Professor Muki Haklay’s recent blog “Securing funding and balancing efforts: a tale of 21 research applications” (see below and Po Ve Sham – Muki Haklay’s personal blog) makes for some refreshing reading. His group has secured €7million in the last 4 months or so, but it wasn’t without an awful lot of work – including unsuccessful applications and months and months of collective labour from the team when they could as he suggests have been working on other things. His blog contributes to an emerging phenomenon of academics laying bare the truth behind their funding successes, job applications, their CVs… It started here with a professor at Princeton publishing his résumé of his career lows. Professor Jenny Pickerill has also done the same as part of her academic biography – jobs she didn’t get, grants she didn’t secure… She writes: “While I have had a great deal of luck and success in academia, I have also (like most academics) endured numerous rejections. Following the excellent example of Johannes Haushofer I have decided to add here my career low points, to give this brief biography a bit of realism.”
The presentation of our academic selves was brought home to me the other day, when a colleague mentioned how they felt they were curating a particular professional image that looked very glossy and shiny, and whilst that is perfectly acceptable – our institutions and other online platforms demand it – we are in the habit of creating a false impression. In the corridors at work, people rarely talk about whether they’ve just submitted an application, or a paper for peer review, or an application for promotion. Academia is tough on the emotional and mental faculties and as careers develop many find it increasingly difficult to lay bare the truth(s) behind their success.
I am at a stage in my career where everything is still relatively rosy – as one senior colleague described it, ‘you’re still a bright young thing’. They pointed out that I haven’t endured the agony of a major grant disappointment, I haven’t got far enough into my career yet. I have to agree with them to a certain extent, but I have blogged elsewhere on here about my experiences of the low points to academia. However, there are some truths I’d like to lay bare:
- I’ve written 2 european grant proposal outlines but the timing was wrong and they weren’t submitted. This constituted 2 months full-time (and over-time) writing and researching.
- I’ve submitted two expressions of interest for the internal competition for external fellowships and both were rejected. But I decided to seek support from a different academic institution in the end. The award was successful elsewhere.
- I’ve prepared two outlines for internal selection at my current institution and the proposals were not selected – there is now a selection management process in place with some RCUK calls. This was demoralising but an accepted part of academic life. But I was particularly cheered when I knew the teams that had been chosen. One of these outlines has also led to mentoring from a senior colleague. Every cloud!
- I applied for a three year postdoc whilst still doing my PhD. There was no way that I would have been finished in time to take it, but they interviewed me and that experience will stay with me always.
Here come some cliches…
- 80% of success is showing up (Woody Allen)
- Get involved. The world is run by those who show up (car bumper sticker)
- Half the battle is just showing up (Stephen Hawking)
My philosophy has been to do my best to ‘show up’, apply for things even when it seems impossible, and make sure I learn from every experience. So, what is all this laying bare doing? It’s revealing that, yes, luck, passion and inspiration play a part in academic culture, but it is underpinned by hardwork, re-grouping, strategic thinking and perseverance. Don’t give up. And if you feel like giving up – talk about it! In my enthusiastic world, the more open we can be about our academic experiences, the less intimidating it will become.
The last 3 months were a gradual sigh of relief for the Extreme Citizen Science group (ExCites), Mapping for Change (MfC), and for me. As the UCL engineering website announced, the ExCiteS group, which I co-direct, secured funding through 3 research grants from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme (H2020), with enough funding to continue […]