appreciation · paying it forward · positive thoughts as I fill out grant applications

Sharing; or, I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

Much of the frustration, work, and anxiety of the trough of the J Curve relates to paperwork.

Induction into the Great Paperwork Nightmare arrives with the crafting of The Job Letter, which is unlike anything you’ve ever written before and for which the only instruction seems to be “make sure it’s perfect.” If one of your (hundreds? of) letters is, in fact, somehow perfect, you will have to fill out more bureaucratic forms than you knew existed, because you will become a faculty member.

Let’s see: there’s internal funding applications, annual activity reports, applications for different internal funds, SSHRC Standard Research Grants (if you’re in the social sciences or humanities … oh wait! They’ve changed all the programs and now the forms, too!), a variety of other SSHRC grants, sabbatical applications, convert-your-salary-to-research-funds forms, research ethics forms, graduate dissertation / research project/ Master’s thesis / reading course forms, reference letters, reports to journal editors on revisions attempted or rejected, and the mother of all of them (at least from where I’m sitting), the tenure application.

Mostly, you stare at these form-fillable but not saveable PDF, these table-based Word docs with crazy formatting, these spreadsheets that won’t run on your Mac, slack-jawed, writing and creativity alike locked up. Cue the  whining, complaining, defeatism, procrastination, and, if you’re me, drinking.

Well. Thank God for my friends, I say.

When I went on the job market, Heather vetted my letters for me, giving me concrete feedback and advice like “this is too timid,” or “you need a longer paragraph saying what your dissertation is about.” The research office here collects winning SSHRC apps from researcher volunteers, and puts them in a binder for us to consult. When I was trying to write my tenure dossier, three colleagues who’d come up in the three years before me sent me all their material to use as examples. Immeasurably helpful. This week, I sent my tenure dossier to a friend in the US who wondered how to write up her technical work in new media. I sent an internal award application to a friend here who’s junior to me and has never yet applied for one. I sent my salary-conversion application to a colleague in my department who wanted a model of what kinds of things she might budget for and how to justify them.

Of course, when I send you that stuff, you’ll see what my research is. You’ll see my reference lists. My CV and all the things I’ve done or not done so far in my career. You’ll see my budgets, my five year research plan, how I allot work to graduate students, where I’ve applied for jobs, what kind of funding I had in grad school. You might see my big idea, even. But that’s okay: I don’t think you intend me any harm, and I don’t know why that information has to be so closely guarded. Are you going to steal my ideas? Judge my career? Decide you want to apply for the same fellowship as me?

Okay–once in grad school I was in this seminar where we had to workshop our annotated bibliographies, and the next day a classmate RECALLED ALL MY BOOKS. But that’s the only bad thing I’ve ever had happen. I guess it comes with the digital media research area: I’m all about transparency and disclosure, baby.

So to everyone who has ever sent me their own material to save me some stress preparing mine, I thank you from the very deepest part of my heart. I will never recall your books, I promise.

And to anyone who might like to have a look at something I’ve written, to use as a model (or a terrible warning; I don’t know), you’re welcome to it. Just ask.

What about you? Do you share? Have others shared with you? Why? Why not? What are we hiding?

4 thoughts on “Sharing; or, I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

  1. I do share. I had and have very similar experiences to those you describe: friends and colleagues and mentors who really provide in depth guidance and feedback on various new formats of writing. One of my mentors was the first person to give me drafts of her job letters and teaching philosophy so I could see what they looked like.

    In turn I offer my materials to friends. I often feel a bit wobbly about all those other things you mention (mostly the look! I've taught a zillion courses and published…some…stuff) but then I'm giving this stuff to friends/colleagues/and students who I trust.


  2. How rude. They recalled every single book? Apparently they were threatened by your success and ideas.

    Without the edits of EW my graduate seminar papers would've been mediocre.

    I've always believed in sharing – it's always made me a stronger student and writer. Every award proposal I've written has been edited by multiple eyes and I'm convinced that's why I've been fortunate to win funding. The edits, criticism, and questions push my own questions and concerns beyond my expectations, and my research is better for it.

    I did have one incident, however, that made me reconsider sharing my research and ideas. I met with a former professor at a conference and we discussed my dissertation. They had emailed me prior to the conference to know how my work was progressing and I mentioned teaching a course on my dissertation – they asked for a copy of the syllabus, which I saw no harm in sharing. A few months later, a course on my dissertation topic and texts became a seminar at their institution. I should've been flattered – instead, I was deflated.



  3. Thanks for your post. I am grateful everyday for a colleague of mine who has demonstrated to me the importance of having this kind of mentality in academia. She and I work and write together and we are always sharing ideas, resources, information, even courses! We talk almost everyday about pedagogy and teaching and theory and research and I know these conversations have made me a better teacher and a better researcher. I am lucky to have such a good mentor who models this kind of attitude…it's not always common in academia as far as I can tell!

    Although it is for a K-12 audience, you might be interested in Dean Shareski's keynote presentation for the last K12 Online Conference. It is titled “Sharing: The Moral Imperative” and really highlights how important it is for teachers to move towards a more open, sharing mentality.

    You can see the video here:



  4. hmm… I probably wouldn't have been interviewed or hired if Heather hadn't shared her job letter with me a decade ago. My first draft was so horrible and Heather's model was so Stanford-y 😉 I've always tried to pay that forward and mostly share everything — and encourage my students to do the same. Thanks, Heather.



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