On Fieldwork & Funding – Part One

Success in Grant Writing Series Editor’s Note: Welcome to the next installment of our Success in Grant Writing series, which will feature guest blog posts written by Rutgers graduate student winners of prestigious fellowships and grants. If you would like to share your experience with successful grant writing, please contact us through our website, gradfund.rutgers.edu

This is Part One of Diya Paul’s reflections on Fieldwork and Funding. 


The Semi-arid Landscape Matrix in the Eastern Ghats, India, where the author conducted field research.

In the social sciences and humanities, several research projects revolve around doing fieldwork that takes the form of spending months at the archives excavating tomes and finding treasures buried underneath the stack, or spending months in the field (village, town or city) carrying out surveys, interviews or being participant observers. Our predecessors and advisors prepare us for the design and proposal stage of our research through coursework, reading, and discussions but ver little prepares us for the everyday in the “field.” To expect the unexpected is a good place to start – nothing prepared me for two weeks of incessant, heavy rains in my drought prone and semi-arid study area! This post does not elaborate so much on my field work experience as it aims to talk about the process of getting to the field

Getting to the Field

The field means different things to different people, based upon the research one undertakes but more often than not “going” to the field also involves a critical process of applying for funding. For me this was something that was always at the back of my mind, as I wrote drafts and versions of my proposal trying to conceive of the best way to articulate what I wanted to do and how I planned to do it.

But how exactly does one even start looking for funding? The departmental news updates can be overwhelming. This is especially true when one reads about other graduate students and professors winning awards and grants to undertake their research. Talking to peers and others is helpful, although the advice varies, and by the time one has spent a year in the graduate program it is assumed that you know the process.

But does one really know?

By the end of my second year I had applied for small grants successfully that covered pre-dissertation travel and field expenses. But I had not applied for any large grants to do the dissertation research. This is where the presence of GradFund became so important, not just as a space to explore the funding available through the Knowledgebase, but also to discuss things on a one to one basis with mentors who are experienced, can provide feedback, and are willing to work with us through the process.

We all know graduate school involves multitasking and applying for funding invariably happens when a lot else is happening too. The American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) Junior Fellowship grant deadline was July 1st and I was going to be in the field all of June. Perfect, right! The saving grace of this timeline was a chance to put my research into perspective based on pre-dissertation fieldwork, but I still had to write the application. The AIIS Junior Fellowships are specifically for graduate students (both US citizens and non-citizens) who are conducting dissertation research in India. A professor in my department (Geography) suggested that I apply for this fellowship to fund my research.

I was at the end of course work, working through my draft proposal and research ideas and preparing for pre-dissertation fieldwork that would be critical to the way my project took shape. Unsure about whether or not I was really prepared,I decided to take up the challenge. Further motivation came from a summer travel/research grant that I received under the GradFund Mentoring Program for Predissertation Research in India that was funded by the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative and the South Asian Studies Program. The objective of this program was to formulate effective research and funding proposals through exploratory research, exchange, and proposal writing workshops.

Working with Interdisciplinary Feedback

Condensing 10 pages of my proposal into 3 pages was difficult, but what really helped was feedback from a small group of graduate students and Assistant Dean Teresa Delcorso, the founding director of GradFund. The GradFund Mentoring Program for Predissertation Research in India brought us together for three days to Mumbai, India. We worked closely together brainstorming through each of our project ideas and drafts, sharing experiences, and getting input from Assistant Dean Delcorso at each step. After this we followed up with emails and feedback on each other’s project proposals.

While my advisors gave me feedback on my proposal and project statement, I realized that getting feedback from people who are not in my discipline is critical because one really doesn’t know who is going to be evaluating the proposal at the other end. More so, this feedback helped me understand the many terms and concepts that I took for granted simply because I had written and re-written so many drafts. A peer from another discipline, I noticed, was always able to provide fresh eyes on the problem which helped me to articulate my arguments more clearly and confidently. Feedback from an advisor is equally important, as she or he sees your project from the perspective of someone who has already been through the process.

Applying for the AIIS Junior Fellowship (2015-16) from the field, while in the midst of travel and dealing with the challenges of intermittent internet and power connections was an unforgettable experience, and in retrospect I am so glad it worked out.

Next week we will post Part Two of Diya’s reflections on Fieldwork and Funding.

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