Postdoc research proposal example
May 31, 2018
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How to get a postdoc
Shami Ghosh, last updated June 2016
It’s late in the fall; you’re a bright if no-longer so young grad student completing a dissertation on some suitably obscure topic in medieval studies, and you’re thinking about how you’re going to get food on the table next year. H-Net lists a bunch of jobs, all either highly unattractive or über-prestigious; the only option seems to be the slave market. But wait: don’t you know someone who got a postdoc somewhere? Two years (or more) of research, no teaching (or very little): that sounds like a sweet deal. I want to get me one of those, you think, and you start looking around. Well, if you’ve just landed on this website as a result, without ever before having given any thought or effort to planning for the postdoc, let me tell you one thing to start with: you’re almost certainly doing this too late. Unlike in the sciences, there aren’t too many postdocs in the humanities (though there are more than most people seem to be aware of); and—again unlike in the sciences—humanities postdocs have strict deadlines, the ones in North America tend to be based on specific themes (more on this below), and generally the granting organisations do not give postdocs to people who submit a research proposal that isn’t substantially different from the dissertation. Be aware also that postdocs don’t always go to the best scholars: being good, but insufficiently ambitious (and thus not having thought enough about your marketability), can be a hindrance. I was very lucky: over two years, I applied for twenty-seven (yes, 27; I admit, that might be a tad extreme…), and I got two. But it took me literally months to do the research on these things, and months to put together all the applications. And I know several people who are as good or better scholars, but didn’t get a postdoc: insufficient planning, insufficient ambition, insufficient arrogance, or a combination of those three qualities. It’s sad, but true: these days, the ‘slow food’ approach to scholarship probably won’t get you anywhere (beyond good scholarship and, perhaps, some wisdom); a good sales pitch will (at least to some extent), though it will also have to be backed up by good scholarship.
Since I collected a large amount of information on the process, and since from chatting with people I’ve got the impression that many simply don’t know where to begin, I’ve put together a bunch of tips; I have also made liberal use of Linda Hutcheon’s excellent webpages, available here; let me stress that her pages are an extremely useful resource for you, even if you do nothing remotely related to comp lit or English—they don’t have that much on postdocs, but you will eventually want to apply for a job, and these pages walk you through the process in a very helpful manner.
If you’re not interested in my advice, just scroll down to the last section of this page, and you’ll find more links to various sources of information and places that offer postdocs (I’ve listed over forty-five postdocs plus those offered by the Oxbridge colleges); to begin with, if Canadian or a permanent resident of Canada, you should know about the SSHRC postdoc and the Banting Fellowships; for Oxbridge, go here and here; for Mellons (some), and other listings of potential opportunities, look at Hutcheon’s page on postdocs here, and the site provided by Berkeley; and also look at the general job listings sites: H-Net’s job guide; jobs.ac.uk. Do remember that things change, including URLs, and postdocs that exist now may not do so later; I try and update this site periodically with new information, but I don’t and can’t check each time that all the links are still working. (Note that though the current page is written by a medievalist from the University of Toronto, it is intended to be useful for medievalists from elsewhere too, and the advice will hopefully be helpful for those in other fields of the humanities as well; almost all the postdocs listed are for all humanities fields. Note, however, that I have not listed postdocs restricted to fields in such a way that medievalists cannot apply.)
Apart from Hutcheon’s website, much of the advice on this page stems not just from my own research, but also from various workshops put on for early career researchers at different institutions, and most importantly, conversations with others, both my peers and my teachers, of whom I would especially like to thank Andy Orchard and Lawrin Armstrong; without Andy’s advice in particular, I would never have had much of a chance at anything, and if there is any wisdom in the following paragraphs, it is owed to him (though obviously I alone am responsible for the content of this site; don’t blame anyone else if I depress you or lead you astray).
1. Plan ahead—WAY ahead
The worst thing you can do in this game is leave it till you’re almost graduating. Unless you’re absolutely brilliant at putting together outstanding applications for things very fast and have very understanding referees who are equally brilliant at putting together their letters very fast (and still writing good letters), you should start working on your postdoc applications at least 15 months before you would take up the post; 18 months would be better. There are many reasons for this:
– The deadlines for the SSHRC, most Mellons, and most of the Oxbridge postdocs, fall between August and the beginning of December, for a position starting between July and September the following year; almost all the deadlines will be before the end of December.
– Almost invariably, you need a solid research proposal that is different from what you did for your dissertation; unless you already have a portfolio of abandoned projects filed for future reference, you’ll need to take some time to come up with a good proposal.
– For Mellons, and some other postdocs, you will need to provide outlines of courses you can teach and some sort of teaching portfolio. Your years of teaching experience might make this seem easy, but in some cases you will be expected to teach courses that you have not defined, and might include material far outside your field; and you will also be expected to design new courses from scratch. In such cases, you will be judged at least partly on the basis of how much thought you’ve put into preparing your teaching statement to cater to what you will have to do at that specific institution.
– You may not know what sort of research proposal you need to put together, and what theme you might have to try and speak to (more on this below) until you’ve seen the adverts; you need to give yourself time to scour the websites and get familiar with the sort of things that are out there, so that you also have time to tweak your proposal so that it fits with the institution or theme.
– Since it’s something new, you need to give your referees time to read your proposal and tailor their letters accordingly.
– In the case of the SSHRC, and a number of other fellowships, you need a ‘host’ to write a letter from the institution where you want to hold the postdoc; you will need some time to get in touch with and introduce yourself to your prospective host, and you need to give them some time to familiarise themselves with your past work and plans for the future—since their letter is often the crucial factor, do not delay this too long.
– Putting together all the stuff takes time and energy; if you’re simultaneously in the middle of writing the last chapters of your dissertation, you will have very little of either.
– There is an increasing trend to moving all aspects of the applications online, and unfortunately computer systems don’t always work too well. For one of the fellowships I applied to (for which I needed to arrange for five references), I had several days of three-way correspondence between tech support, myself, and a referee; my referee finally had to email the letter to tech support and get them to input it. If you’re doing all this at the last minute, it might just not get done—and even if it does, the amount of stress is just not worth it.
These are all good reasons to start workingon your postdoc applications eighteen months in advance; you’ll have enough time to put together a couple of draft proposals, consult with your referees, and thus be prepared to put things together faster when the adverts start coming out. But if you’re really serious about getting a postdoc, you need to start planning for them from even earlier, to make sure that when you start putting together the applications, you stand a chance. This is because:
– Postdocs are ridiculously competitive, and most often you’re competing with people from all kinds of fields, not just your own (more on all this below)—so you need to make sure you have at least one publication. In other words, if you’re getting hassled in year three by your looming major field exam, and you decide that, well, even though Prof. X was full of praise for that paper you wrote and has been encouraging you to revise it for publication, you don’t feel you have the three months you need to do a good job, so you’ll just let it wait till later and focus on the exam and the dissertation for now—well, this decision will probably do a lot to help you preserve your sanity, your health, your relationship, your temper, your sense of humour, your hair; but it will certainly not help you get that postdoc. It’s a sad fact, but very true: ambition often reaps greater rewards than quality (or happiness and sufficient sleep), and while it may not be the best (or healthiest) scholars who get postdocs, it generally is the most ambitious ones.
– Postdocs are ridiculously competitive (I have said it twice; but I don’t mean to discourage you). It might sound odd, given that a tenure-track job is a much bigger investment for a university, but it’s not that odd if you think about it: to begin with, major (or even middle-rank) research universities rarely hire anyone right out of a PhD. So those jobs, which are certainly really hard to get, are probably not on your radar screen anyway. Secondly, a job is invariably advertised for a particular field; you will be competing against others in your own field. There are, of course, differences between an advertisement for a medieval historian of Europe specialising in the period 800–1200, placed by a large history department that already has four medieval historians, and one from the humanities programme of a liberal arts college seeking someone teaching English literature before Shakespeare, or pre-1700 European history, or ‘medieval studies’. But even in the latter cases, you will be competing against either scholars of medieval English literature like yourself, or scholars of European history before 1700, or at least medievalists of some sort; it is unlikely that the field of applicants will be significantly over about 150 if that. And while European history before 1700 covers a large period, a good deal of it is the middle ages, and even if you are a Merovingianist, you know already that you have to be able to teach the fifteenth century; even if you’re a hardcore Anglo-Saxonist, you can surely manage some Chaucer; and whatever your field, as a medievalist you should be able to teach general stuff on ‘medieval civilisation’. A postdoc, on the other hand, will typically be in the humanities, or liberal arts; some Oxbridge postdocs are more specific, but even the most specialised of those will almost invariably be something like ‘art history’, or ‘British history’, or ‘modern languages’. These are, however, still very broad categories, with a much wider range of potential competition than you would get for most jobs, and hey, it’s Oxbridge, that’s crazily competitive anyway (about ninety per cent of the Oxbridge fellowships go to people with some Oxbridge background, even if it’s an undergraduate degree). The Mellon postdocs at Yale and Columbia, which are not limited by themes, regularly get 900+ applications for one to three fellowships; even the Oxbridge postdocs that are somewhat restricted by field will receive easily 200+ applications for one fellowship. So you’re competing against a broad range of people in all kinds of humanities subjects, many of which will often sound a lot more ‘relevant’ than anything medieval.
– Postdocs are ridiculously competitive (I have said it thrice; what I tell you three times is true). Certainly, they’re way harder than the more normal first step: the slave market of sessional lecturing. Typically, if you don’t get a postdoc, you will start with a contract job for a year or two, move to a tenure-track job at a place you might not particularly want to be at, and thence to the university of your dreams (or at least one where you might not mind spending the rest of your life). Some people will be lucky enough to skip the first step, but if you want a job at a major or even mid-level research university, unless your cv looks good enough for a postdoc anyway, you’re extremely unlikely to get the job you’ll (want to) stay in for a long time. It makes sense, if you like research and want to aim for a plum job later on, to try and get a postdoc; but given the competitiveness, if you really want one of these, you have to plan way ahead to make sure you’ve got a decent chance. That means, returning to my earlier point, getting some publications. The likelihood of getting a fellowship without at least one publication is very slim indeed, probably non-existent; the chance of getting one without at least some good conference presentations is certainly non-existent (unless you have a very heavy-weight patron backing you). And by ‘good conference presentation’, I do not mean the zoo: Kalamazoo doesn’t quite count for nothing, but it’s pretty close. You don’t need to aim for a paper in Anglo-Saxon England or Past and Present or Speculum; just a solid publication or two in a solid journal (not one devoted solely to graduate student papers) will (hopefully) do the trick. How to do this? Well, I can’t go into all of that right now—how to get published is a topic that deserves a page of its own, which Linda Hutcheon has once again provided here—but to begin with, you need to know the literature in your field well enough to know if what you’ve written is worth revising for publication; then you need to make sure you get advice from as many other knowledgeable people—professors and peers—as you can, about your paper, about how you can make it the best paper possible, and about where you can place it; and then you need to work your ass off to try and get it accepted. And if it’s not accepted with the first try, don’t give up: use the reviewers’ reports, think hard (but not too long), revise, and resubmit. But remember: it’s the hard work and ambition that will count here, not the fact that you’re able to have a life.
All of this sounds like a lot of work, eh? IT IS! But whoever said you’d actually have a life once you got into grad school? If you lose your mind during this whole process, don’t worry: given that you’ve chosen to be a professional medievalist (a medievalist for God’s sake!), you can’t be all that sane anyway. So: start thinking about career options, including postdocs, as soon as you advance to candidacy, if not earlier. See, in this context, the advice on Linda Hutcheon’s job search page: she suggests that you should start thinking about things, submitting papers, and going to conferences, two years before you complete; but given that jobs are often advertised as late as six months before start of tenure, and often do not require a detailed proposal for the next project, whereas postdocs both require such a proposal, and also are often advertised as much as a year before start of tenure, start planning for the postdoc three years before you want to start it! Adapting Hutcheon’s timeline, three years before when you plan to complete your PhD, you should probably begin a little folder in which you store ideas for potential future projects, seminar papers that could be revised for publication (with some notes on what sort of revision they would need), names and locations of potential postdoc supervisors, places where your sort of research is likely to be supported. No later than two years before completion, you should really start submitting stuff for publication (so that you have a chance of being able to say ‘forthcoming’ by the time you apply), and you should also, as you gear up to writing the dissertation, begin to think of the bits that can’t or won’t go into it, but could be suitable follow-up projects and could be worked into a postdoc research proposal. You should also think carefully about the potential possibilities of papers you’ve written that would take a year to revise for publication, and might lead to additional spin-offs: not the sort of thing you want to do while working on a dissertation, but potentially great for a postdoc and a postdoc proposal. Yes, it’s all a lot of work, and it’s all very stressful, and the chances are not that great anyway; let me add, though, that as with publications, don’t give up if you don’t get one on the first try: apart from Oxbridge, you’re generally eligible to apply for these things within two to five years of completing the PhD, so try again next year if it didn’t work this time.
2. Marketing strategy
Let’s face it: you’re a medievalist; you’re not sexy. No, I don’t mean you personally; I mean the research you do. After all, when you’re competing for a fellowship and you have as competition the heavy from Cambridge with the proposal on ‘Postcolonial parallels: political pragmatism in post-cold war pseudo-pornographic prose’, and the bright young thing from Columbia who wants to work on ‘Slums, subalternity and the sublime: social exclusion and religious sites of resistance in Rio and Santiago’, do you really have a chance with a Toronto PhD and a proposal titled: ‘The Old English glosses and marginalia in Cambridge, Corpus Christi Add. Ms. 42: an edition and commentary’ (and it’s not just the lack of alliteration that could make this one sound more boring)? This lack of sexiness is yet another reason why it is crucially important for you to look impressive in terms of publications and make sure you get outstanding references—but you should also try and jazz up the research proposal a little bit. Don’t bullshit too much: you’ll get found out. But try and make yourself accessible, and interesting, to people who know squat about what you do, and really couldn’t care less. So, for example, you might find it expedient to talk less about the lengths of ascenders and descenders and the open-topped ‘a’ as means of identifying which sections of the afore-mentioned glosses were written by the scribe Earconbert, and which by the hitherto anonymous scribe who you suspect might be the monk Ecgfrith (and restrain your excitement at the possibility that this would mean you have identified a second work written by said Ecgfrith, who is thought to be known otherwise only as the putative composer of that strange and mysterious poem with the incipit Whan Cnut Cyng the Witan Wold enfeoff); perhaps the mysteries of the possibly missing quire shouldn’t get too much press (though you’re probably right that it might—or might not—have contained a lost vernacular saga about Hengest, the knowledge of which would completely change our understanding of many things, or perhaps only of Gildas); and you might also want to tone down the exhilaration you justifiably feel about how these marginalia provide a whole new way of thinking about the dating of Easter in England c. 700. (And of course, the significance of the shelf mark of your manuscript should be left aside for lighter moments at the interview.) These are all important things, I know, and should be mentioned at some point; but you might want let your mind play with keywords like ‘cultural translation’; ‘the multi-ethnic/multi-cultural middle ages’; ‘religious conflict and political order’; and use what comes out of reflection on these themes. Your audience might find it a tad easier to relate to you if you do so… (Before the Anglo-Saxonists start getting offended, let me point out that one of my proposals had the following title: ‘A commentary on book IX of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival’; I make no claims to sexiness of any sort for myself, and I’m taking aim at the OE crowd only because, well, there are just so many of you here that you make an all too obvious target. And before any of my readers who are not medievalists start feeling too smug: do remember, my dear modernists, that in the larger scheme of things, you too are insignificant: your research is not going to make oodles of profits for anyone, so you don’t really matter either, however much you might like to think you do.)
A little bit of tweaking can be especially useful, even absolutely necessary, when you apply for a themed fellowship. Many of the Mellon fellowships have a single theme for the year; let’s say, the theme is something like ‘Performance and spectacle’. Now, you work on medieval English aristocrats, not passion plays. But can’t you come up with something plausible on ‘The performance of politics at the Plantagenet court’ with or without a subtitle: ‘A Bakhtinian approach’? You may not really need to talk that much about performance when you get down to your research; but you need to try and find a way to make what you do somehow appealing to a broad group of people who will be able to link it, somehow, to what they do. To give another example: the theme at Cornell some years ago was ‘Networks/Mobilities’. Isn’t there some way in which you can fit in Ecgfrith’s glosses and marginalia into the concept of ideas moving around in cultural networks in early medieval Europe? Weren’t there some important churchmen around in Old England who came from exotic southern locales and knew some Greek (and possibly brought, along with southern ideas about the dating of Easter to the Celtic Church, a taste for fine southern wines and olive oil to the lard-eating, beer-drinking bearded barbarians of the north)? Even if none of this is really going to be the focus of your work (after all, there are those open-topped ‘a’s to attend to; and Ecgfrith probably preferred ale—or mead?—anyway, Theodore’s influence notwithstanding), you could highlight this aspect of your manuscript in your proposal, showing how it is evidence of a trans-European cultural network in early medieval England. In fact, it’s not hard to think of a way for many medieval topics to relate to networks and mobility: people travelled, ideas moved, Irish monks ended up in Italy, vikings sailed down the Volga, Dutch farmers ate Polish grain. Latin, after all, was not the native language of Icelanders: there’s got to be some sort of tie-in with networks and mobility right there. In other words, although there isn’t always a way to fit your interests to the theme, but often enough, it is indeed possible with a little bit of creativity and thought: so don’t give up the moment you see the theme for the year you graduate.
The need to tweak exists not just for themed fellowships: in all cases, your application will be read by a committee, on which it is not bloody likely (unless it’s Oxford or Cambridge, where the colleges normally do have an external ‘expert’ appraiser) that there will be anyone who knows the first thing about your subject. If your fellowship is granted by a large funding agency like SSHRC, they need to feel that what you’re doing is ‘important’; if you’re going to be in residence at a humanities centre, which is where a lot of North American postdocs are, the people there need to feel that you will be able to talk to the other fellows, who will be doing very different things indeed. And if you’re trying Oxford or Cambridge, your interviewers need to feel that you’re appropriate for the college you’re applying to, which means you should be seen as able to talk to the other fellows of the college without putting them to sleep—or falling asleep when they try and talk to you; and being the UK, they’re probably also going to want to feel that you will produce ‘output’ with ‘impact’. So take some time to look into all the details of the fellowship, who the other fellows are if it’s an institute with longer-term fellows, or a college with particular strengths; and think about how best you can make yourself sound like you’d fit well—while still being you. Obviously, if you’re doing this for a whole bunch of applications, it’s quite a headache and it takes time—and you have to remember, and you have to make sure to remind your referees also, what spin exactly you’re using for each different application.
Ideally, your proposal will be essentially genuine and you, with only some amount of window-dressing; make sure you get advice from someone who knows your field, and preferably someone who is very good at coaxing cash out of funding agencies; only such a person will be able to judge the delicate question as to when the proportion of bullshit to real stuff is too much or too little.
3. So where are these things anyway?
All over the place, and I don’t claim to provide a comprehensive list. Generally useful sites that you should know: H-Net’s job guide; jobs.ac.uk; the Oxford Gazette; and the Cambridge Reporter. (The Academic Jobs Wiki is also a useful, if often depressing, resource; I’d recommend avoiding it as much as possible.) All do also publish info on postdocs; Oxbridge postdocs start getting advertised in August, and the Gazette and Reporter are published weekly, so keep checking for updates. Postdocs are not in the advertisements section of the Gazette; they’re under ‘appointments’. It’s not a bad idea, additionally, to subscribe to the relevant H-Net mailing lists for your field; they often post jobs outside North America that are not listed on the H-Net job guide. If you do languages, you will also want to look at the MLA job lists (I believe your department needs to subscribe to this); and if you’re a Latinist, you might want to contact someone in Classics to see if they can help you find resources (Classics departments do occasionally hire medievalists). Note that I haven’t given any information about postdocs outside North America and Europe, since these are the continents where most of the research on medieval Europe is conducted; if you do something interdisciplinary or having to do with non-European regions (for example, European colonies in sixteenth-century; the crusades; Marco Polo), you might well find opportunities in the relevant countries outside Europe and North America. You might, in addition, want to look at Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, as places where there are scholars active in studying European history; this is particularly the case for Australia, where the University of Sydney has a good Centre for Medieval Studies. Furthermore, it might be useful to search outside what you think of as your main field (e.g. medieval studies, history, a particular language), and look at major departments in cognate fields; sometimes the fellowships come in unlikely places (so, for example, economic historians can find fellowships in economics departments, even in cases where those departments have no one working on the middle ages; art historians might find money in a design school; and don’t forget places like MIT and Caltech, both of which have good humanities departments and lots of money).
I’m afraid that while I do periodically update the site with information about postdocs that I did not earlier know about, I do not have the time to check every link and all the information about salaries and length of tenure and so on, so please do bear in mind that what is given below is a guideline only. All salaries given below were accurate at the time I first compiled this website (2008/9), and in the respective local currency; these things do change, as do the urls for the websites, so even if the links are dead, use google: the postdocs will probably still be there. DEADLINES CHANGE! The dates here are from when I last checked, but only as a general guideline; I do not have the time to update all of these details regularly. So do check the websites well before the dates I’ve given here. Some have online applications only; some have paper applications only; some accept either. And once more, the application procedures do change: use the stuff below as a general guide, not as gospel truth. Note that the information below is only for long-term fellowships of one year or more. There are, in addition, many short-term research grants you can get for anything from a month to a year (many at major research libraries in North America and elsewhere with prominent medieval collections, such as the Beinecke Library at Yale, which also occasionally has long-term fellowships, or the Newberry Library in Chicago), some of which you will be able to find from the links below; I have, however, made no attempt to give details on these in any systematic fashion.
I know nothing about US government funding (generally available only to US citizens), so I have no info on that here; try the links on Hutcheon’s site. There is also (at present, anyway) a list of postdoctoral fellowships available, primarily but not only in North America, on Berkeley’s website.
For Canadians or Canadian permanent residents, SSHRC offers postdoctoral fellowships of up to two years, currently $38,000 per year with a research allowance of up to $5,000. You do need to get letters from a ‘supervisor’ at your host institution, as well as from the department chair there, and two other referees. The deadline is currently mid-October; everything has to be done online (this includes references: warn the more old-fashioned or Luddite profs you’re going to ask well in advance). These may be held in Canada or abroad; if you have a PhD from outside Canada, the SSHRC postdoc is tenable only in Canada. You are eligible for three years after completing the PhD.
SSHRC has now also introduced the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships programme; this gives you $70,000 per year for two years, and you require your host institution to be fully committed to your research programme. These will not normally be granted for tenure at the same university where you completed your doctorate; Canadians as well as non-Canadians may apply, within three years of completing the PhD, to start the fellowship within four years of completing the PhD. Non-Canadians and Canadians who completed their doctoral work outside Canada must hold their fellowships at Canadian universities; Canadians who completed a doctorate at a Canadian university may hold a fellowship abroad, though the number of fellowships to be given for tenure outside Canada is to be restricted.
Four Canadian universities offer Izaak Walton Memorial Killam Postdoctoral Fellowships. These are currently worth $46,000 per year plus a research allowance of $4,000 to $6,000; they are tenable for two years and must commence within two years of completing a PhD, and offered in any discipline (sciences included). The institutions are the University of Alberta; UBC; the University of Calgary; and Dalhousie University. At all of them, you do need to identify a faculty ‘supervisor’ beforehand. Deadlines vary between universities, but are generally late November or December.
Also in Canada:
PIMS offers a Mellon postdoc, tenable normally for one year; no local supervisor is required, and the fellowship pays $35,000 per year. The deadline is currently the 1st of March.
McGill offers a Mellon postdoc in the humanities, tenable for one year, but normally renewable for a second; you will need to find a sponsor in the humanities department you wish to work in. This currently pays $45,000 per year, plus a $8,500 research allowance. McGill also offers a Tomlinson postdoctoral fellowship in the Humanities, again renewable for a second year; no sponsor is required, and the fellowship pays $30,000 per year. For the Mellon, this year’s deadline was the 23rd of November; for the Tomlinson, it was the 3rd of November. You are generally required to teach one full course per year.
For any readers of this page who did not do a PhD at the University of Toronto, the Jackman Humanities Institute offers themed Mellon fellowships; they pay $50,000 per year for two years, and you teach a course each term (and you get 24/7 access to one of the best offices on campus!).
U of T’s School of Graduate Studies offers some further advice on getting postdocs at U of T here.
In general, you are eligible to apply for a Mellon fellowship, and other North American postdocs, within two or three years of completing your PhD; you must have the PhD completed (including defence) by the time you take up the postdoc.
In the USA:
The Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago offers four-year postdoctoral teaching fellowships. The annual salary is currently $55,000. These are not research fellowships: you will be expected to teach two courses each quarter in the university’s core course programmes in the humanities or social sciences, or in their history of civilisation core course sequence. You do not need a local sponsor or supervisor, but you will need to demonstrate in your application an aptitude for teaching these courses. Last year’s deadline was the 15th of October. Harvard College also offers teaching fellowships for one year, extendable for a second year; these used to pay $49,000 per year, and the deadline is normally between February and April.
The Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin at Madison offers a number of postdoctoral fellowships, including three to four one-year Solmsen Postdoctoral Fellowships specifically for scholars in Classics, Medieval and Renaissance Studies; these currently provide you with $55,000 for the year, and you don’t have to teach. The University of Southern California offers two-year fellowships in their Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholars Program in the Humanities that, as far as I can tell, have no nationality or subject restrictions. They used to pay $50,000 a year, with a research grant of $6,000; you teach three semester courses in two years.
The other main opportunities are at humanities centres in major US universities, many funded by the Mellon foundation. None of these fellowships require a local sponsor; they generally do require some teaching (and you will have to include some sort of teaching portfolio or course outline in your application), but not more than one course per term; they are invariably open to all humanities disciplines, and the competition is thus very intense. What they are looking for (apart from excellence in scholarship) is people who will be capable of interacting and functioning well in an interdisciplinary setting, and contributing to a stimulating climate of intellectual exchange across the borders dividing differing scholarly communities (sorry, they do really talk like this). I was a graduate fellow at the JHI in Toronto, and from my own experience I can say that while being thrown into a community of very bright scholars who know absolutely nothing about what you do can be very enriching indeed, it can also be quite a challenge, as a medievalist, trying to communicate about what you do (in my case, Jordanes and—hold your breath—Fredegar!) to people who work on topics as diverse as Brassaï, native Canadian literature, Rushdie—after all, even medievalists often tune out when you start talking about Fredegar… If you have had little interaction with scholars outside medieval studies (and one thing I cannot recommend strongly enough is that you make sure you DO have such interactions throughout your time in grad school), it can also be difficult to contribute meaningfully to the discussions taking place in such settings, where you might be the only person working on a pre-modern subject. You need to be able to show, somehow, to the committee when you apply that you’ll be able to meet these challenges.
Some of the institutes that have humanities fellowships without themes: at Columbia, it’s for three years, and currently gives you $62,000 per year plus an annual $6,500 research allowance; you have to teach one course per semester the first year, and one course per year thereafter. The deadline in 2016 was 3 October. Princeton’s fellowship (perhaps not funded by Mellon; I’m not sure) gives you $84,500 (!) plus a $5,000 research allowance every year, for three years; this year’s deadline 15 September. You teach a course every term. There are normally three or four positions every year, at least one of which seems not to be themed, though the others are. Harvard’s humanities centre similarly has a fellowship (that pays less than Princeton: only $65,000), which is tied to an annual theme. The deadline in 2016 1 December. Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute also offers fellowships, though these are not specifically for recent graduates and are thus likely to be even more competitive. Needless to say, these places get huge numbers of applications (900 and above), and generally don’t offer more than two or three fellowships in a year. But some have gone to medievalists in the past, so you might get one too.
Many other schools also have Mellon fellowships, but generally with changing annual themes, and I have made no attempt to list all of them: google humanities centre (or rather, center), or society of fellows, along with the name of the university you’re interested in, and you should come up with something. Some universities offering such fellowships (to my knowledge unrestricted as to nationality, and all themed, but check: I’m not entirely certain about whether all these have annual themes, and whether they are all indeed unrestricted): Cornell (where there are both Mellons and Society Fellowships), Michigan, Penn, Stanford, Wesleyan, Wisconsin-Madison; doubtless many others have these too. These are all in the range of $45,000 to $60,000; deadlines vary, but are generally in the fall; they tend always to have themes. For the private universities, there’s normally no restriction with regard to nationality; many state schools also offer these kinds of fellowships, but these are often only open to US citizens or residents. Linda Hutcheon’s website is once more a good source of information, in addition to the Berkeley page already listed.
Since all I know about is the UK and Germany, that’s basically all I’ve got; but here are some suggestions for elsewhere in Europe:
– The European Research Council has a large number of grants for scholars between two and twelve years of finishing their PhD, which must be held at a host institution in Europe, but may be held by persons of any nationality; information on these and how to apply (the procedure seems to be very complex indeed) is available here; as is the case with the Newton Fellowships (on which more below), you will need to coordinate your application very closely with your host institution, so you will have to do a lot of advance planning and make sure you have sufficiently supportive contacts—but it sounds as if these things would be well worth it, as they award lots of money for up to five years, and past projects they have supported include work on subjects like Aragonese troubadors, the princely classes of the late medieval Empire, Pauline exegesis, the formation of Islam, and vernacular bible translations in the middle ages, so your topic, whatever it is, would not, it would seem, be the main hurdle as long as you can show that you are at the cutting-edge of your field;
– Also EU-funded are the Marie Curie actions, of which there are many kinds, including some that are available for ‘third-country’ scholars, that is to say non-EU scholars. Like anything to do with the EU, this seems to be a fiendishly complicated business, but also typical of the EU is the apparent generosity: if you can figure out how to work it (and I have not had the time to go into that), it’s probably going to be a very good thing indeed for you;
– The European University Institute near Florence tends to focus on modern matters, but they do have people working on pre-modern history as well, and offer two-year postdoctoral fellowships for people of any nationality who are within five years of completing the doctoral degree, with a monthly stipend of €2,000 and the possibility of an allowance for family and children;
– Perhaps the Central European University at Budapest might have something, though their funds are somewhat limited (they do, however, have a good medieval studies programme);
– The CNRS in France does, or at least used to, offer a wide range of postdocs in various fields, but your French will obviously have to be very good;
– If you know the language, you should try universities and local equivalents to SSHRC in whatever country you happen to be interested in: there is money around, if you know how to look for it.
The German Historical Institute has branches in London, Moscow, Paris, Rome, and Warsaw; these often have fixed-term jobs for between two to six years that are primarily research posts, and pay pretty well; you do normally need at least basic German, but if your research concerns the target country and you are excellent in the language spoken there, the German may not necessarily be much of a hurdle. The jobs in all cases will be doing research either on the target country or on Germany, or on something that involves both. All institutes have webpages in both German and the language of the host country. Jobs are not open every year, so keep an eye open on these websites; they are often open to people who have several years of postdoctoral experience already, so these are not things you should forget about after two years of postdoc experience in research or teaching. The amount of emphasis on the middle ages varies across institutes; Paris and Rome have traditionally been extremely strong on medieval research, and both those institutes publish very prestigious journals with plenty of important medieval content (Francia and Quellen und Forschungen aus Italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken) and a number of important monograph series, and the DHI Paris was the home of such heavyweight medievalists as Martin Heinzelmann, Werner Paravicini and Karl Ferdinand Werner. Warsaw, relatively recently founded, is also strong on medieval research, and all the other institutes also have strong publishing programmes. In addition, you might want to look at the webpages of the institute in Washington; they often have information on fellowships, though they themselves, logically enough, offer little of interest to medievalists. The kinds of jobs and the length of their tenure, whether there are citizenship requirements, and how frequently the jobs are advertised vary, but there do often seem to be opportunities for people who are not EU citizens.
Similar institutes funded by other governments probably exist too, and you should try and find what you can, but you will be best guided by scholars who are aware of the situation in the countries you work on; I am only aware of the Institut français d’histoire en Allemagne (I am grateful to Sébastien Rossignol for informing me about the postdoc opportunities here), the British School at Rome and the American Academy in Rome, all of which do have jobs and fellowships for scholars at various stages in their careers, though there might be some citizenship restrictions.
The Network of European Institutes for Advanced Study has a fellowship programme offering ten-month fellowships at one of the member institutes; you are eligible for up to seven years after completing your doctoral degree to be a junior fellow (for which you get €26,000); there are also more generously funded senior fellowships. You may want to check out the websites of the various individual member institutions too, for fellowships administered directly by them, though as far as I know, they do not offer any fellowships for junior scholars beyond the one mentioned here.
I have no idea how the European Commission works and how easy it is to get money out of it—but I do know that they seem to have oodles of cash for research of all kinds, so maybe they have postdocs too, apart from the grants of the European Research Council mentioned above. I do know that some of the Scandinavian and Dutch universities especially have a fair amount of money, and often also websites in English (universities elsewhere also have money, but in southern and eastern Europe there seems—to an outsider like me—to be less money floating around, though this is maybe just because webpages in English are not as common, and I know less about those regions anyway because they lie outside my own fields). If you know of a school that would be good for what you do, do take the time to look it up, contact someone, find out if anything is possible for you there. And keep an eye open for job postings in the relevant newspapers or websites for the country you’re interested in, since there are always things that come up with more-or-less independent funding for specific projects (for instance, a postdoc on the prosopography of early medieval bishops of Limoges was advertised a couple of years ago), which may not be too well advertised in North America (or even in Europe). The H-Net lists are very useful for this sort of thing, as there are country specific lists for, among others, England, France, Germany, Portugal (and others), and topic-specific lists on, for example, the Catholic Church, environmental history, and warfare. Not all lists are equally active, but on the better ones, you’ll get frequent posts for job and postdoc opportunities relevant to your field and region that might not be that easy to find elsewhere. In addition, in general, be aware of where the work most relevant or interesting to you is produced, and look up those universities or contact the people there in your field: there is often money for fellowships or jobs of some sort, even if it’s not advertised in the most accessible places.
In the UK, funding is scarce for non-EU citizens (if you are an EU citizen, therefore, you will have additional sources of funding beyond what’s listed here; if you’re British of have recent affiliation with a British institution, try the British Academy, and the Leverhulme Trust). (2016 update: everything non-Oxbridge stated here relating to the UK is provisional in light of Brexit!) The main possibilities for non-Europeans are the JRFs (Junior Research Fellowships; they also sometimes go by other names) at the various Oxbridge colleges, and the Newton International Fellowship. In addition, there are the rather meagre funds provided by the Economic History Society (c. £15,000; for this one, you need a UK degree, either the PhD or a prior degree), and the somewhat more generous stipend offered by the Past and Present Society (£19,000), in both cases for one-year fellowships. Both of these are administered by the Institute for Historical Research in London, and you will be expected either to live in London or to live close enough to be able to take part in the seminars at the institute; so, while these fellowships these would certainly look good on your cv, the expense involved in moving to London for just a year might make it not worth your while: £15,000 is not a lot to live on in that very expensive city! The Warburg Institute also sometimes has postdocs in its own fields; if you don’t know already what those are, you won’t be eligible. Durham University announced an EU-funded JRF with fourteen positions available in 2011, and will re-open for application again in 2016; scholars with prior postdoctoral experience are preferred, but outstanding very recent PhDs may also apply. There seems to be no citizenship requirement; it’s not clear whether this will be running in subsequent years or not. A number of other UK universities, announced Vice-Chancellor’s of Chancellor’s Fellowship programmes over the past few years; Sheffield and Edinburgh seem still to be running them, but so are many others for all I know, so keep an eye open on jobs.ac.uk for anything that comes up. These are highly competitive, open across all fields, and normally will require you to be someone who can turn in an excellent REF submission and also acquire external grant funding (more on this below).
The Oxbridge colleges generally require you to start the fellowship within three to eight years of starting your first graduate degree (normally closer to three than eight), or of starting ‘research’: research here means what you do after your coursework, so the compulsory one year of courses in North American PhD programmes does not count. Be sure that you don’t just give them the dates of when you started: you need to be certain that they know that you’ve taken one or two years of courses in the four or five years you’ve been doing a PhD. There is a wide range of variation across colleges, but you will normally only be eligible if you’ve managed to stay within the five-year package that U of T provides. Note that some of the colleges require you to have had some prior UK degree, but this is by no means the case for all of them (not explicitly, at any rate). All the fellowships are advertised in the Oxford Gazette (under appointments, not advertisements) and the Cambridge Reporter (and during August and early September, when the Reporter ceases publication, the Cambridge fellowships are advertised here), and normally also at jobs.ac.uk. For Oxford, you should also look at TORCH, which doesn’t quite seem to have got fully organised yet (in 2016), but might do so very quickly. Do pay attention to the wording of the advert: many colleges offer both stipendiary and non-stipendiary fellowships, and you don’t want the latter! Most colleges offer only one every year, but some offer two or three; some colleges specify fields (but not very exactly: it will be Modern Languages, or History, or Philosophy, but rarely more precise than that), while others are completely open to all fields; many are restricted to the humanities or the sciences, but do not narrow it down beyond that. Do remember that ‘modern’ languages includes medieval; and ‘modern’ history also generally (but not invariably) includes medieval. There are quite a few fellowships offered through these colleges collectively: I don’t know how the current turmoil will hit them, but for fellowships starting in 2009, there were between twenty-five and thirty in humanities subjects across the various colleges. Needless to say, you will probably not be eligible for all of them, because of your past education, the number of years you’ve spent in it, and your specific subject; but chances are that if you’ve finished within five years, you should be able to find at least ten to fifteen that you could apply for.
The stipends vary from the very good ones (£25,000 per year plus a research allowance plus either a housing allowance, or free accommodation and food), to the somewhat mean ones (£16,000 per year: not a lot in Oxford); the length is, in almost all cases, three years, though some of them are for four (for example, Trinity at Cambridge, St John’s and Merton at Oxford), and All Souls is an astounding five. At some of the colleges, you are expected to teach, at others you are permitted to; these are, however, all quite strictly research fellowships, and the teaching is never supposed to be more than six hours of tutorials per week (for which you are generally paid separately, in addition to the stipend for the fellowship itself). And yes, if you teach, you will have to do Oxbridge tutorials, one on one with a student for an hour, or you and just two or three of them; you will generally not be expected to teach larger classes or give lectures, though you may get the opportunity to do so; you may also be able to participate in graduate teaching, including possibly supervising theses at the MA (or MPhil or MSt) level. The deadlines are generally in the fall, mainly September and October, but some are a good deal later; Trinity Cambridge had a deadline in March. Note that many of these fellowships do not require you already to have completed your PhD: you can finish it in your first year there (but they do need to feel certain that you will finish it: these are not supposed to be doctoral scholarships).
These are all, obviously, heavily competitive, and they seem to be made for insiders: as I said already, ninety per cent of them (possibly more) go to people with an Oxbridge background—but if you have no such past, don’t lose hope: you might be one of the ten per cent! Things also do seem to be changing a little bit now, and certainly, looking at the profiles of current fellows and (equally important), current faculty (who are, in the UK, called staff), it seems to be somewhat less of a closed shop than it once was. The application processes vary widely between colleges: one might ask you for a 1,000-word statement of your past research and another statement of similar length of your proposed research; another might ask for a 1,500-word statement of current and proposed research (but note: not past research!); yet another will ask for 1300 words on past, present, and proposed research. Some will allow you to send a full cv, whereas others will only ask for a list of publications; some will have space for awards and scholarships, and others might not. So you’ll have to have a bunch of short pieces on past, present and future research that you can cut and paste and expand and contract; make sure you do a careful job with the cutting and pasting, because the last thing you want is for it to look obvious. Some of the applications are online, others are not; some ask for two referees, others for three. None ask for a teaching portfolio. The stages of the application process also vary: some ask for a writing sample straight away, and a second one when you make the shortlist, and then you get called for an interview; others have no interviews, and only ask for a writing sample in the second stage; and there are further variations of this sort. It’s all very irritating, because there are quite a few you might be able to apply for, and each one needs to be tweaked, often quite a lot. You probably do need to familiarise yourself somewhat with the colleges, their profiles, and how they function (especially if you get to the interview stage); but ultimately, these things are really a lottery: even if you think you’re a perfect fit for a particular college, you might just not be what they want. And then you might end up getting a fellowship at a college where you thought there was no fit, but you applied anyway since you were submitting so many. Do make sure that your referees are also aware of the differences between the applications: reference letters are where information that the application does not allow you to mention can be provided; also don’t hesitate to send a cover letter if the application is not online and it seems appropriate.
If you are applying for an Oxbridge JRF (or any other postdoc, or a job, in the UK), it might be useful for you to bear in mind some important distinctions between the British system and North America. (The following comments have to do with the length and nature of higher education, not funding structures and the pressures involved when working there: those issues will probably affect you less as a postdoc, though you should make yourself aware of them, particularly if you are hoping to work in the UK after the postdoc. Follow this link for a good if somewhat scary article on how things work, this one for more historical context and an analysis of how ‘management’ is taking over, and then google Research Assessment Exercise (now obsolete) and Research Excellence Framework (the new system) to get a sense of what the atmosphere has been for some years; see also the comments on Hutcheon’s pages here and here, and the amusing rants on Simon Blackburn’s page here. See further, for more detail and shocks, Stefan Collini’s pieces on TEF, privatisation, and the Browne report.) As noted above, these fellowships normally expect you to have spent not more than three to four years on your PhD; given that on this side of the pond, six years is quite normal, this might seem absurdly unrealistic, but in fact British PhDs do tend to be completed in about three years—four years would not be terribly uncommon, but longer than that would certainly be greeted with more than just raised eyebrows. British universities still offer—and in fact require—a rather more specialised, and faster, education than their North American counterparts: humanities undergraduate degrees are typically three years, not four (except for modern language courses, which normally require, or at least allow, a year abroad); this is followed by a one-year masters degree, comprising courses and a thesis of some sort; and then comes the PhD, which is expected to be completed in three years, and rarely formally requires courses, or a ‘major field’ or ‘comprehensive’ or ‘general’ examination or any such thing. The three years of the PhD are just ‘research’: what you do in North America after coursework, language requirements (and possibly also the exam). Thus the whole process from freshman to Dr takes seven to eight years—and people do complete it in this amount of time (not invariably, but it is by no means unusual).
This is not because the Brits are more brilliant than we are; it’s because they get a much more focused (some might say narrow) education. At U of T, an undergraduate major requires 10 full courses in the major subject, out of a total of 20 full courses for the degree; in addition to the major two minors are required, or one can do two full majors; various courses not necessarily related to the major are also required, for breadth. This is pretty standard out here; in the UK, it’s different. For example, I did a major (single honours, as they called it) in German; I took a total of 12 course units (as they were called), of which only two were outside the German department—and I was able to take those two because I started off reading for a joint honours degree in History and German. For single-honours German, I’d have been restricted to 1.5 course units outside the department. As you see, that’s a lot more focus on one subject. Things are changing a bit, but slowly, and the percentage of courses taken in the major subject remains far higher than over here. Furthermore, in most cases, if you’re doing a modern language degree, or classics, you will still be expected to have done the modern language or Latin for your A-levels (high-school); you cannot normally land up at university, take courses for a year and a half, and then declare your major in German, having had no German at all beforehand. (This is, however, also changing at many institutions—but you still have to know your major before you get there, even though you can now start a degree in German vel sim. with no prior knowledge of the language.)
Thus, when you get to starting the doctoral degree, you’ve normally (though not invariably) done a good deal more specialised stuff in your field than your counterpart in North America. This is not always a good thing: British historians are often sadly lacking in Latin, and generally don’t have quite the opportunities (or obligations) to learn medieval vernaculars (or modern languages), and palaeography and diplomatics and so on, as we do here (but we’re unusual in North America too—and proudly so!); and lacking language requirements, there is an increasing and alarming trend towards anglolexia. The other reason why PhDs go faster over there is because generally, grad students don’t teach, or if they do, they don’t teach a lot—certainly not 240 hours a year. They also do less time in RAships than you would over here. The combination of more specialised undergrad education, only one year of coursework (in the MA), and the lack of formal language requirements or a qualifying exam of any sort, coupled with the freedom from so much teaching, means that they can naturally finish faster over there. Hence the strictness of the JRFs with regard to time spent in a graduate programme or research: for someone in that system to have spent six years on the PhD (not including the MA) would really make them look like slackers.
Now, committees do vaguely know that we do things differently over here, so they won’t necessarily reject you automatically because they see how many years ago you first registered in a PhD programme. But you do need to remind them, in a cover letter or your statement of what you’ve been doing (or, if these are not options because of the format of application, through your referee’s letters), and why it is that you’ve spent so long: required courses, teaching, RAships… This is another reason why you need to tailor the applications individually, to make sure that they do know where you’re coming from; and why you need to make sure your referees are aware of what they need to highlight (especially if none of them have any experience of the British system: it’s part of the reference letter’s job to state things that candidate, for one reason or another, can’t quite convey, and that would include reminding committees why all those years you’ve taken do not make you a less able researcher than someone from Cambridge who finished in three years). But a word of caution: you’re only telling them about your teaching experience so that they know why you took so long; you’re not trying to demonstrate to them that you are a brilliant and flexible teacher with a range extending from early medieval history to Britain between the wars to basic Latin to ancient China: these are research fellowships, and they don’t really care so much about the teaching experience (this sort of stuff is, however, very important for the Mellon postdocs, and of course for all jobs, including in the UK). What they want to know is why you took so long to do your research, how good your research is, and that you will, if given the space of three years without other responsibilities, produce good stuff within that period.
The Newton International Fellowship (which, according to what google turns up, has a success rate of around six per cent including all fields—probably much lower for humanities applicants) is funded by the British Academy, but also (unfortunately) by the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Engineers. It’s only for people from outside the UK, and without a UK PhD. There are fifty of these things altogether, every year; guess how many go to the humanities… If you get it, you get £24,000 per year for two years, a moving allowance of £2,000; a research grant of £8,000 per year; and a ten-year ‘follow-up funding package’ of £6,000 per year after you finish. That’s a lot of money they’re throwing at you: and they really make you work to prove you’re worth it! It’s a long and fiendishly complicated application procedure: you need six referees (your current supervisor and head of department; your sponsor and prospective head of department at the institution where you’ll be a postdoc; two independent referees unconnected with your current or prospective institution), and everything has to be done online—and there’s a lot to do. And you will also need to go through some kind of bureaucratic hassle with your prospective institution, getting them to approve your funding application (and thus you’ll have to figure out whether your application is fec or non-fec…). One of the things you need to state in your application is how your work will be of benefit both to your home country and to the UK: this is where you need to be a really creative sort of medievalist (and don’t ask me for advice; I didn’t get it, so clearly, what I do is not beneficial in any way).
In addition to Oxbridge and the Newton, you will find—in the Oxford Gazette, the Cambridge Reporter, but even more likely at jobs.ac.uk—other postdoc opportunities of various sorts (and plenty of fixed-term jobs in various medieval fields), generally as a part of some particular research project. As you can imagine, there are plenty of things going on that relate specifically to medieval England, and if you have the right sort of background, you could have a very good chance: Toronto does have an excellent reputation in the UK for all things medieval and English. So keep your eyes skinned, and be ready to react fast: the timeline is often very short indeed. (2016 update: once again, with the post-Brexit unleashing of a surprisingly vicious level of xenophobia, getting anything in the UK that is not hugely well-endowed might be tricky if not impossible—but who knows what will happen there in the next few years?)
Germany still manages to be a country with lots of money for humanities scholarship, and for foreigners—and you don’t always have to know German particularly well, though of course having at least a basic knowledge of it will certainly help. The first place to look is the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst: DAAD), which itself offers a number of fellowships for postdocs (and scholars at various other levels), ranging from stipends for a few months to two years; in addition, they provide information on and sometimes administer fellowships provided by other funding agencies in Germany, including the many offered by the DFG: the German Research Foundation, or more properly the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (I have not provided a list of what you can find through the DAAD pages, because the results of your search will vary depending on, among other things, country of origin and how recently you graduated). The search is made easy by the fact that you can key in your field, date of graduation, and country of origin, and the things you’re eligible for will come up; but it’s not infallible, so you might want to have a look at the complete list as well. All pages are, of course, available in English as well as German. In general, you will be eligible to apply within two to four years of the PhD; the fellowships tend to pay pretty well, often covering moving expenses, health insurance, fees for language courses, and so on. Among the best of the fellowships (I’m not considering some that expect a commitment to seek a job in Germany after the fellowship) are probably those offered by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation: they have two levels of fellowships for junior scholars, one for scholars within four years of completing a PhD, and the other for scholars who are between four and twelve years of getting their doctorate. These are all for international scholars, across all fields; the former is tenable for up to two years, and the latter for up to eighteen months. You get paid €2,250 per month, plus a research allowance, moving expenses for yourself and your family, language courses for your spouse, and health insurance. For these fellowships, you do need to know German. There is no application deadline; you should hear from them within six months of applying. You will need a local sponsor. About 600 of these fellowships are offered every year, across all fields—so the competition will be intense, but 600 is still quite a lot, and plenty do go to humanists. If you feel that you’re a real hotshot and you’ve got a book out, maybe another one in press, and it’s less than six years after you’ve finished your PhD, you can apply for the Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize; you get up to €1,650,000 (no, I did not get the number of zeros wrong!) over five years to do your research and head a research group. Needless to say, even though about ten of these are offered every year, it seems most likely that humanists will not get any… If you have held a Humboldt or a DAAD fellowship, in addition to what you get during tenure, you’re generally eligible for a number of fellowships and awards as a former member of their ‘family’; these are, like the Newton, good things to have for the longer term. Apart from the ones mentioned here, the Humboldt does have other fellowships as well, and DAAD gives listings of many possible opportunities: DO look over the Humboldt, DFG and the DAAD pages carefully, as I haven’t listed all the opportunities here, and there are many things that are specific to fields and countries of origin which you might be eligible for.
But DAAD and Humboldt are not the only places: many German universities have their own money, and are at present actively seeking international researchers. If you are on the H-German or H-Germanistik or H-Soz. u. Kult. mailing lists, you’ll receive the adverts; if your German is good enough, look up Die Zeit regularly (the relevant jobs are normally sent out in the mailing lists I’ve mentioned). German universities are in a strange state right now, trying rapidly to become as American as possible, but not entirely sure how to do it; you might find it a bit hard to figure out how they work, even if your German is excellent, but don’t be too taken aback: they’re finding it pretty hard to figure out how they work too! Alas, the downside of this is that the Germans too are beginning to go the way of Britain and/or America (they like to think they are learning from what it pleases them to call the ‘Angelsächsischen Länder’); if you hear the words ‘Output mit Impakt’, don’t be too surprised… Often, the money for postdocs (especially international ones) does not come from traditional academic departments, but rather from their new ‘graduate schools’ (which are nothing at all like what you are familiar with from North America), or ‘Exzellenzinitive’, or ‘Exzellenzcluster’ (and no, I don’t really know how they pronounce ‘cluster’, but I expect like Germans trying to speak American). These are often interdisciplinary programmes gathering together faculty from various different departments under one broad rubric, which is often rather like a theme for a North American humanities centre or Mellon postdoc. Themes might be ‘human development in landscapes’, or ‘religion and politics in pre-modern and modern culture’, or ‘languages of emotion’, or ‘cultural bases of integration’ (just some real examples I have seen myself). You will have to give them a proposal of some sort that will fit into one of these themes; there are often sub-groups with more specific themes, into which you might fit quite well. Like the DAAD/Humboldt fellowships, you will need a local sponsor or referee or at least someone who can help you figure out what’s going on. All of this might make Germany seem like a very dicey option indeed, and perhaps it is; but do remember: they have money, and they want foreigners. (Yes, I know it sounds weird to say that Germans want foreigners, but at present, in the universities, they do, or at least that’s what they say!) In some cases, you may find that there are less restricted postdoc opportunities, being offered simply for excellent scholarship in a particular discipline, without specifically requiring you to fit yourself into a particular cluster; but it won’t harm you to know how things are structured at that university, and around that discipline, and how you can fit into whatever their current research priorities are. Among the better-endowed universities for humanities fields are the Free University in Berlin, and the universities of Cologne, Freiburg, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Marburg and Munich; but many others also have plenty of money: take some time to look around if you know of work related to your field coming out of any particular place, or a scholar whose work you know and respect. Almost all universities now have websites in English; if you’re German isn’t too good, you can still find the info, and get working on the German if you’ve found just the place where you want to be. It’s all, of course, a rather different sort of way of going about things from what you will be used to from your experience of the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries, but if you do have some familiarity with the country and its universities, you might be able to work it out; it’s certainly worth a shot if you’re interested in being in Germany— Germany remains an excellent place for medieval scholarship, which is still often better funded there than in much of the English-speaking world, and do remember that German universities are still great places to study not just medieval Germany, but medieval Europe generally (including, but not restricted to, the fields of Latin; palaeography; art history; law; the medieval Church; and institutional history); and many universities and towns have excellent archival deposits of medieval material, often in Latin (the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg are just two such institutions with plenty to offer people not working on Germany)
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And so begins the journey into the ‘real world’; grad school was stressful, sure, but once you hit the job market, you really appreciate how wonderful it was to have been a student! One last thing: in my final year of grad school, I applied for twenty-six and got one postdoc; and while it was great to have got that one, I obviously got rejected by twenty-five. If you want to stand much of a chance, you probably will have to apply to a lot of places, and that means that you will also be rejected by a lot of places; don’t apply for more postdocs than the number of rejections you think you can take without losing confidence in yourself. Don’t take the rejection letters personally, but also don’t go through this process unless you have a thick enough skin to handle it (to be ambitious, you also need to be quite tough); and don’t give up after the first round: try again the next year, learning from your first experiences. You’ve survived grad school; you’ve published some good work; your teachers think you’re good: so believe in yourself, and take the plunge. You are good enough (and if they can’t appreciate it, screw them!). Remember two things: you’re a good scholar, which is the important bit—all you need to do now is master the marketing and get a bit lucky; and, one of the most important things you learnt in your university career: alcohol can have its uses (but don’t overdo it)…
1. Follow the instructions!
Read and conform to all instructions found on the council website. Make sure that your proposal fits the criteria of the competition.
2. Break down your proposal into point form before writing your first draft.
Based on the total length of the proposal, decide whether you will have headings/subheadings and what they will be (e.g., Introduction, Background Material, Methodology, and so on).
These headings can be selected based on the advice given in the specific award instructions. For each section, lay out in point form what you will discuss.
3. Know your audience.
- Describe your research proposal in non-technical terms. Use clear, plain language and avoid jargon.
- Make sure your proposal is free of typographic and grammatical errors.
- Remember that, at every level, adjudication committees are multi-disciplinary and will include researchers in fields other than your own.
- Therefore, follow the KIS principle – Keep It Simple! Reviewers like it that way.
4. Make an impact in the first few sentences.
Reviewers are very busy people. You must grab their attention and excite them about your project from the very beginning. Make it easy for them to understand (and thus fund) your proposal.
Show how your research is innovative and valuable. Remember, too, to show your enthusiasm for your project—enthusiasm is contagious!
Organize your proposal so that it is tight, well-integrated, and makes a point, focused on a central question (e.g., “I am looking at this to show...”).
Depending on the discipline, a tight proposal is often best achieved by having a clear hypothesis or research objective and by structuring the research proposal in terms of an important problem to be solved or fascinating question to be answered. Make sure to include the ways in which you intend to approach the solution.
5. Have a clear title.
It is important that the title of your project is understandable to the general public, reflects the goal of the study, and attracts interest.
6. Emphasize multidisciplinary aspects of the proposal, if applicable.
7. Show that your research is feasible.
Demonstrate that you are competent to conduct the research and have chosen the best research or scholarly environment in which to achieve your goals.
8. Clearly indicate how your research or scholarship will make a “contribution to knowledge” or address an important question in your field.
9. Get the proposal reviewed and commented on by others.
Get feedback and edit. Then edit some more. And get more feedback. The more diverse opinion and criticism you receive on your proposal the better suited it will be for a multi-disciplinary audience.
10. Remember that nothing is set in stone.
Your research proposal is not a binding document; it is a proposal. It is well understood by all concerned that the research you end up pursuing may be different from that in your proposal.
Instead of treating your proposal as a final, binding document, think of it as a flexible way to plan an exciting (but feasible) project that you would like to pursue.