Thinking bigger

At this time of year, hundreds of hopeful early career researchers around Australia are writing fellowship applications.


In many fellowship schemes, the funding rules allow applicants to request project expenses. But often, especially for those in the humanities, arts and social sciences, this presents a stumbling block: the type of research being proposed ‘doesn’t require much money’. A bit of travel here, and conference money there, but many applicants think of themselves as a sole operator.


In this post, I want to stress that this kind of thinking misses the point. Early career fellowships are intended to set you up for a career as a research leader in several years’ time, so your program of work in this Fellowship needs to have the ingredients and opportunities and experiences that will develop you into that leader.


Put another way, it means you need to think bigger about your project – so not you, the sole operator, but you the mentor, supervisor, employer to PhD or Masters students and research assistants, or advisor to a network of practitioners and policymakers in the wider public, political and cultural spheres. You, the emerging leader who has a grander vision for their research program beyond the proposed work in this Proposal – and who has a strong grasp of how this Proposal fits into a longer chronology of work, and growth into a research leader.


Considered this way, your Fellowship budget is no longer about what you personally need but about what and who you can enable in the pursuit of a shared program of work. This elevates your budget’s status from the thorn in your side to a platform that  

  • can create an opportunity for someone to do a PhD
  • can create a job for a research assistant
  • expands your research program (because you don’t have to do all of the work yourself)
  • exposes you to opportunities you need to gain experience in managing and leading, mentoring, supervising and advising others.


One side note: if you’re intending or proposing to move into such an enabling role through your Fellowship, you will need to have a plan for being successful in these new roles and responsibilities. This anticipates any questions from assessors about the feasibility of your ‘supervising’ or ‘managing’ x when you don’t have much in the way of a track record of these types of roles. So, address that with a management plan. Who in your Department or School – who is senior to you – could Chair, or co-Chair a PhD student, while mentoring you in your role as PhD supervisor at the same time? This would be one way to give you on-the-job training to move you forward in your career while at the same time ensuring you have the support you need to do these new roles successfully. This is about upskilling yourself, and articulating a realistic and well-planned strategy to develop your people management and leadership skills.


So for those of you writing Fellowship applications, share with us – has research leadership seemed too far a goal for your project intentions? Has this post triggered some new thinking for you about how you can use this project as the start or foundation of your long-term research career? Are you stumped with what to include in your budget, and how to tie it back in with the bigger vision of your program of work?  Hit reply and let us know!

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