15 March

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Please join us for the next session of this year‘s Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar series at the University of Edinburgh. The session will present new work on Enlightenment Europe, and will feature William Swain (University of Edinburgh), who will be speaking on ‘Adam Ferguson, Freidrich von Gentz, and the decline of the Martial Spirit’, and John Stone (Universitat de Barcelona), whose paper is entitled ‘The Cultural Work of the Royal Scots College (Valladolid), 1770-1808: Cosmopolitanism, Diaspora, the ‘National Feeling’ and Library Formation’.

All welcome. Seminars are held at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, from 4:30-6pm, and are followed by a drinks reception. 

You can also follow the series on its twitter account @ECRS_Edinburgh. We’ll be live-tweeting the papers from that handle.

CFP for Edinburgh’s Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar Series 2017

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Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 18.21.55The CFP for next year’s incarnation of Edinburgh’s Eighteenth Century Research Seminar Series is now live. Read it on the ECRS website or below.

The Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar (ECRS) series invites proposals for twenty-minute papers from postgraduate and early-career researchers addressing any aspect of eighteenth-century history, culture, literature, education, art, music, geography, religion, science, and philosophy. The seminar series seeks to provide a regular inter-disciplinary forum for postgraduate and early-career researchers working on the eighteenth century to meet and discuss their research.

ECRS will take place at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) in Edinburgh on a fortnightly basis from January to April 2017. Each seminar will consist of two papers, one from a University of Edinburgh-based researcher and one from a researcher based in another higher education institution, followed by a drinks reception. Non-University of Edinburgh speakers’ travel expenses will be reimbursed up to £100.

Abstracts of up to 300 words along with a brief biography and institutional affiliation should be submitted in the body of an email to:edinburgh18thcentury@gmail.com

The closing date for submissions is Monday 21 November 2016.
For more information please see our website: http://edinburgh18thcentury.weebly.com/

ECRS is supported by the Eighteenth-Century and Enlightenment Studies Network (ECENS) of the University of Edinburgh.
More information about ECENS can be found at: http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/ecens/

Between. Reflections on a year post submission (part 2).

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This is the second part of my series on life after the PhD. This week, I’m discussing the importance of an institutional affiliation, and what that means for how you’ll spend your time post-completion.

The Institutional Affiliation

Before I begin, I should say that this advice is in no way meant to deride the significance and contribution of independent scholars, many of whom produce important, innovative work whilst unaffiliated with a particular academic institution. Given the current state of the job market, alt-ac routes are becoming an increasing – and often exciting – reality for many, offering valuable alternatives to the traditional academic route I’m discussing here. For the time being however, I want to draw attention to a few of the benefits of maintaining your affiliation following your postgraduate degree.

Affiliation means having an institutional email address, access to on-campus facilities (e.g. teaching and research rooms, common staff areas, the library, university special collections), and often a healthy printing budget, the benefits of each of which should be self-evident. If teaching at a local institution is not an option, enquire as to the possibility of a non-stipendiary fellowship in your awarding institution/department.

Teaching 

Teaching, which will provide you with said affiliation, a viable way of supporting your research whilst simultaneously adding lines to your CV. Many of you will have taught during your PhD, and if possible, I’d recommend keeping that going, as your familiarity with the courses you’re teaching on will really help you to limit the time you devote to preparing. Beyond this, (time permitting) I’d also recommend seeking out teaching in other departments in your PhD’s host institution – I ended up teaching on courses in four departments and three schools, which, although challenging, has been an unparalleled source of income and pedagogical development. You might also want to think about local alt-ac teaching opportunities – for art history this might include ventures such as The New School of Art – as well as tutoring on subjects related to your discipline.

Organising Events 

Being part of a HEI can also provide crucial access to the funds and venues necessary for organising all manner of events, something that can be important both in terms of contributing to current debate in your field, or simply as a way of fostering a continued sense of belonging (which can be particularly significant in the period post submission). The possibilities of what you could organise vary wildly, but between organising a conference relating to your postdoctoral research, a panel at a disciplinary conference, a public engagement event, a seminar series, a reading group, or a postgraduate or early career researcher focused event, there’s bound to be something to suit your needs and the specific demands on your time. I organised a research seminar series – Edinburgh’s Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar Series, which is about to go into its second year – as well as a panel at this year’s Association of Art Historian’s Annual Conference. Organising the seminar series was beneficial in a number of ways: it allowed me not only to meet emerging scholars in my field, but to engage meaningfully with their ideas; it improved my skills in applying for and securing funding; and it encouraged me to build relationships with the Series’ host institution, Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities.

Perhaps more significantly, organising our AAH panel allowed me to think through some key ideas for my postdoctoral research, the development of which I’ll discuss in my next post in this series, which will examine starting your second major research project.

Week in Review – 31 July

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image.jpgAn illustration of Polyporus beatiei, from Mary Banning’s The Fungi of Maryland.

My object of the week is an image from Mary Banning’s The Fungi of Maryland, a lush volume with 175 hand-painted watercolors accompanied by extensive descriptions. Banning was a fascinating and highly productive mycologist, whose dedication to fungi – as opposed to flowers – marked her out amongst amateur botanists. A short history of Banning’s life and work can be found in Alicia Puglionesi’s article for Alta Obscura.

The Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830 symposium, which examines Rhode Island-made furniture, its makers and its social contexts, and accompanies the exhibition of the same name, on display at Yale University Art Gallery from August 19, 2016 until January 8, 2017.

The CFP for the New Perspectives on Parisian Haute Couture (1850-present) conference.

James Clifford’s lectures on ‘Museum Realisms‘ at the Research Center for Material Culture, available online here.

The CFP for the Making Memory: Material and Visual Cultures of Commemoration in Ireland, c.1800-2016 conference. The conference develops ideas and expands the chronology of the earlier Making 1916: Material and Visual Culture of the Easter Rising conference, the proceedings from which were published by Liverpool University Press.

The online exhibition Artisans and Craft Production in Nineteenth-Century Scotland. Created as part of the University of Edinburgh’s Leverhulme-funded ‘Artisans and the Craft Economy in Scotland, 1780 to 1914’ project, the exhibition explores both the materiality of craft-making for those working in artisan trades, and the cultural landscape they and their work inhabited.

The CFP for the fascinating-sounding CAA panel, Modernism’s Craft Discourses. The session examines the ways in which modernists have historically understood their own work in painting, sculpture, photography, or collage as craft practices, asking ‘how have the discourses defining craft—notions of process, medium, labor, and reform—contributed to the development of modernist art and its criticism?’ These questions are particularly relevant to my postdoctoral project on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collage, or, what I’ve previously thought of as collage ‘before modernism’. I’m interested to see how the conversations deriving from this panel colour my perceptions of modernism’s relationship with craft, and how this in turn might inform my own reading of collage before 1912.

The CFP for the Collecting & Collectibles Area of the Popular Culture Association, 2017 conference.

Last week also saw the publication of Lord Stern’s review of the REF, the results of which have real implications for Early Career Researchers. See the report here. Matthew Shaw and Charlotte Mathieson have also compiled an initial bibliography of literature on the review, which provides a list of essential reading on the subject.

As ever, the blog Notches: remarks on the history of sexuality is an endless source of fascination. Claire Hayward’s post ‘Queer Terminology: LGBTQ Histories and the Semantics of Sexuality’, and Ania Ostrowska’s think-piece on the The Institute of Sexology exhibition held at The Wellcome Collection, are recent highlights amongst a wealth of fascinating articles and interviews.