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02/13/2014

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Marcus Arvan

Elisa: I need some time to think about the situation you describe, but in the meantime I'd just like to thank you for sharing all this. I, for one, frankly knew none of it -- and I suspect many of our readers are in a similar position. I had no idea just how different things are over there, and would really love to hear more (perhaps in future posts?). Among other things, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how the different system of higher education -- and focus on funding -- affects how research (and teaching) are done, and what you think the pro's and con's of the system over there are.

May I ask, to begin, why it is *necessary* to apply for and receive research funding? Is it necessary to keep one's academic position? The reason I ask is that, in philosophy at least, it seems odd to me to require that people obtain funding (it's not as though writing papers on Kant or material constitution takes a lot of money!;) Is it just that one is expected to do it by one's institution because, well, that's one of the ways the *institution* gets funding? (I'm sorry if my questions are naive! I could just use a clearer picture of how things work, and why. Thanks!) :)

Carlo Ierna

If you don't have a permanent position, then you go from temporary grant to temporary grant hoping that they are stepping stones to a professorship instead of just bringing you to the deep end of the pond (I'm on my third fixed-term grant). This kind of funding mostly covers salary (80%), the rest can be used for travel abroad (I'm in Harvard now), organizing conferences, etc. My grants also dictated that I was allowed to dedicate at most 10-20% of the time to activities other than research, such as teaching, service, administrative tasks, etc.
Of course if you do already have a permanent position, this brings in extra oxygen for the department, especially if you also get funding for additional PhD students or postdocs. This way you can start up your own research group. In either case, it certainly doesn't hurt the CV: given the low success rate, it shows that you belong to the top 15% of researchers.
For more information on the grants in The Netherlands, see: http://www.rathenau.nl/en/web-specials/the-dutch-science-system.html
I also wrote more extensively about this on my blog, if you're interested. Good places to start are http://blog.ierna.name/2013/01/22/veni-grants/ and http://blog.ierna.name/2013/06/04/the-secret-life-of-the-academic/

Elisa Freschi

Thanks, Carlo, for the answer to Marcus' queries and for your interesting posts and reflections about the topic!

Being myself in my 5th project (with no tenure in sight), I can only add that, at least in the institutes I have been working at, there is a strong pressure even on tenured scholars to apply for further fundings, for PhD students, conferences, bigger projects in general. If you don't do it, you will probably remain an obscure scholar, whereas if you manage to gather a group of researchers working on, say, the critical edition of Kant's letters, things change a lot…… Furthermore, at least in some institutes, showing that you are able to receive a big funding is the key for receiving a tenure offer.

Marcus, yes, if you think it could be interesting I might write a further post discussing pros and cons of both systems ---I hope I will have yours and the readers' help concerning the US situation, though (I only worked in the US for 45 days, and even then I was not funded by a US institution).

Eric Schliesser

I think one should stress that hiring practices and academic expectations vary enormously in Europe.
Having said that, first, a (minor) disagreement: (i) there are both some liberal arts colleges (a relatively new development in the Netherlands and Germany) and (ii) one can teach philosophy in higher education outside a research-intensive environments (in art schools and a variety of advanced vocational schools).
A more serious point is that many of the (rather rare) permanent jobs are, in fact, tied to local teaching needs. This receives a far lower profile than the grant system, which occupies many our waking hours.
I can also report that, yes, even if you have 'made it'--you are expected to keep writing grant proposals until near-retirement.

Anon Euro grad student

Maybe I am doing the whole thing wrong, but I am currently applying for academic jobs in Europe and writing a lot of cover letters, refining my CV, etc.
I guess some people, who have an assured institutional affiliation for a post-doc project that they want to finance with third-party funding, can focus on the things you raise here. I envy them, to be honest. Being unemployed without a place that 'keeps you warm academically', the possibilities for writing grant proposals in addition to working on journal submissions (which everybody who rejects my applications, and is nice enough to later give me feedback, insists would propel me much higher upon their lists) are rather more slim.

Well, if one wants to live a precarious live until well into ones 40s, I guess this is what one has to put up with. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Elisa - this is really helpful to hear about!

Elisa Freschi

Anon Euro, I am not sure I can follow you. Several funding agencies do not require from you that you are already academically active (a close friend of mine had a project funded in Austria although he is Italian and was at that time unemployed) and I am not sure that the fact of not having an academic position will be more of a disadvantage while looking for funding than while looking for a permanent academic position.
As for the rest, you are right. Basically, one does one's research within one or the other project...all one's life long. Tenured position look more like an exception to me. But the good side is that ---at least in some European countries--- all good projects are in fact funded (unlike in the case of looking for a TT position, where only one will get it, although more than one candidate would have deserved it).

Helen

Thank you very much, Elisa, for sharing the European perspective.

Your choice on what to submit where depends on how much effort goes into each, and whether it's possible to recycle one project proposal for several funding agencies. Sometimes one is asked to explicitly disclose this if one has submitted the same project in several granting agencies, and I have never heard it is a problem to do so. So if you can recycle your smaller, higher-chance project into an ERC, I would do so without hesitation!

However, the ERC and other European union grants require a very big, detailed dossier, something like 20-40 pages. Many years ago, I started an application for a Marie Curie fellowship and gave up halfway, when I came to the question "leadership qualities", where I had to describe in detail what leadership qualities I possessed. Now, the Marie Curie is actually a grant that enables junior researchers to go and work at another research group in Europe or elsewhere, and leadership qualities are irrelevant for this kind of junior position like this - and there were many such questions that I thought the assessors would not even read, it is really quite discouraging.

But above all, I found it is better to submit one solid, strong project than several hastily written proposals. I am currently a British Academy postdoctoral fellow, a type of position that has a very low acceptance rate (around 8%) - Because of these stark probabilities I did not think I would get it, but I did feel very good about my project. I did not submit it in parallel either. I had it read by several people and tweaked it for months. There is a lot of stochasticity, but a strong project does seem to stand a better chance.

Elisa Freschi

Thanks, Helen. As you point out, each project has some project-specific requirement to be fulfilled (e.g., "benefits for the European Union" of the submitted project:-) in case of European grants). Besides, some projects require a broader perspective, whereas others do not. To be more specific, the FWF projects I know favour in-depth and non-rhetorical approaches to specific problems (one can still be financed for studying a single text or preparing its critical edition), whereas the ERC and similar bigger grants require that one addresses general topics, such as "A non-economic approach to the genesis of capitalism" or "Tibetan medicine outside Tibet" and so on. Recycling is not easy, although one can reuse selected portions. In the case of START programs, it is only allowed to submit the same (or a similar) project as a ERC, but not for further programs.
Last: CONGRATULATIONS for being among the best 8%! Just if you want, it would be interesting to read about what you think helped you (apart from writing a good project).

Helen

Hi Elisa: Thank you. I am not sure that being in the 8% grantees means I'm in the top 8%. There is so much stochasticity...
I have some thoughts on what makes a good grant proposal, here: http://www.newappsblog.com/2013/09/tips-for-writing-a-successful-philosophy-grant-proposal.html

Anon Euro grad student

Thanks for the reply, Elisa. Sorry I wasn't very clear here (one main reason I cannot find a job in philosophy?). I meant to say that it is not unheard of in Europe that people who apply for junior positions have to apply with cover letters, cvs, research proposals, and sometimes even teaching portfolios (yes, even in Europe now...). I am sure I could apply for any kind of research grant even though I am technically not affiliated to my PhD-granting institution any more, but what I meant to say is that you need a university affiliation to carry out your project. For that, you quite often need permission/approval from somebody at a university, and often (Leverhulme fellowships, BA fellowships, for example), you need to go through an approval process, which involves basically the same stuff as for a job application if I remember correctly. Then again, the UK isn't very European, is it?
Sorry for derailing the discussion, and thanks again for bringing these issues to wider attention!

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