This year I was fortunate enough to be awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council Early Career Fellowship for the continuation of my project, "Performance Art in Eastern Europe," which I am currently transforming into a book. Although I poured blood, sweat and tears into the application, this was still a (nice) surprise, as it came on the heels of a year-long Leverhulme Research Fellowship, which I held in 2014. I think it is pretty rare to get back-to-back Fellowships, and I am truly grateful not only for the financial support that they offered, but more so for the time they allowed me to truly delve into my research project.
The Leverhulme Fellowship provided support for significant in-depth field research. I spent several months traveling through Eastern Europe, and recently calculated that I met nearly 250 individuals in the region – artists, art historians, art critics and arts practitioners - most of whom appear on this site. While the Leverhulme supported the research and writing of the manuscript, the AHRC supports the finalizing of the book for publication, and public engagement and dissemination projects. It also provides the opportunity for leadership training, so that I can develop the skills to become a leader in my field and manage even larger research projects. I think this aspect of the Fellowship is crucial – most lecturers are good researchers (they wouldn’t have their positions if they weren’t), but not all are leaders, nor do all researcher have the necessary skills to communicate their research with non-academic audiences. These are the skills that the AHRC Early Career Fellowship helps you to develop.
I had to create a rigorous programme that involved not only my research, but leadership training courses and public engagement activities. I attended the Leadership Foundation of Higher Education’s Aurora programme, a women-only leadership training programme for women in higher education. This was a phenomenal programme packed with successful women leaders sharing their stories, networking with other women in higher education from across the UK, and practical reading assignments and activities to help us develop as leaders. For the public engagement element of my AHRC program, one of the activities I am planning is a conference on performance art that will coincide with TIPA – This is Performance Art – which is taking place in Aberdeen in October, and being organised by Peacock Visual Arts. The conference will run from October 30-31, and involve papers and performances, discussions and interactive events.
Although sometimes it can be difficult to pack research, public engagement and leadership development into one fellowship application, I feel that all of these activities combined make for a great program. As I finalize my research and book manuscript, I am able to reflect on it further as I attempt to share it with those outside of the academy. As I organize public engagement events, I implement skills learned on my leadership training courses. The great thing about the AHRC Fellowship is that if you are successful with the grant, you have already done half of the work – the application process forces you to create a rigorous but manageable programme, and if you are awarded the fellowship then you just have to, well, do what you said you were going to do. It’s all laid out for you already, and you just have to stick with your original plan.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, what I am most grateful for, above anything, is the time to let all of my ideas gestate and percolate. Most lecturers know all too well how difficult it is to focus on one project, and have to develop skills to ‘fit research in’ among one’s other responsibilities, namely, teaching and service. To have 2.5 uninterrupted years to think only about my project has been a real gift, and I only hope that the finished products (both the book and the public engagement activities) will show evidence of the intense attention devoted to it.