Academic prizes and grants: Blood, sweat, and tears, but priceless!

While I was still pursuing my PHd at Ghent University I started following the incredible blog The Thesis Whisperer. This blog is packed with all kind of valuable advice to improve your thesis, to learn networking, or to just keep you going. At the low points during these years, and there are many low points when you are writing a thesis (although almost nobody talks about this openly, so you keep thinking it is only you), the blog post The Valley of Shit really dragged me through the swamp!

After finishing my PHd with the help of the Thesis Whisperer, it was time to move on, which included applying for grants. Fortunately, there is another blog with great advice on getting grants and research in general, called The Research Whisperer.

I don’t remember anymore (and couldn’t relocate it neither) on which of both blogs I read about it, but, one of the most valuable advice I got from them was to start building an academic online profile (hence this blog and my Twitter account) and to start applying for grants and prices, especially not only the big ones and to not let yourself being intimidated by a funding scheme or price. The truth is, often you have quite a good chance to win the grant of the price as fewer people apply for it than you would think of (because they let themselves being intimidated) or fail at formalities (these have to be checked carefully and planned for accordingly), loath the effort that mostly goes with the application process or just miss the deadline.

I started applying for grants and prices and was really surprised how they started rolling in. Of course, I also failed and many tears were shed, but this is part of the process and slowly you get better at 1) picking the right opportunities, 2) writing proposals, 3) building your supportive and collaborative network, 4) coping with set backs, and 5) celebrating your successes (which you definitely should do!). One of the prices I am still terribly proud of is the price I won for my thesis (Mgr. C. de Clercqprijs of the Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten (Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts) for an outstanding work in the field ‘History of Religions of Flanders’).

Picture Award Belgian Academy

The price ceremony at the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts

So my advice to especially early career researchers and students is to have a keen eye on these kinds of opportunities, e.g. small travel grants for conferences, student prices, short research stays, essay awards, etc. Once you have been able to win a price or a grant, others follow more easily as you have proven your potential already. And did I mention that the application process itself is more than worth it because you learn very much from it and it is a great way of expanding your network (e.g. when you need to find supporters among peers (aka senior researchers) or project partners)?

Personally, the latest prices I have been connected with are very different. In both cases I had never thought that there was the slightest chance to win them, but, you never know without trying, as so often in life. So, what are these prices about?

The first price is the Team Award Information Professionals 2018, a student award, for which I applied together with my study group of the MALIS (Master in Library and Information Science) at TH Köln (a consecutive master for people who are already working in a library and information science context). We applied with a short animation movie around open access publication services at scientific libraries, which we had made as a visualisation of the results of a research paper that we had to write for one of our MALIS courses. The course leader, professor Inka Tappenbeck, was so enthusiastic about the result, that she pointed us at the price, we made an effort, and see what happened! The stars of our movie, three sheep and an otter, won the hearts of the jury and will be awarded the price during the 107. Bibliothekartag at Berlin. You can imagine, that we are terribly proud that our collective effort (not at least endless Skype calls to write the storyboard) has to hit a nerve!

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 14.04.58

The Scientific Sheep (aka Akademie der Wissenschafe) and Otto, the Open Access Otter, are very happy with their price! Link to the original tweet: https://twitter.com/AKWissensschafe/status/993883756074360832

Second, I am very honoured to be involved in the international collaborative network around ‘Pre-modern Manuscripts and Early Books in Conflict Zones” for which James Smith was awarded with the Carmen (The Worldwide Medieval Network) Project Price. With James taking the lead we wrote the application and the incredible happened! I am really looking forward to the next project meeting that will take place at Tampere (Finland) during the 2018 Carmen Annual meeting and where we will be able to exchange thoughts on where we are so far with our efforts and which steps we have to take next. Being able to prove the value and timeliness of our project to such a group of experts and to receive support from them, is just priceless!

Addition 10.06.2018: TH Köln has released a short statement (in German) about the Information Specialist Team Award “TIP Award für die TH Köln: Wissensschafe im Film evaluieren Publikationsdienstleistungen

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