4+1 reasons why you should not apply for external funding

Abel Polese

Abel Polese is a researcher, trainer, writer, manager and fundraiser. He is the author of “The SCOPUS Diaries and the (il)logics of Academic Survival: A Short Guide to Design Your Own Strategy and Survive Bibliometrics, Conferences, and Unreal Expectations in Academia”, a reflection on academic life, research careers and the choices and obstacles young scholars face at the beginning of their career. You can find him on Twitter at @Abiquitous and @scopusdiaries.


A broken pressure gauge
Pressure gauge, by Shane Horan, on Flickr.

Finally, the message came. Friends had warned you but you couldn’t help feeling disappointed when the request finally arrived. The dean of your school has asked you (and everyone else) to apply for external funding in the next few months.

You have nowhere to hide – stress and sleepless nights loom ahead. Maybe if you submit a few bids that are not funded, you can claim that you are doing your job. But the ice under your feet will eventually get thin. Is the alternative scenario any better? If you win, it will count to your next promotion (or tenure), but it will also mean more work. Evenings spent writing reports and expenditure claims instead of being with your family or friends.

You ask around. Many colleagues say that this is just the way things are. Others admit that they don’t fancy it but they fancy the risk of losing their job even less.

Unenthusiastically, you start gathering information on where and how to apply. You are already doing many things for free – this is just one more. After all, new academics must endure these things to get stronger. At least, that is what you have been told.


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Applying for that alt-ac job

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 25 July 2019 as ‘What we talk about when we talk about recruitment’. It is reproduced with the permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


A cubicle corner, showing office stationery and a desk phone.
A corner of the office, by Lonnon Foster, on Flickr.

Recently, I started a new job. One of the first things on my to-do list was to employ someone to work with me. I thought that it might be useful to reflect on the recruitment process, particularly for academics who are looking for an alternative academic job (an ‘alt-ac job’ as some people call it)—an administrative job within a university environment.

Hiring, like everything, is cultural. Different countries do it differently. I’ve spent most of my working life as an administrator at Australian universities, helping academics with their research grants. All I can draw on is my own experience. Please keep in mind that this may not necessarily translate to your situation. Read more of this post

Research funding for casuals

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) invited Tseen and I to speak to precariously employed (casual) academic members. This post is based on the talk that I am giving today. Thanks to the NTEU Victorian Division for hosting this event.


I can’t save you

It Gets Worse!

There are serious structural problems in universities worldwide. The number of permanently employed staff is shrinking. The number of precariously employed staff (casual, adjunct, paid by the hour) is increasing. I can’t change that. This situation isn’t getting any better. It gets worse.

  • Unionism (like the National Tertiary Education Union in Australia) provides an organised industry-wide approach to the problem. The union is your best bet for speaking truth to power, whether that be in representing you personally when you have an individual grievance, representing all members in discussions with the university, or talking directly to the government about sector-wide issues.
  • I can’t do that. My advice represents an individual approach to a specific part of the problem. This post talks about how you might secure research funding, which might help you to secure more permanent employment.
  • However, keep in mind that I write from a position of privilege. I’m permanently employed as an administrator at an Australian university. I’ve been doing this, on and off, for thirty years. So I don’t know your experience they way that you do. Keep that in mind as your read this post – your mileage may vary.

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Getting realistic about your endless list of writing projects

Aila Hoss is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

Her research explores topics in public health law, health policy development, and the impact of federal Indian law and Tribal law on health outcomes. Her recent projects study law and policy interventions to respond to the opioid crisis. Prior to joining the faculty at IU, Aila served as a staff attorney for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Law Program (PHLP), where she worked to improve public health through the development of legal tools and the provision of legal technical assistance to state, Tribal, local, and territorial governments.

Aila completed her Bachelor of Arts at Emory University and her Juris Doctor at the University of Oregon. She is an active member of the Indiana bar. She tweets from @ailahoss.


Photo by J.J. Ying | unsplash.com

The entirety of my career in public health law has included some component of research and publishing.

This year, I hit an unfortunate milestone: my writing project list had ballooned to nearly 70 entries.

These projects ranged from articles accepted for publication and undergoing the final editing process to random ideas collected over the course of a decade. The volume of unfinished projects left me completely unable to prioritize how I should devote my writing time.

This week, I finally decided it was time to get realistic and trim the list.

Over the course of four hours, I went through each item and evaluated how much research I had conducted on the project and how much writing I had completed. I compared this investment against my research priorities and then deleted; consolidated; and prioritized them.

Here’s what I learned.

Delete What’s Not on Your Research Arc

I am doing a Visiting Assistant Professorship (VAP) and about to go on the tenure-track job market. My public health law practice, although it had a clear thread, included a hodge-podge of public health research projects because I was working at busy public health agency. Now that I am on the academic path and have a foundation of research interest and expertise, I don’t have to work on every interesting issue that comes through the door. So, I cut out ideas that weren’t on my research arc and that I hadn’t started any meaningful work on. It’s not my job to research every important issue that comes along. Read more of this post

Creating and growing a personal industry group

A group of World of Warcraft avatars, of vastly different races and classes, united by their love of libraries.

Libraries and Librarians Class Photo (cropped), by Michael Pate, on Flickr

Recently, I read a draft grant application that included an allowance for dinner for the industry advisory group. I nixed it.

I explained to the applicant that, while it may technically be an allowable budget item, most reviewers of that funding scheme would see it as an extravagance.

This led to a discussion of how she was going to run her industry advisory group. They were going to meet three or four times a year, probably over dinner, to get an update on the project and provide advice and feedback. Essentially, it was a dinner party with a focus on her research.

That made sense to me. If you want to create your own industry advisory group, create a good dinner party. Invite people that you would be interested in having dinner with, and that you think would be interested in meeting one another. Make it diverse enough to keep the conversation flowing, but not so diverse that it is divisive. Talk about the things that you passionate about. Disagree, and agree to disagree. Build trust relationships. Read more of this post

Being seen

Photo by Aaron Burden | unsplash.com

Photo by Aaron Burden | unsplash.com

Looking for another role can be an exciting and/or daunting state. It could mean that you’re finishing your PhD, coming to the end of your contract (still waiting to hear if your contract will be renewed…), or wanting to move on from where you are. There is work to do, however, before you are actually on that market. It is important work that needs to be started before you’re looking.

Let me start with two examples of what I mean:

  1. I was sitting next to a fabulous, proactive PhD researcher at ‘Shut up and write’ recently – let’s call her Nikeisha because that’s her name. Nikeisha was talking about the various things she’d done to position herself well and boost her chances of finding a position after completing the doctorate. These things included having her CV with her at a big conference where she had a poster and could immediately hand it over to interested lab heads or recruiting colleagues, applying to be part of an internship program (post-thesis submission) and specifying exactly the organisation they want to work in, and having a succinct and effective website. She’s a molecular biologist who worked with squid slime so I’m assuming she’ll get a role in no time – who could resist such a thing?
  2. I was cold-called by a PhD researcher who was almost submitting his thesis. Let’s call him Wade. I agreed to meet with Wade because a good friend had suggested me to him and he had flagged this in his email, as well as giving me the context of why he and my friend thought I’d be useful to talk to. While I may have still met him without the friend’s recommendation, I would not have approached the meeting with the same predisposed-to-like-him manner. In addition, he was very clear about why he wanted to meet with me and introduced himself via a courteous email and very slick and professional CV. Overall, I was dead impressed with Wade’s forthright approach, his clarity about his job-search context, and his considerate manner. He’s now a colleague of mine at the same institution.

The critical thread through Nikeisha’s and Wade’s pre-job search activities is that of positioning themselves to be seen. This is most important before you are actually on the market as, once you have to start applying around, the task of standing out in a stack of applications is that much harder.  Read more of this post

Leveling up in saying ‘no’

Photo by Jason Leung | unsplash.com

Photo by Jason Leung | unsplash.com

If there’s one thing that seems to dog many academics’ lives, it’s the inability to say ‘no’.

We often find ourselves over-committed and frazzled with deadlines…and it can be a frenzy of our own making. I’m not talking here about being given inappropriate workloads or sky-high benchmarks to be met. These are larger structural and equity issues that need broader institutional change.

I’m talking about the culture of overload that is normalised, and the ways that we sometimes pile on the commitments despite knowing that we’ll regret it. We do have some control over what we take on – it can be a matter of doing some cold, hard stock taking about priorities.

Once upon a time, I was a menace to my future self for taking on too much and assuming things would work out OK. They often did work out OK, but only because I had to put in extreme hours, pull overnighters, or lose several weekends in a row to get things done when there was a deadline log-jam. Now, with a household that includes two kids, an elderly parent, and my partner, as well as various furry and feathery critters, I can’t (and don’t want to) carry out this kind of work blitz any more.

To aim for balance and a good life (not just surviving), I use a few methods that I’ve been trying haphazardly over the years. They’ve now crystallised into a good set of strategies for me to manage work and enjoy life – and manage life and enjoy work (seriously – it’s true). Read more of this post