Sunday, September 27, 2009

Articulating a Vision

I've spent most of the weekend doing one thing: working on the proposal for my doctoral dissertation that I'll submit to SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) and the OGS (Ontario Graduate Studies) in a bid for funding that will get me through my PhD without either a) living with my parents, b) subsisting on Kraft dinner or c) going into serious debt. The proposals are only two and one pages long, respectively, but they are some of the most difficult writing I will ever do. Period. And that includes my dissertation.

The pressure factor is definitely one reason why the proposal is so difficult to write. How well I articulate my vision for my doctoral project determines how much--or if any, more like--money these councils will be willing to give me. The most I could hope for is $35,000 a year for three years; OGS is more like $15,000, but either way, this is serious funds. It's also a career thing; having a SSHRC means that you're capable of attracting funds, and departments want to hire people who can bring in money. The more money goes around, the more people the department can hire and admit, and the better everything goes.

The other factor in the difficulty of writing the SSHRC is trying to crystallize--down to the word, or the syllable--exactly what it is you want to do, how you're going to do it, and why it's important. Not only that, but I have to communicate this in two pages to someone who isn't in my field; the person who reads this might be in Fine Arts, or dance. But it has to make sense to them, it has to sound like I have a plan, and it has to sound like what I want to do is worth doing. Now, I don't know about you, but a history of the mythopoeic group of Canadian modernists isn't likely to cure cancer, but I need to make it sound like it's important all the same.

Taking to the blogs seemed to be the breakthrough for me this weekend, along with the very articulate proposals of some of my friends and colleages, and a good long session of yoga. In attempting to communicate exactly what my proposal was arguing in a comment on Nav's blog (a crystallized form of communication if there was one), I hit on being able to say exactly what my project is about, in one or two sentences. Now all I have to do is expand on it, and I'm doing not a bad job at it. I'm lucky in that my proposal is going to make its way to a bunch of the smartest people I know (a.k.a. my profs and my other friends who are doing the same thing), and they're going to make it much better than I'm capable of. And hopefully, fingers crossed, this may mean that I have some chance of getting something. The odds are slim--I'm not exactly competing against dunces here, you know?--but I can hope.

Aside from working on my SSHRC, I've also been working on that other exercise in crystallizing a vision: conference abstracts, a.k.a. here's the paper that I want you to let me give at your conference in 500 words or less. I submitted one yesterday for a panel at NEMLA (North Eastern Modern Language Association), which is in Montreal on my next birthday, and I found out today that I can indeed interpret American as North American and submit a Canadian paper for another panel at the same conference. NEMLA is the baby cousin of the granddaddy of all conferences, the MLA, which is being held in Los Angeles in 2011. If I could manage to present at the MLA before I graduate, I would be, in the words of Elizabeth Bennet, well pleased indeed. NEMLA should be a good starting point. I'm also working on fixing up a class paper for publication; if it does get published, it would be in a graduate journal, which people tell me is a waste of time (spend your effort where you get the most prestige seems to be what they're saying), but we'll see. I still have to decide if it makes sense to send it there, or to see if there's somewhere better.

So, that was my weekend. Birthday parties invited to: 2. Birthday parties attended: 0. Sorry Denise and Margo! But I feel like I've got my ideas (somewhat) straight, and I'm on the path to that elusive thing, effectively articulating my vision. Let's see if the adjudicators agree with me. And this, non-academic friends, is what we spend much of our time doing. Be glad it's not you. I love it, but it drives me nuts all the same.