Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Funding with Sara Keith

The nightmare that is the funding world was explained to us today by Sara Keith (who is a textile artist, currently finishing her PhD and she also works as a consultant on the panel for the Scottish Arts Council looking at grant applications) She was a very engaging speaker as she was able to give her advise and experiences from both sides of the proverbial funding coin. In the sense that she applied to the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) for funding for her PhD and also helps decide who should receive funding from the Scottish Arts Council.

Sara's talk has reinforced my belief that applications should be carefully checked over before submission to make sure that you are actually answering what is being asked and that it should be legible and not dogeared or late! As lets face it what sort of impression does it give off when you yourself receive something to that effect... in my case not a good one. It comes down to a trust issue and if you think someone is going to deliver or not as the case may be. Why would you give someone money when their application is late, creased and has a big coffee ring on it...? Doesn't give off the best first impression does it...? What would I do with it...? Well I have that answer, put it in the bin and not even consider them. A bit harsh I no but I think all these things come down to respect and professionalism. Last week we had a workshop on improving our CVs we were given one as an example, the credentials were impressive however it was submitted after the deadline, had a few obvious spelling mistakes, questions set were not answered correctly and over all presentation was poor. This gave me the impression that this person was unreliable and took very little pride in their work, or at least had little interest in the job they were applying for as little effort was made. So while a number of the class went on the credentials, I went on the feeling I got when looking at the presentation of the document. I wouldn't want to hire anyone who seemingly didn't take much time or effort in completing a task. Your application or CV is the first the first point of contact so it has to convey who you are and why you want to work at their company. I now understand why upon graduating and sending away what seemed like millions of CVs I got a very limited response, and all saying the same thing, thanks but no thanks. I had not tried to impress individual companies of how I could add to their team or the passion id bring for what I do, I simply sent in a list of credentials showing no personality or drive... I hope now I have had this revelation I will not fall into the same trap again... I had never considered it from the other side, I did not have the understanding to see this fact or the tools to counteract it. (the masters course is really helping me with all aspects of my professional life, I would now view myself as a designer where I never would have before... upon hearing 'that' dreaded question on meeting someone for the first time "so what do you do?" Id mumble something about working in a shop but that I had done textiles at university, but by this point the person I was talking to would have glazed over and wandered off).

As I am seriously thinking about doing a PhD it was good to have a chat with Sara after her talk about her experiences with funding, as forms like these always make me nervous, especially when having to sum up what you intend on doing in 500 words. A necessity though, as it outlines in a coherent way exactly what you want to achieve. Not only will this help the research council understand you and your work, it will help you to grab onto and be able to get across your main points. A task I struggle with, and always end up leaving something out, like last week when I was summing up my project I omitted to mention the disastrous effects the fast fashion industry is having on the world and the people producing it through every stage of production, which is why I'm doing my masters! So now I have made up a wee map of knowledge swatches at my desk which helps me to talk and think through my project in a clearer and ordered way. Something I am finding very useful as I can add notes when I find something new.

As I am moving through higher education it seems to get harder to gain funding, research has to be justified and everything down to contingency plans needs to be outlined. A far cry from when I filled in my SAAS forms for my undergraduate course, this while still an extensive form wasn't about justifying your work, it was more about showing your income or lack of it as a reason to obtain a loan and to get your fees paid (this was always seen as pretty much a certainty as long as you got your forms in on time, not like the highly competitive AHRC funding).
The competition for this scares me a lot, how do I make my proposal stand out from the crowd? With all the hints and tips from today as well as an extensive list of funding bodies and people to speak to for advice on the subject I think I will be OK. They are not scary forms trying to catch us out, just a list of questions carefully engineered to retrieve the information required to ascertain if you are an eligible candidate for funding. And at least I am aware that if I am not successful with one body their are other ones out there that I might be a better fit for me and my work.

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