What an Internal Start-up Research Fund Means to a Junior Academic

Baby steps to growth and yield (Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)

I found that I seldom updated this blog as a linguist or researcher. These days I’ve been more keen on sharing language and writing skills in the disguise of linguistics or Legitimation Code Theory. Life as a full-time teaching staff, however, has pushed me to focusing on the here-and-now — classes, admin, emails, meeting… you name it. The theres-and-thens like writing this blog or making tutorial videos got shovelled aside.

Excuses. Excuses.

What about writing a bit about research? Recently I’ve finally got my status as a research academic, or “Lane B” staff as my College calls us. Compared to Lane A staff who seek excellence in teaching and educational leadership, we focus on undertaking research, writing journal articles and grant proposals aside from teaching.

It’s just like what the tenure-track APs have to do in the first three years — maximising our potentials for obtaining funds by sending out a number of research proposals every year.

My research interests mainly lie on academic writing, literacy pedagogy, and metaphor. These are some of the most popular and significant topics to explore in a linguist’s career, meaning they have lots of potential for meaningful literacy projects.

Yet, it also means looking for funds can be challenging, when the fields have been well-trodden and researched. More time is needed for looking for that gap, new meaning and impact, be it a theoretical, methodological or practical one.

When it’s difficult to look outward, we start looking inward: we all need somewhere to start from. Abandoning my addiction for perfection (procrastination), I submitted a proposal for an internal startup fund, and succeeded.

I would have paid all my attention to apply for big grants, but I love taking baby steps. Junior academics, or research-active teachers, should really consider applying for small funds to support their projects. I can think of a few reasons aside from sense of achievement.

It is a career milestone.

It was a small amount, but a fund is a fund. It means so much to me: it’s my first academic “solo” project, in which I can take control of everything, from when to start the analysis, have the RA aboard, what deliverables to produce… there are all within my control.

As a new research staff in a teaching institution, it’s an exciting start that gives me a new perspective, not just a job post, but to look at my career as an academic. I can always do more for myself, my students and my school. I can better reflect on what I teach and research, how my observations can help students better, and how these can add value to the place I’m in.

Aside from my status that allows me to teach less for research activities, the fund also allows me to find someone to help, freeing up my time for writing. Of course I still have to collect and analyze data, but with a research personnel I can share my workload.

This startup project is also a stepping stone for a larger-scale study.

The startup project better puts my PhD and my current work into perspective. My PhD study was messy but I can reorganize it now, with more data and more analytical points to consider, to come up with a proposal that seeks a bigger fund.

The proposal will include this as a pilot study, as a proof to the panel the elaborated project will be feasible and productive. This piece of evidence is important, when one gets asked about their relevant experience. It adds value to the project with a strong team and track record.

This is with great anticipation that with more studies, there will be more deliverables (i.e. papers) coming up. They are a must in our world, although they aren’t everything. Still, beefing up the CV with a few solid things helps us survive and better.

The fund is an encouragement.

Internal startup funds are relatively easier to apply than government-backed grants, although the process is similar. One builds her/his resilience during the process, especially when going through the admin: the forms to fill, the budget to plan, the team to build… you are (not) on your own.

You are because it’s your own project; you aren’t because the management, the colleagues and the admin are with you, guiding your through the whole thing.

Knowing that I’m dedicated, the support from the School is adequate. The internal vetting procedures are constructive; the management takes the time to give comments; the College organize seminars with colleagues sharing their experience.

The startup therefore serves as a token of acknowledgement and encouragement, motivating me to get off my butt and start working. It is true — December and January are the best months to work on any started research — now I have to finish two or three articles within this period.

Wish me bonne chance or good energy.

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