We’re delighted to share the third blog post in the series of updates being produced by our 2017 Microgrants beneficiaries. The following post is from Lina Brand Correa, University of Leeds, whose work concerns how energy is related to society and the economy, with a special focus on human well-being.
It has been almost a year since I applied, and was lucky enough to receive, one of Gradconsult’s microgrants. A lot has happened in that time, both personally and academically. Although my personal experiences over the last year would certainly be more captivating –perhaps even good enough for a soap-opera-type plot-, I will focus on the PhD-related events, which should hopefully be more relevant for this blog.
In early 2017 I was starting my third year of PhD, and besides being stressed about not having enough time and money to finish my PhD in three years, I also started to worry about what I would do next. It was not a matter of weighing up whether or not to continue in academia. I have always wanted to pursue an academic career (I blame it on my dad, who is an academic). For that purpose, I had already starting working on academic papers and presented my work at several international conferences. However, I was not blind to the fact that the academic world is highly competitive (and far from the romanticised world where my dad developed his career), and thus tried to keep an open mind about other career paths.
After signing up for job alerts, I soon realised that for many academic jobs (perhaps not so much postdocs), proving you could secure funding was key. I had also sat in a couple of interviews for more permanent positions in my department, and the question “where from and how do you plan to get funding for your research?” never failed to be asked.
I looked at my CV and recognised the lack of a section where I could list my grand total of zero grants won to date. So I decided to sign up for funding alerts too (managing an inbox when belonging to so many mailing lists is still a work in progress!). As a PhD student, and indeed an early career researcher, you are in a weird sort of limbo: you are not experienced/permanent/senior enough to be leading proposals for many of the main sources of funding, and the funds you do have access to are limited and extremely competitive, consisting mostly of fellowships.
Given that limbo, you have to accept that unless you are an extraordinary researcher, you are going to have to look for less conventional alternatives. And that is fine. You don’t need to have a big Research Council (in the case of the UK) funded project by the time you finish your PhD, or even in the years after it. But it definitely helps to have something. That is where funds like the one offered by Grandconsult (through their microgrants) come in as a very valuable resource.
Although it may sound silly, being able to have a “grants” section on my CV, gave me some much-needed confidence to see the overall potential of my PhD and apply to a postdoc which is closely aligned with my own research interests. So here I am, writing this blog with one week to go before submitting my thesis and having been selected for the postdoc of my dreams. Off to do some more writing!