Friday, September 19, 2003

The Insanity of Fellowship Applications

First, though, a big thank you to everyone who has emailed me about The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. I was serious about wanting to enlist the help of many people (it's completely essential for the project), and I have been saving emails into a file of "potential contributors." As soon as the contracts are signed, you'll be hearing from me.

But now on to what I've been really doing: Fellowship Applications. I have to start by saying that my whining here shouldn't be taken too seriously. There are far worse ways to earn a living, and at least one fellowship allowed me to finish my dissertation. But the entire process is a little, well, surreal.

One applies for a fellowship to be able to take a longer academic leave and do more research. For example, in the fall of 2004 I'll be on leave from Wheaton and spending all my time writing. Great deal. But I'm actually allowed to take the whole 2004-2005 academic year. An awesome privilege. But there's a catch: if I take the whole year, I only get half of my salary. Unfortunately, I won't have only half the bills (though the half-year off at full pay is mighty generous), so if I can't find some outside source of support, I can't take the proffered full year. (Boo hoo some might say, and they'd be right if I were honestly complaining).

Enter Foundations like the American Council of Learned Societies, the Guggenheim Foundation, etc. These entities offer grants to scholars to complete interesting research. It's amazingly generous. It's fabulous. It's psycho competitive. Every senior person I know seems to be applying for a Guggenheim every year. Thus the awards are rare and hard to get. Likewise the NEH, ACLS, APS, etc.

But that's not the surreal part. It's no surprise that a lot of people would like "free money" to study what they are already going to study. It is passing strange that in order to do this, you have to write a summary of the book you haven't written or researched yet. Yes, dear readers, I've spent the past two weeks writing a summar of my next brilliant project, From Tradition to Culture: The Making of the Anglo-Saxon Eleventh Century. Of course since I'm just applying for the support for the project, which is supposed to be done during my academic leave, it's pretty difficult to figure out what brilliant conclusions I'll arrive at. But did I let that stop me? Hah! My book will be the Unified Field Theory of the humanities. Just you watch!

Actually, while I complain about the process, and it's weird, I now am very excited about the new book project and I came up with some ideas for it that are interesting (at least to me). So maybe the process isn't so bizarre, after all.

I still think it would make a good Borges story, though: "Summaries of Books that Have Never Been Written."

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