Advice On Doing Research for Years Without a Salary
Since quitting my job at a contract archaeology unit in April 1994, I've been doing archaeological research pretty much full time apart from a month here and a month there on related non-research projects. I've published a bit less than 100 scholarly works during this time. Still, out of these twelve years, I've only had a salary for about three, most of them a doctoral student's position. Now, how to do research successfully in an underfunded field without a salary is something a lot of people seem to be interested in. So I thought I might set down a few things I've learned, as I'm soon to start working half-time with other things for an actual salary.
My money for these years has come in unpredictable dollops of 5 to 80 kSEK (€540-8700, $690-11000) from various small private research foundations. This leads to my first recommendation.
You need discipline. Suddenly having lots of money transferred to your bank account does not mean that you can splurge. Because you never know how long that money's got to last.
Live cheaply. You won't get enough to afford an expensive lifestyle. And make sure you share your rent, preferably with someone nice.
Find out what foundations fund research in your field. The best ways to do this is to check a) funding handbooks at your public library, b) the preface to every doctoral thesis in your field from the past ten years. Who are they thanking for their dough?
Keep applying. I've been hitting dozens of foundations on every single application date, sometimes several times a year each. Sooner or later, most have given in. Never mind if it takes a lot of time and work: when you finally get money, the pay for those hours of paperwork will turn out quite handsome.
Clone your application letters. Sending the same application to several funding bodies saves time. Just make sure to cover your tracks: the Nisse Bengtsson Foundation won't like it if your letter contains the phrase "and so I turn to the Amalia Mögelhielm Foundation with this request".
Publish or perish. These foundations exist to fund published research. In other words, they want to buy a certain product. If you can show them that you are a dependable source of this product, then they will feel safe doing business with you year after year.
Emphasise your productivity. You need to brag. If you got money from them last year, brag about how much you've published with their support. If they didn't give you anything last year, apply again anyway and brag about how much you've published despite their lack of support.
Keep track of report deadlines. Funding bodies that shell out will tell you that they want a progress report by a certain date. They are not kidding.
Be academically respectable. I was a doctoral student and became an archaeology PhD. (Which is a useless thing to become, but anyway.)
Get letters of recommendation. If you're friendly with someone high and mighty in your field, then ask for a letter of recommendation addressed "To whom it may concern".
Identify the eminences grises. A funding body will have an advisory board consisting of senior scholars. Some of them so senior, in fact, that they are retired. So talk to the old folks at seminars and excursions, make sure they know who you are, make friends with them. They may not be hip and cutting edge any more, but they control a lot of research money.
[More blog entries about archaeology, research, funding; arkeologi, forskning, stipendier.]