What my SSHRC Standard Research Grant has given me is the authority to speak. This was unexpected.
I was at a conference recently where it happened that many different people asked me about my research: What are you working on? Are you writing this summer? What are you researching? Are you going to any conferences next year? Strange to say, I answered them easily, happily. I had a two-sentence answer that summarized my big project that just sort of rolls off the tongue. I also, if they were interested, told them about the current set of ideas I’m trying to think through about a specific problem. I asked them for book recommendations, to respond to my ideas, to suggest publications venues.
This is all new.
Used to be, I’d talk vaguely about an overarching research interest without clear plans attached to it (“I am interested in questions that relate to how regular people use technology.”). Or about my dissertation (“For example, my dissertation looked at how computers used to be for experts and now they’re for toddlers.”). Or about an article I’d published a year or two ago (“Um, in 2004, I did something similar with videogames and movies in an article?”). Or deflect the conversation to teaching (“Isn’t it hard to get a lab set up for multimedia instruction?”) or to the profession (“I think service is underrated in the evaluation of faculty work”), topics I felt much better able to speak competently and confidently.
I don’t remember, even while writing my dissertation, ever being able to talk about research in progress as though I had any agency, or control, or authority. But now I do. It’s not that my articles are getting through peer review any more easily, or that I’ve become a ton smarter. So, what?
Recently, I was corresponding with another academic about something or other, and it came up that we had both had our projects funded–that we had ‘won’ our SSHRCs. It was she who first gave me the idea that, beyond the funding for a new computer, a graduate researcher, and conference travel, the fact of ‘winning’ the grant seemed to convey … authority.
It’s true, I think. I find myself talking about the project like a living thing that exists, even while I’m at the stage of … just thinking about what I’m really going to focus on. But the project still feels real, and I still somehow feel like an expert on it. Having the grant–the government is funding this research!–also makes me feel like I have a duty to talk about it, to make it known.
Above the financial capital associated with the grant, I think I might have underestimated the cultural capital it would bring.
Have you ever experienced anything similar? I think I felt a version of this surprising competence when I won my SSHRC doctoral fellowship back in the day, and definitely earning tenure did something to the inside of my brain.