This post is part of a series where Rutgers grant and/or fellowship winners are invited to share their thoughts and experiences with the process of applying for funding in graduate school.
By Nicole Sheriko
I’m Nicole, a theater researcher entering my seventh and final year of pursuing a Ph.D. in English under the direction of Dr. Henry Turner. The work I do depends upon access to a wide range of rare books and museum archives and benefits enormously from the strong intellectual communities that connect those places to university teaching and learning. For those reasons, I chose to pursue my studies at Rutgers because of its faculty, substantial financial support, geographic proximity to live theater and archives, and formal relationships with other Ph.D. programs and archives, like the Folger Shakespeare Library.
My dissertation, Performing Popular Culture, recovers the performance practices of puppetry, clowning, and performing animals in Renaissance England. Though central to Renaissance popular culture, these forms have been long overlooked in favor of the commercial drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In reconstructing these forms, I aim to widen our definition of Renaissance theatricality and consider the broader role of illusion in everyday life.
I am currently applying for postdoc and tenure-track positions in English and Theater departments to teach dramatic literature and revise my dissertation for publication as a book. I hope to continue my research and teaching on popular entertainment culture and have tentatively titled my second book project Staging Popular Medicine.
My experiences with the world of funding
My dissertation writing has been supported by a Raritan Dissertation Fellowship and additional internal fellowships from the Rutgers English department. I have won fellowships to conduct archival research from the Folger Shakespeare Library (twice), Mellon Foundation, the Huntington Library/Oxford University, and Rutgers’ School of Graduate Studies. Most recently, I was awarded an ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship for the 2020-1 academic year. To present my research, I have received grants from the major professional organizations in my field, the Renaissance Society of America, and the Shakespeare Association of America, as well as from Rutgers.
These different sources of funding have enabled the archival research on understudied performance practices that underpin my dissertation and have granted me uninterrupted time to write. They have also made possible the international circulation of my research as they funded travel to conferences, libraries, rare book collections, museums, and the communities of scholars attached to each.
My advice for other applicants
Think of the grant and fellowship application process as part of your professional and intellectual development. Writing a compelling project proposal requires distilling your project down into its most essential features, articulating the arc of its argument, and describing that argument in ways that interest readers outside of your field and discipline. This kind of writing is extremely challenging, but it is the kind of writing also expected of dissertation introductions, job letters, and research statements of many kinds. Honing the skill of selling your project is part of refining for yourself what your project is really about and why it matters.
When applying to visit a specific site for research purposes (the majority of funding that I apply for), be sure to explicitly answer the questions of “what?” and “why now?” concerning your work. What exactly do you need to examine? Name specific collections or materials and remember that human resources and collections of secondary sources make excellent accompaniments to rare or otherwise limited-access primary sources. Access to a group of scholars and an extensive library of critical works can help you process new findings into existing scholarly conversations, so mention these as additional benefits of researching at a specific site. Also, answer for the funding committee: Why do you need to visit now? Name specific projects underway and give upcoming deadlines for their completion. Stating that visiting a site will allow you to complete a project (an article, a chapter, the dissertation) reassures committees that their funding will produce findings that can be immediately integrated into a deliverable product.
Like dissertation writing, grant writing is a skill, and success requires practice. Start applying for small amounts of funding from local sources (e.g., your department) and work your way up. Applying for conference travel funding tends to be one of the least competitive application processes, followed by short-term institutional fellowships (libraries or museums) without travel funding. Honing your proposal-writing skills on these applications will set you up for better success on more competitive applications like short-term residential fellowships (weeks to months) and long-term fellowships from archives and national societies (months to a year or more). Each application produces writing (abstracts, statements of argument and purpose, etc.) that you can revise for later applications, so even unsuccessful applications can be helpful later. Fellowships also beget more fellowships, contributing to your CV and showing funding committees that your project has been vetted before by other funding committees.
Winning grant and fellowship funding has allowed me to make archival discoveries that have reshaped the direction and purpose of my research. Applying for that funding has helped me to articulate what those directions and objectives are to begin with. In addition to supporting my research and thinking, becoming a successful grant writer has made me a better dissertation writer.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter @nicolesheriko
To learn more about Nicole’s research check out her website nicolesheriko.com