Louise completed her Ph.D. at Liverpool John Moores University in 2010 and teaches on the BA (Hons) Tourism and Leisure Management and BA (Hons) Events Management programmes at LJMU. Her Ph.D. was an ethnographic study of the performance of local identities in relation to the European Capital of Culture in Liverpool 2008. The theoretical underpinnings derive from social anthropology and performance studies. It considered the balance between creative improvisation and the constraints of social and cultural norms in forming identities. The study asked how far the celebrations were a chance to redefine local identities and whether there were opportunities for experimentations with those identities in order to present a new version of Liverpool. Her research interests include: identity performance, mundane/informal leisure and urban ‘happenings.’ Prior to commencing her Ph.D., Louise completed an MA Arts and Museum Management at Salford University and then worked in the performing arts sector in Greater Manchester.
My First Time Submitting a Funding Application on Je-S
At the moment this post could even be entitled ‘My First and Last Time’, as the experience was so horrific (yes, maybe a touch hyperbolic but at the time I thought my world ended and no-one loved me). To those unfamiliar with the Je-S system, it is the online application portal for funding applications used by the AHRC (and other funding councils). It has a billion sections to complete and then another billion (ok only four) things to attach. Your institution fills in the finance section for you (more on this later), so in theory it should be straightforward.
Let me take you back to that week in October 2012. It was ‘transition week’, or ‘reading week’, as it used to be called. Therefore, I guess I was fortunate that there were no students around to see my rage, to see me at my worst. A colleague and I had decided to submit an exploratory award bid around an idea that we had been talking about for some time. Luckily, she had submitted funding applications before, but we were two ECRs venturing out into the scary land of Je-S for the first time. I had been on a one-day ‘research grant writing’ training session which, I must admit, was very useful. Buoyed by this new knowledge and an eagerness to cast off the Ph.D. data and enter into a new project, I set about drafting the relevant materials.
The proposal for the project itself was straightforward. We knew our stuff and between us got this sorted. ‘Pathways to Impact’, on the other hand, was trickier. It sounds like a life course: ’Pathways to Impact: Find the Real You’. But it was hardly so innocent! In fact, it was pure evil. The project was very small-scale (it was after all an exploratory award and not a full-blown project), and I found it so hard to make the case for impact beyond the ten proposed participants and us as researchers. You know when you read students’ work and they say the same things over and over in different ways? Well, you get the picture! My more experienced project partner finally rescued me and made it sound so much better and punchier!
We got all the finances sorted by the central office, and this was such a weight lifted as I am an ethnographer, and the thought of doing a spreadsheet with sums in makes my nose bleed. Everything was in place, and I was feeling pretty excited about getting it all submitted. Oh, the naivety of youth!
My project partner had another project that she was finishing off and had to travel to London on the day I was submitting. Cue comedy phone calls: ‘I am going into a tunnel’ (although the comedy only came with hindsight). The thing with the Je-S form is that you have all these boxes to fill in and you attach documents, and some of this information appears to be the same. No-one could seem to answer the question, ‘Do we cut and paste information?’ I rang the research support office, I rang the Je-S helpdesk, I might have sobbed a little, I asked people in the faculty. All I needed was someone who had done it before to give me a little encouragement and all I felt like I faced was blank expressions. In the end, I just tried to slightly reword things and hope for the best.
The next challenge came in the form of a phone call (picture the scene: me at my desk, my office buddy slightly frightened of what was happening across the room). It was the person that had sorted all the finances: ‘I think they are wrong.’ ‘What?!’ I nearly just jumped out my office window there and then (I am on the ground floor so fear not, dear reader). Apparently, it would appear that I am too expensive, which was nice to hear in general, but made all the hours that I could work on the project out of whack with what we had planned. ‘Can a student collect the data?’ was a question I was asked helpfully. I clenched my teeth and responded politely as I could, ‘Well, it is an ethnographic study, so not really.’ By this point I was ready not only to give up on the form, I was ready to just get in my car and never come back. We eventually managed to get the hours sorted via a series of phone calls between my project partner and me. I got the application signed off by all the relevant people internally, and I hit submit.
So, in the style of the ending of an episode of South Park: ‘I learnt something today!’ I discovered that I was not ready for such a big step in my research career. I was not ready to apply for a research council award. We did not get the award, but did receive really positive feedback. Essentially, the issue was mainly that we were two ECRs, and they were not convinced about the management of the project, despite thinking the idea in itself was fundable. In order for this ‘first time’ not to become a ‘last time’, I have to remain positive. I have since found other people who I can go to for support, those who are more experienced and approachable. I have decided that for now I will take baby-steps. I am going to conduct a pilot study in my own time, get some data, maybe get a couple of publications/conferences from that, and then revisit the scary world of external funding. The process, not the outcome, was what knocked my confidence. But, as they say, what doesn’t kill you (jumping from the ground floor office never really was, to be fair), makes you stronger … and just a little wiser!