Archive for January, 2012

Early Career Fellowships – Notes on CAS Event

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Yesterday I was happy to attend an Early Career Fellowships Event organised by the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Social Sciences (CAS) at the University of Nottingham.

Whilst the event drew on funding opportunities and support services specific to the University, it primarily focused on the key national funding schemes relevant to the Arts and Social Sciences, and general advice on applications, which might be useful to pass on.

Kicking off, Prof. Pat Thomson – in her capacity as CAS Director and an ESRC reviewer – located the role of fellowships in the post-doctoral landscape, and provided an honest assessment of the current opportunities facing new researchers in an increasingly competitive field. She stressed the need to be flexible, opportunistic and entrepreneurial. There was no mistaking that the limited number of fellowship awards represent a highly sought-after opportunity for academic career development, and that potential applicants should also consider other trajectories including: teaching posts, working as a post-doc on research projects (with possible opportunities for limited teaching), and external non-academic research work in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Lisa McCabe from CAS ran through the main national award schemes relevant to the Arts and Social Sciences, namely:

Each have their own specific requirements and conditions of eligibility, but from these some common concerns and tips for applicants emerged that were re-emphasised by subsequent speakers.

It was stressed that applications should not be seen as a reworking or extension of doctoral theses, but a proposal for an original and timely piece of research in a significant field of study. The Leverhulme award in particular has an emphasis on originality and might privilege applications that challenge traditional disciplinary boundaries. Evidence of pilot work (including publication) may be advantageous, though not to an extent that risks concerns over ‘double funding.’

Crucially, reviewers of Early Career Fellowships give equal quality weighting to the project and to the applicant. Therefore, applicants should clearly demonstrate their ‘independent research potential’ and passion for the research subject.

Review bodies are commonly multi-disciplinary, and applications should have a clear rationale that engages a non-specialist audience. Ample time should be given to writing applications, inviting feedback from senior academics, such as supervisors, thesis examiners, and heads of school, as well as successful award holders, whilst making the most of research support services in the university.

It was stressed that applicants are eligible for most fellowship awards for several years after successfully gaining their doctorate. Whilst some may be fortunate to be awarded a fellowship soon after graduation, many will require the extra time gaining experience in teaching and research work and consolidating their publication output to be in a position to develop a successful application. As such, it is common for applicants to reapply for fellowships, though some schemes may have conditions on the timing of reapplications.

Not surprisingly, the need for strong evidence of work through peer-reviewed publications was emphasised throughout the event. Briony McDonagh, a successful Leverhulme ECF holder, explained how she worked as a post-doc for two years before receiving her award, giving her the opportunity to develop further journal articles from her thesis.

In addition, significant evidence of partnership and networking activities, knowledge exchange and public engagement are greatly valued.

Svenja Adolphs, an ESRC Grant Assessment Panel member, provided further insight on impact and outreach activities from a reviewer’s perspective, suggesting applicants involve end-users in the process of developing the application. It may not be sufficient to merely identify potential partnerships – a full commitment should be sought. She also reminded us that impact activities need to be evaluated, and that the method of evaluation should be described.

University of Nottingham researchers can access the presentations and further information on the CAS Workspace.

Shedding Our Fur

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

“Technologies have always changed us. Fire gave us a way to cook meat, essentially pre-digesting food and altering the evolution of both our teeth and digestive tract. Wearing fur allowed us to shed our own. Likewise, text changed the way we process and remember information, and television changed the way our brains relate to three-dimensional space. Digital media now extends some of these trajectories, while adding a few of its own.” (pp. 32-33)

Douglas Rushkoff | Program or be Programmed

Rushkoff, D. (2010). Program or be programmed: Ten commands for a digital age. New York: OR Books.

Copying and Pasting Text from PDFs (Adobe Acrobat)

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Here’s a useful tip for anyone with Adobe Acrobat.

The quickest way to avoid the annoying hard return formatting you usually get when copying and pasting text from a PDF into Word, Open Office or whatever is to first add tags to the document:

Advanced > Accessibility > Add Tags to Document

There are other ways round it, but to think I used to correct the formatting line by line…

(R)Evolution in the Head?

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

According to Ian Macdonald’s Revolution in the Head – his brilliant account of every Beatles recording – the band’s most creative period is conveniently bookended by their two most famous chords; the (contested) G eleventh suspended fourth that begins A Hard Day’s Night (and the album of the same name), and the multi-keyboard E major that concludes A Day in the Life and the Sgt. Pepper album. There are similar creative peaks in popular music – such as those represented by Frank Sinatra’s Capital recordings and Stevie Wonder’s ‘classic period’ albums in the early 70’s – and many equivalent examples in other genres and art forms.

Scholarship is generally recognised by its contribution to knowledge, which is seen as being more evolutionary than revolutionary – ‘shoulders of giants’ and all that. But do academics have distinguishable periods of peak creativity, and if so how might academic ‘creativity’ be conceptualised? At what stage of an academic career is the capacity for creative output and innovation best enabled and legitimised? Are our best ideas formulated early in careers when key epistemological positions and academic identities in the research field are still being negotiated? Or does the nature of academic enquiry lend itself to experience and longevity?

Though it still has strong aesthetic and spiritual connotations within artistic domains, modern definitions of creativity discount popular misconceptions based on the romanticism of divine inspiration, which celebrated the originality and imagination of a select few. Freudian and Marxist critique helped reconceptualise creativity as a cultural process, relocating the creative practice from the individual to the social. Therefore, contemporary pedagogy generally views creativity not as a skill related to talent or artistic sensibility, but as a strategy or technique that can be learnt and developed in situated social and cultural contexts.

At a psychological level, creativity is a function of intelligence that exists as a form of self-expression. It satisfies our expansive tendency: our instincts for exploring and risk taking (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). Most contemporary interpretations of creativity also acknowledge an act of novelty or originality, which in a world increasingly dictated by the knowledge economy, has to have an effectiveness or value. Therefore, creativity does not occur in a vacuum, but is “defined and assessed in relation to the context in which it is achieved” (Seltzer & Bentley, 1999: 13).

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (1996) systems model for creativity consists of three elements:

  • The Domain: a culture that contains symbolic systems and rules.
  • The Field: consisting of ‘gatekeepers’ to the domain; experts that can recognise, appreciate and validate a creative product. They assert a type of control and can act as filters to a wider social and cultural audience.
  • The Individual: whose creative product significantly adds to or changes the domain at the consent of the field, and who must learn the domain and field to ‘internalise’ the system.

If we have insufficient domain knowledge, Csikszentmihalyi suggests we are incapable of discerning creative ideas from other forms of personal expression and are therefore merely engaging in play and experimentation. So called ‘everyday’ or ‘low range creativity’ may account for spontaneity or expressiveness – at least on cognitive developmental terms – though these may be considered peripheral in their contribution to domain knowledge.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins.

Seltzer, K., & Bentley, T. (1999). The creative age: Knowledge and skills for the new economy. London: Demos.

Related post: The Elusiveness of Flow