Throughout September we will be publishing articles detailing the experience and advice from winners of a number of grants and awards. The final post in our series is written by Sabina Peck, who reflects on her two applications for the BAAS Postgraduate Travel Award.
I have applied for the BAAS Postgraduate Travel Award twice, and this year I was lucky enough to win. The Award contributed towards a research trip to the United States to access archival source material and undertake oral histories for my thesis, which centres on attempts at multiracial organising around reproductive rights since the second wave of feminism. The Award allowed me to spend six weeks in the US, visiting the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the Tamiment and Columbia Libraries in New York City. More exciting was the opportunity to interview a number of women who were activists around reproductive rights and health, and had been involved in a number of the events and organisations that I am using as case studies. Being able to meet and chat with these women was incredibly engaging and inspiring, and has been invaluable for my work.
Reflecting on the Applications
In looking back at my two different applications for the Award, I am able to reflect upon their merits and weaknesses, and therefore can offer some tips that I hope will be useful to future applicants. The most notable difference between the applications is that the successful application was much tighter and more succinct. I was much clearer about what my project was, and more explicit about the purpose of the trip in the broader context of my project. I also was more specific in describing the collections I would visit on the trip, and wrote more confidently about how they would be pertinent.
In my successful application, I was also sure to make the most out of the allocated 400 words to communicate the purpose and importance of my visit. It almost goes without saying that you should use all of the words that you have available – my application clocked in at exactly 400 words in this section, and I could have written hundreds more! As always with any application, be sure to edit and re-edit your writing in order to communicate effectively and efficiently. I followed a clear structure. First, I wrote about the intentions of my thesis more broadly (67 words) – this is a good time to perfect that elevator pitch! Then I wrote about how I was going to do that work – i.e., my methodology and approach (79 words) before giving a detailed account of the particular sources that I hoped to access on my proposed trip (194 words). In this section, I was specific about which institutions I planned to visit, and gave examples of some of the collections that I hoped to access whilst I was there. Finally, I wrote a short paragraph on the importance of the funding in terms of accessing the source material, and a very brief indication of why my research might be important or impactful (60 words). While this particular structure might not be relevant or useful for everybody, structuring the application in a coherent way with clearly defined sections will make it easier to communicate what you are doing, how you are doing it, and why the grant would be useful to you. Part of this is making it very clear why the trip is fundamentally important to your research. For me, all of the relevant primary sources are based in the US, so a trip there was imperative – I literally could not do my thesis without it.
I also attached some extra documentation to my application. I included a more detailed breakdown of the archival sources that I was hoping to access in the US, and also a copy of my academic CV, which I keep up to date. The former document in particular, I hoped, would demonstrate my attention to detail and the careful planning that I had done in preparing for the trip. Perhaps most importantly, I’d recommend passing the application onto a colleague, friend or relative who is not a specialist in what you do for proofreading and feedback. This means that your application will not include any vocabulary or acronyms that you assume that everyone knows – but are unknown outside of your speciality!
Finally, I think it is essential to make sure that you let your enthusiasm for your research come through in what you are writing (which I realise is difficult in a funding application!). If the people reading the applications feel excited about your work, I suspect that they are much more likely to select your research for an award!