Doctor of Language explains how he banjaxes funding application and, a couple of thousand words later, what we can all learn from it
Part 1. Computer says no
It’s 359 on deadline day and I’m ready to submit. It has been the usual story. Rush rush rush. Focus the mind. Squeeze in as much as you can. Bulletpoints. Make it easier for them. Make a to-do list. Which corners can I cut shorter? Less is more today. All beef and no fat. Make another list. Do everything on the list. Just about. Checking it twiice.
And submit application.
Discover a glitch. You’d expect that.
You have not registered for such and such. Click here.
Fix the problem in seconds.
Save draft. Wait.
Discover a glitch.
Submit app. Glitch. Fix
Submapp. Glitch. Fix.
Sbap. Gitch. Fx.
Computer says no. The deadline has passed. The background is now red. The foreground is also being read. The deadline has passed.
But it’s still only 1600. A moment ago it was 1600 and my submission was uploading. And now it’s still 1600 and the deadline has passed. I’ve fixed all the glitches. I have save and submitted. When the fork is the deadline? Before or during 1600?
Blah blah blah,… by the deadline of 16:00. What does ‘by’ mean? Before or during 16:00?
Sure, I didn’t even want to do it inanyways. Ok, maybe I really wanted to do that research. Thirty grand to do what I actually want for a year. Like a big long holiday except no one can tell you when to stop playing words with yourself. At least not til your dinner’s ready. Or maybe you go to a workshop in the th’afternoon and get to hang out with other clever clutzes. No marking. The dream.
I look up the number for the IRC and call them. You know how sympathetic people can be on the phone, as long as you’re nice. It’s 1601 and I tell your wan the sitch. I ask her who I can call. She says you have to email them. I might be lucky. It’s so soon after. But I’m gutted. I know what people are like by email. A human version of computer says no. Did you not read the 27-page application guide? They reply soon after, to be fair to them:
- Thanks for your email. Unfortunately, we do not accept submissions after the deadline (emphasis added). We do advise applicants in our call documentation to allow plenty of time to submit your application.
No mention about submissions during the deadline.
Part 2 (version 2). A measured response.
So what actually went wrong? How in the nayme of Jaysus could I be so stupid? It took me a long time to work out what I did wrong, in what way I’m an eejit, and what the Irish Research Council could have done to make life easier for applicants.
The application process
- Applying for any research grant takes a lot of preparation. It’s much like a job application except you have to invent the work yourself and ask them for cash to keep you alive while you do the research. For many post-docs, they are jumping on board some kind of existing bandwagon. Some lecturer has been given a pile of cash and he needs three punters to do the work with/for him. In my case, it was a solo project where my plan was to disseminate my existing work and, meanwhile, upskill so that I can get a basically job in the supposably real world.`
- Either way, you have to align yourself with a lecturer who will act as your mentor, holding your hand while you learn to cross each new and complex path.
The mentor’s role is to help the postdoctoral fellow to navigate new and complex challenges
- Then you have to fill in the application, which involves a squillion obligatory sections that computers are so fond of. If you miss anything, the computer says no. That’s fair enough but they don’t exactly do everything they can to help you. Some cunts would just say that that’s just the way of the world, and it’s their way of getting rid of useless tossers like me. My view is that many of us struggle with the visual kaleidoscope that is a computer application and it would be nice if life was made easy for everyone. I will make my recommendation at the end and maybe this could be implemented next year (and anywhere else you think it might be of use).
- So anyway, the application has like ten overarching sections with another dozen subsections, whose difficulty ranges from ticking yes or no to writing a few hundred words about your hashtag milestones and deliverables. There’s were about twenty bits of writing relevant to me, with a cumulative maximum of almoqast ten thousand words. I don’t clone babies so I was spared a few paragraphs by writing N/A.
- There’s a whole language to learn and you need to deliver it in a form that is understood by punters way above you on the knowledge chain. Applications are always difficult because you are, by definition, out of your depth, and you don’t have control over your ideas. It’s easier to understand this by looking downwards. As a PhD, I think that PhD applications are mostly written by spas who haven’t a rashers. And Masters students can’t believe what gets a pass among undergrads, who in turn can’t understand why the Leaving Cert was so stressful. It’s always tuppence ha’penny looking down on tuppence.
- Yeah there’s the cream of the crop who will always make the step up to the next level. Some cunts transition easily to the higher tempo of the international game (we’re looking at you, James Ryan) while others don’t (that’d be you, Darren Cave,).
Doing the application
- So I only find out last Friday that I’m eligible for the job cos I happened to be on the IRC website, looking for funding to a different scheme. Buried inside brackets was something like ‘students wishing to pursue a one-year fellowship may be exempted from the requirement to change their Higher Level Instutution’. Which, in local English, means that you can stall the ball after your PhD and take a year to get your shit ready for the afterlife slash workforce.
- Suddenly I had a necessary aim in life beyond the relentlessness of parenthood and teaching. I had a reason to get out of bed before 7am and avoid Watchseries after 9pm. There doesn’t be much rest in my life but coffee and determination will get you through a few days of borrowed time.
- And what did I do for the first three days? Positive procrastion, as regular readers will be aware. I got the laundry done and the garage tidied and I started this blog. I paired all my socks and sparklified the kitchen. Why did I do all that? Is it because I’m a lazy cunt?
- Yes and no.
- It’s because my body needed to do it. It wasn’t going to take on a longer to-do list before outstanding problems were solved. So I’m going ninety at the housework and podcasts. That’s how I relax. The Demented Mole talking about the All Blacks’ turbo-limitations and Joe Rogan and Eric Weinstein having a love-in about Jordan Peterson.
- The physicality of housework counterbalances my inherent restlessness. Computers, on the other hand, give me a headache. That’s life with Irlen syndrome. I have to prepare my body before I go into battle. You know those older players who have to do their own stretches? I’m that guy.
- But realistically, I did fock all before Tuesday evening when I had a Godsend. I got an email package with an explanation of how to fill in the form. It explains the difference between your aims and your objectives, your milestones and deliverables. It’s like having a coach there to walk you through the detail.
- Suddenly I’ve got everything I need. I know exactly what I want to research. Now I’ve a PDF to hold my hand through the process. Plus the IRC have given me their 27 page guidelines and that in turn has a link to a 22-page document explaining what skills researchers ought to have, and five likely steps of development over a few dozen categories. This yoke is invaluable because I finally know what I don’t know. I am explicitly aware of how little I know about ethics and mentorship, and that my Academic Numeracy, a new term, hasn’t developed since I was an undergrad. Meanwhile my impact is what you’d expect from someone at my stage, and my subject knowledge is actually world leading.
- Yes, that’s a lot to digest, but I’m ready for battle.
- All I have to do now was map my existing knowledge onto their guidelines. Boomshackalack. Dunzo City, Detroit. There’s 46 hours to the deadline, 28 of which I would occupied for, leaving 18 hours to write, eat, travel and sleep twice.
- Not a huge amount but potentially doable and maybe I can steal back a couple of the 28 hours.
- So I’m hard at it on Tuesday night and again at 5am on Wednesday. I’m writing on the bus and in between class, and I’m brainstorming while I’m teaching. I’m in ultra mode and it’s all coming together.
- Then on Wednesday night I derail. I’m writing goodo after the baby goes down but at 1130, I’m looking at my list, and I realise I haven’t a hope. I give up. I lie down in bed. I’m too wired to sleep but it feels good to stop, even though the guilt is killing me. What an opportunity. Thirty grand to do what I want to do. But I can’t. It’s just too much.
- And then it hits me. I’m trying to do too much. I need to drop the outreach part of my plan and focus on what I can do, not what I’d like to be able to do. I can lash all of the teacher-training shite into my hashtag career progression plan and focus on spelling, spelling, spelling. Words, worths, words. Puns poems puns.
- I go to sleep with the aid of an audiobook and I’m back up again at 5. The baby only wakes up once. Standard issue.
- In the morning, my focus is renewed. I’m smashing it. I’m clarifying the difference between what my aims are and how I will achieve my objectives. I’m outlining my 2-5 year research plan, while sitting on the steps of the bus into town. I’m writing a heartfelt personal statement explaining my journey from mercurial alco to being able to get the best from myself. What my next steps are to finally catch up with the rest of the world. I’ve even had a paid job for six continuous months now and that’s a personal best.
- Next, I’m sitting in the canteen of a big Tech Company at 922, eating cut-price porridge and explaining the investigative methods I’ve invented, all while the liaison dude is waiting to bring me up teach English to a load of Japanese engineers, inter alia.
- I’m back in that café at 11, and I’ve got like three minutes to plan each section and seven minutes to write it. This is going to happen.
- I’m on a DublinBike yapping to my mentor about the last couple of deets I need from him by email. I’m in class at 145 and luckily I’ve prepped a keepthembusy task for the ninety minutes. The wifi is randomly down but one of the students kindly hotspots me onto the web. Thank you. They are sound about it and probably glad to have a quiet class for a change.
- I’m alternating between intense bursts of writing and the last of the boxticking. My to-do list is numbered for maximal efficiency.
- It’s 345 and I’m good to go. I know there will be a problem so I’ve given myself a bit of time.
- Oh bollocks. The entirety of Section 8 is blank. I haven’t written in my list of publications and explained their impact. So I’m banging on about how one of my papers had a load of views on Academia.edu and I’m thinking, this shit is essential.
- And now it’s 359 and I’m ready to submit. There is no margin for error. It has to go right.
Part 3 Learnings / Lessons
So how did I miss a whole section? Well, I made a to-do list and checked it twiice. I’m a pen-and-paper man so I need shit to be listed in front of me. Unfortunately, I didn’t doublecheck the making of the to-do list. Now, did you hear that, Santa Claus? You don’t just make a list and check it twice. You have to make your list and doublecheck that you have included everything on your list. And then you can begin to wrap those boxes and load your sack.
The old school approach is to say that this kind of experience will teach you a lesson. Nowadays, it’s all about the learnings. What have I learnt? What can we all learn from one man’s idiocy? Well I know exactly what I want to do now, so that’s a very good thing. So I’ll apply for post-docs elsewhere and probably I’ll either be on the boat to Holyhead or, like, a plane to Bahrain. I’ve also worked out how do bursts of work around my current skej, so that’s good. And, most of all, I’ve plucked up the courage to exist. I’ll be writing plenty more here about my attempts to forge a career for myself. I will even start a Patreon pledge if people are willing to subscribe. Do let me know.
Nonethenevertheless, it took me a long time to work out what I did wrong. When trying to understand the modern world, I like to bounce ideas off my dad, who is from a different era. He loves reading about Hitler and the lads cos he remembers them well. But you can’t tell him that your failure to register online for the ORCID network caused the computer to refuse your application. You have to tell him in a way he can understand. I was like, imagine a GAA match where the kit man gives the list of players to the referee before the match. And then the opposition’s busybody kitman spots that you haven’t been registered with your club. So you leg it over to the Club Secretary to stick your name down and, agin you get back, the game has started. No one gives a fuck because it’s a Possibles v Probables match and there’s a whackload of subs to take your place.
And my dad is like, “why hadn’t you registered”. And I’m like, it wasn’t really a GAA match, it was more like playing a new sport (maybe International Rules?) so you had to get a load of new and semi-familiar things ready. I only found out late that I could apply so I legged it to the shops to get my sleeveless jersey and special socks. And then in the changing rooms I realised I had no shorts so I had to leg it back to the shops and buy some shiny new shorts. And he’s like “but why didn’t you just have a pair of old shorts with you, just in case?”
And that was it. That was my mistake. I should have filled in the entire application form badly before trying to do it well. That way the computer wouldn’t say no and the funders might say yes. But now I’m not in and I can’t win..
Application forms are designed for the people who read them and for the computers which process them. That makes sense because their needs must be met, but there is no reason why the IRC couldn’t make things easier for applicants, and this is what I suggest. It would be applicable to all online applications.
- “The Alarm Indicator panel M4700 is intended for status indication of any process providing on/off outputs.” This is the simplest kind of visual system for letting you whether whether stuff is dunzo or not. Obviously, we would need one with loads more lights. Sailors can purchase them here here.
There should be a visible map of all the sections which shows you what you have and haven’t filled in. Green dots would indicate completed sections and red would be incomplete. This is how security guards know which alarms are set and which aren’t. Their maps identify problems and tell them whether there are any problems. They aren’t expected to run around and double-check every single room of every single building. That is what is expected of applicants. We are required to check if every item is filled in, one by one. Essentially, we are being asked to use analogue methods to fill in digital forms.
Some people are perfectly good at this. I’m not. I’ve got visual-processing problem and navigating computers hurts my brain. I’m not making any excuses for myself. I just tend to notice problems that others don’t.
You might argue that the pernickity application form weeds out the meticulous people from the sloppy. And yes, that is true. But needlessly difficult systems also deter high-quality candidates from further afield who might otherwise have applied. Making the system more inclusive would surely improve the overall quality of the candidates. I don’t know how I would compare to the other applicants, and neither do you.
5. Deleted scenes
- From fecklessness to perfectionism: a brief analysis of why people are late,
- “My Japanese student’s don’t know their R’s from their L’s, though.”
- Always welcome.
- a2dez.com at gmail dot com (to be updated soon!)
- Any thoughts on the bulletpoints?