Monday, April 21, 2014

Money Matters: 6 Tips for Funding International Research

To anyone who would like to plan their international research trip, I’ll go ahead and state the obvious: money matters.  If you read my last post, you know that I was driving myself up a wall waiting to hear back from funders.  Well, fortunately, I was notified that I received an internal fellowship to fund my dissertation research in the Dominican Republic!  While I am incredibly relieved, I am also very aware that I am a student at an institution that has funding opportunities. Not all graduate students are in this position.  If you are in a program at an institution with limited funding, there are multiple avenues you can pursue as you search for funding.  It worked well for me to create a spreadsheet of funding sources in my first year of graduate school.  I have a tab for each year of my graduate school career and I regularly update information on due dates, application requirements, and award amounts.

1. External Fellowships: The U.S. Student Fulbright Program, National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (NSF-DDRIG), and the Social Science Research Council are a few of the big name funding sources.  Notably, the Fulbright has extra allowances for dependents in some countries.  NSF-DDRIG is for research expenses and not living expenses, but if you know you’re interested in international research in your first couple of years of graduate school, you should apply for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (it would cover living expenses).  The application process for each of these funding sources is extensive.  I started 6 months or more before the deadlines.  If your school has an Office of Research Support, connect with them.

2. Internal Fellowships/Other Departments: Your institution may have funding sources for research on certain areas.  Think about your topic and decide how it might fit into different categories (i.e. global health, women/gender studies, a specific method, a particular ethnic group, a focus on a particular language or area).  You may be able to piece together a modest funding package. 

3. Foundations and National Organizations: Your discipline may have a national organization that funds dissertation research.  If your topic has a specific focus, find organizations that share your focus (i.e. human rights, gender, politics, language, law, etc.) even if they are outside your discipline. If you are not sure whether your research fits with the mission of a funder, email your abstract to the program officers and ask what they think (an excellent tip from a colleague who has been very successful seeking outside funding!).

4. Your personal income: This is less than ideal, but some researchers take out student loans to conduct their dissertation research.  If you have an employed partner, her/his income could support your family.  Some researchers have aggressively saved the year before the research trip.

5. Get Creative: If your funding is tied to a research assistantship, can you do the work while you’re abroad? If your funding is tied to a teaching assistantship, can you grade assignments online and send feedback digitally?  When you get to your host country, can you teach a course at a local university to earn extra money?

6. Procrastinate Productively: If you feel like a distraction from other work you could be doing, search for funding opportunities!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Waiting Game: The Most Un-Fun Game I’ve Ever Played

When I think of the uncertainty around this trip, I oscillate between zen-like tranquility and an all-consuming worry.  Welcome to the worry!  We are planning to leave in July, and it is now April.  I applied for 5 fellowships to fund my research trip to the Dominican Republic. Four would cover living expenses while we are in the D.R. and one would cover additional research expenses.  Most of the applications were submitted in October/November….what is taking these people so long!?!?  I am trying to keep my cool.  Trying not to completely unravel…but every time I check my email, I have heart palpitations imagining that there might be a notice from one of these organizations.  One funder sent an email asking applicants to do a survey about the application process, and I cried pitiful tears of anxiety and disappointment when I realized that this was not the email that said, “Congratulations! You have been selected…”

I got a notice from one funder that I was not selected.  My mind spiraled into a panic – rather easily, I might add.  If I didn’t get this one, then I didn’t get that one.  Maybe I’m not even competitive enough for my “back-up” funding.  What if no one gives me money?  What if no one likes this project? What am I dragging all of us into? 

When I emerged from the fog, I did some math and came to the conclusion that I still have a decent shot at the other ones.  I worked hard on applications in the fall and did the best I could.  I go back to my kaleidoscope zen place and wait.  It’s not a fun game.

Here’s what I do to cope:
·         Take deep breaths
·         Talk to my partner
·         Talk to friends and family
·         Red wine and yoga pants (fuzzy socks if it’s serious)
·         Watch sitcoms
·         Get some fresh air
·         Work on something
·         Check things off a task list

Monday, April 7, 2014

Time As Currency: Making the Minutes Count

I struggle with the tension between multi-tasking/hyper-productivity and the mindfulness of being present where you are.  In order to resolve that tension, I place time in two different buckets: quantity time and quality time. 

Quantity time refers to the minutes/hours I spend crossing things off a list and doing something productive.   “Something productive” can be work-related (read a paper, edit something I’m working on, homework for a class).  It can also be home-related (laundry, running errands, unloading the dishwasher).   When I think of all the things that need to be done and the lack of time to do them, time itself becomes a very important unit of currency.  For example, if I have 30 minutes, I think about which tasks I can get done in that 30 minutes.  So for quantity time, things-to-do are separated into “things that need at least an hour” and “things that need 30 minutes or less”.  As I write this blog post, I am sitting at a car wash.  I figure, it will take the professionals at Auto Bell at least 30 minutes to tackle the mess of a car that I just left them.  It typically takes me 30 minutes to get a draft for a blog post written.  So, for me, this is very important quantity time.

Quality time refers to time spent with people.  If I am with friends, family, or otherwise being social, I try to make it a point not to think of all the quantifiable things I could be doing.  Granted, when I schedule a lunch with friends, I’m thinking “Lunch might be an hour, maybe an hour and a half” and I try to ensure that the time frame fits into my work schedule for the week.  But I try to push the thoughts of projects, papers, and panic over deadlines out of my mind and focus on enjoying time with people.

You might notice that my paragraph on quantity time is twice as long as my paragraph on quality time.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I spend a LOT of time thinking about all the ways I can/should be more productive, and less time thinking about how to enjoy quality time.  I think it’s because I’ve learned how to give myself permission to prioritize relationships.  It doesn’t mean that my mind doesn’t wander during a family game of “Duck, Duck, Goose”.  But it does mean that I’m more self-aware and able to re-direct my focus back to where it should be.