Reflections on a SSHRC Application

Rebecca Pearce is a PhD student in Educational Studies - Mathematics / Science Option

I just submitted my first SSHRC application to the Department of Integrated Studies in Education here at McGill. Sitting with a celebratory beer in my hand, I want to reflect back on the process before, like with the blissful amnesia that creeps in after childbirth, I forget the horror and start to romanticize the experience. I was told by multiple people how long and difficult the process would be. It’s certainly not the most awful thing I’ve ever experienced – a perforated appendix a couple of years ago tops that list – but it’s certainly up there. As anyone who has applied for this grant knows, the ordering of official transcripts, filling in the multi-page online application form, tracking down two good referees for the letters of appraisal, listing five pages of bibliographic references in perfect APA format as well as your research contributions, all due right at the beginning of the school year, are all time-consuming and tedious but manageable. It’s the dreaded ‘Program of Study’ (or research proposal) that makes you want to throw your hands in the air and run screaming from your computer.

There is a phenomenon in psychology called the Spotlight Effect where people think they are noticed by others more than they actually are. All of us have experienced this; the reality is that everyone else is so focused on their own lives that they don’t have time to dwell on yours. In writing my SSHRC Program of Study I experienced a version of the Spotlight Effect in two different ways. First, whenever I received some often blunt but incredibly on-target feedback from the education faculty members who were kind enough to read my Program of Study, I desperately, cringingly hoped they weren’t talking amongst themselves about how awful it was. Second, I couldn’t understand why EVERYONE wasn’t thinking about my proposal as much as I was. I would add a new version to Dropbox, eagerly email my amazing and eternally patient supervisors to let them know about the *spectacular* new piece of writing awaiting them, then systematically check my email every 30 minutes for their comments. I had to constantly remind myself that they have teaching and research of their own, meetings to attend, colleagues to interact with, and lives outside of work. My SSHRC was not at the tippy-top of their priority list.

Finally, one of the most interesting things about writing a SSHRC Program of Study is the number of metaphors that are employed to describe the process. Most of these are actually pretty useful in helping to visualize the process. Your proposal needs to tell a story, and it should lead the reader down a clear path. The first drafts are like a leaky boat, and the holes need to be plugged. I liken the process to the doomed orbit of the Cassini space probe. With every looping flyby of Saturn, Cassini came closer and closer to being crushed by the planet’s atmosphere. With every iteration of my Program of Study, I feel like I was getting closer and closer to - excellence? Clarity? Competence? Whether I am crushed by the SSHRC committee remains to be seen….

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