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  • Oriana Skylar Mastro

First-Prize in Keeping Track of Awards

Last week I took my kids to a carnival, where they rode rides and played silly games to win even sillier prizes. My two-year-old expressed pure joy when he threw (ok, his dad helped) a ball in a cup and won a stuffed dragon! Mojo has slept by his side ever since.

Everyone loves a prize. Sometimes it is because of the material gain associated with it. But as you get older, awards, fellowships, scholarships, etc., support you in other ways. Winning them makes you feel like your work has been recognized and appreciated. And I suspect winning begets winning, as your CV becomes more impressive over time.

BUT applying for stuff takes even more time you don't have. Even keeping track of what you should be applying for can be a headache. So, here are a few tips for how to make the process less painful.

Plan and pay the setup costs. There are two main sources of information for various fellowships and awards in my experience – I get emails about opportunities, or I hear about it directly from a colleague. Another way is to look through the CVs of people you admire and see what awards and fellowships they have won. When I hear of an opportunity, I take a moment to research it to see the requirements, the benefits, and if I am eligible. I only need enough information to know if I want to save the information, and if so, what file it should go in.

Put it all together. If there is an opportunity I plan to apply for in the current grant period, Ill save the link to Evernote and set a reminder for myself when I think I should start to work on it. But the majority of stuff I come across may never apply for or may do so years from now. Those I separate into four email folders under future applications based on what I value as a professor – fun international travel, research funds, things to do during a sabbatical (or that will buy me out of teaching), and money in the form of summer salary. Random things like prizes I just put in future applications.

I always try to make sure I have coverage for summer salary (because I like money), and ideally, I spend my summer somewhere fun overseas. So I'll hit up those folders every year. For example, next year, I'm thinking of taking the fam to Taiwan, so I've reviewed my funding options in the International Junket folder and have some good leads for extra funding and support for 2022.

Produce reminders. I use Mailbutler as a mail client, and it lets me produce reminders. I only do this for applications I’m going to apply for this year. I also create a reminder in Evernote to review and clear out-of-date opportunities once a year.

Performance notes. I could write a whole blogpost about applying for stuff (and probably will!), but here I'll just put a few lessons learned.

1) Apply. If you look at my CV, it looks like I've won a lot of awards. Do you know how many I did not win? Too many to even think about. I'm preparing an application next month for a book grant program that I've applied to already. Twice.

2) No, really, apply. You aren't 100% your project falls within the purview of the award? STILL APPLY. I submitted a paper on China for a contest on US grand strategy. And won. It never hurts to try.

3) Applying, even if you are rejected, is a step forward. There's an award that I decided to apply for nine days before it was due. It required a full-length academic article and a 4000-5000 word policy essay. I had prepared maybe 50% of an academic article. I wasn’t going to do it, but a colleague encouraged me to try to get something together. I had been doing the research for the article for a while but hadn't prioritized the drafting. In nine days, I cut 10,000words from the academic article and added 18,000 words more. I finalized two appendices of data and wrote from scratch the 5,000-word article in nine workdays. I’m so happy with where the project is now, and I’ll still be thrilled with my progress even if I don’t win.

4) Send an email to the organizers if you know them. Be casual about it, but it's good to alert people when you are applying for things. They then keep an eye out for your application, and I feel like they are primed to review it in a positive light. Ok, maybe that's BS, but I like to feel like I did everything I could. And email the people in charge of an award if you know them can't hurt. If it is less of a personal committee decision and more of a big fellowship thing, contact the foundation to get as much information as possible about what they are looking for. I find using the words they use to describe the program in my actual application helps my chances.

5) Get as much support as you can. Can your RAs help out with the application? Do you have access to a development team? What about an editor? Grants and applications can be a time suck – let people help you as much as possible.

6) Decide how much time you will spend on the application. I always apply – but I don’t want to put aside my ‘real’ world for too long. If you are reluctant to apply because you are pressed on time, give yourself a maximize. Some fellowship applications I’ve spent max a day on, because that’s all I had.

7) Publicize your successes! Whoever you work for will like it when you win something. Let them know. Let Twitter know. Put it on your CV. Put it in your newsletter. And make sure to send a note to the organizers of the award to let them know the positive impact it had on your career.

8) Celebrate your achievements. I buy a new pair of shoes for every major fellowship and prize. But you do you.

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