I just got in the mail the external evaluators' assessments of my SSHRC application. I didn't receive one, I found out a month ago. I wasn't surprised, knowing that the rate of success is about 34% overall, and it is about 22% for those in the "new scholars" category, like me. I was disappointed, though - knowing that I shouldn't be - because the four people who had read it had all been extremely enthusiastic about it, and two had said they felt certain that it would be funded. (Not to self: Don't say such things to people!)
The thing is - and I was aware of this, even as I let myself get my hopes about it - that none of these people who reviewed it have expertise in the field in which I was proposing my project. The proposal was sent to three external evaluators who are all, of course, expert in a field I was ostensibly treating. Some of their comments were pretty harsh, which doesn't surprise me - they picked up on what I knew were inconsistencies in my application, on issues I myself had identified. The thing was, I was under pressure to submit a grant application, and so I conjured up my project very quickly...I mean, I had the project going 'in name,' and had presented papers on tiny bits of it, but only wrote about it in detail for the first time, for the application. It was very newly formulated. It has matured a lot in the 8 months or so of additional research and some writing I've done since I first wrote that application (thankfully!).
But my problem is my positioning, and the researchers to whom the application was sent for review. To invoke the terms with which I have metaphorized my research before, they are haiku experts. I also work on chemical engineering and agricultural history - and in fact, my work is about the intersections between those latter two fields - I simply use haiku as a means of thinking about these other two fields. I don't consider myself first and foremost a haiku expert, though I certainly know my way around the field. In fact, I've even thought about having the first line of my book be, "This is not a book about haiku" (even though it is, on the surface - but really, what it is, is a book about agricultural history and chemical engineering, using haiku as a lens).
But the app was sent to thorough haiku experts, and it does not surprise me in the least that they don't love the project. In fact, the SSHRC committee - which would be composed of chemical engineering and agricultural history experts - was quite generous with me considering the lack of enthusiasms of the haiku-ists for the project; they wrote quite lovely comments and gave me points in disproportion to what the evaluators' comments warranted. They "get it," they get what I want to do, I suspect. I don't think haiku-ists ever will; they're never going to like what I'm trying to do, in part because it will be seen as much too abstract for their material field. It is very telling that they didn't even comment on what, to me, is the major theoretical point of the project!! They don't even "see" it. (This is not me being a snob, suggesting that people who work in more materially oriented ways don't understand theory...I mean simply that it's not what they're trained to look for or emphasize or evaluate when they're doing something like this.)
So when I re-submit in the fall, I'm going to be really challenged in terms of how I present the project. What I could do is rejig the project, addressing all of the haiku-ists' complaints...it is really not hard to do. But I don't want to have a project that's like that. And yet, I will always be evaluated by haiku-ists, simply because the word haiku is in my work. But these aren't people, as I mention, who engage with the theoretical issues I'm dealing with, that I'm actually trying to bring new perspectives to.
At least I have a summer to think about it.
The other issue is, SSHRC places so much value on having "graduate student training" be part of the proposal. They don't distinguish between fields...graduate student training in psychology and some of the social sciences is very different from what it is in the Humanities, where we simply don't have the same kind of tradition of collaborative work between researchers and their grad students. So there's (to my mind) an over-emphasis, on the evaluators' assessment forms, of the question of how the proposed project will contribute to graduate student training. The assessors are really negative on this point, saying that my plans to have doctoral candidates do archival work and then literature reviews are totally unrewarding and no good. Well, that's all I ever did - or anyone I know ever did - when we were employed as research assistants. (Well, no, I drafted some translations and tracked down a whole bunch of quotations and dealt with permissions and the publisher, but that is of the same order of busy-work, that work). I'm not really sure what this excellent graduate student training is supposed to look like...I note that this is SSHRC rhetoric (i.e. government agency rhetoric) and it seemed to me that the actual committee of academics - the ones who were quite generous to me - didn't even factor it into their decisions to allocate points. This is good, because when I rejig the app for this year's competition, I may phase out most grad student training...simply because adding more and more of it is a nod in the haiku direction, but does nothing for the chemical engineering and agricultural history aspects of my work.