Rachel Herrmann

Academia, food, and history

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Not Catching the Frisbee; or, a Rumination on Rejection
Sometimes all it takes to make you feel better about rejection is a chilly morning jog and witnessing a dog try and utterly fail to catch a Frisbee.

Last night I received a rejection in response to my application for a British Academy small awards grant to help fund a conference on cannibalism. The rejection was not all that surprising considering that last semester I A) arrived at a new institution in a new country; B) learned about the scheme—with all its new and mystical UK trappings of networks and collaboration—about two weeks before it was due; C) spent a week running around campus trying to unravel the mysteries of asking institutional centers for money and figuring out how exactly one estimated the cost of a conference; and D) wrote the application over two days in the midst of my first semester of teaching my own classes.

Still, the rejection stung, and I was a bit mopey last night. It’s always frustrating to apply for a grant to do something and to then get rejected in a way that makes it less possible to do the stuff for which you applied.

I felt better this morning, especially after witnessing that poor pup, and even better after seeing a park official sitting on a swan on the ground. Now, maybe there’s something about the change of seasons here that makes swans get sick, because this is the second swan I’ve seen out of the water in the last week, looking in need of a pick-me-up. As I jogged past the man’s truck I noticed a bundle of bulky garbage bags full of white feathers, so although I’m not going to posit that we have a swan epidemic, I’m going to hazard a guess that the swans aren’t doing well. All of which is to say that the fact that the man was sitting on the swan to pin it down did not jive well with the part of my brain that’s preparing to teach on bestiality later this afternoon. This connection might seem like a stretch until you read up on the colonial case of Thomas Granger. And ALL of this digression is offered to point out that after lapsing, mid-jog, into a fit of giggles, I’m doing okay this morning.

Which leads me to suggest that even though it’s been a while since I’ve been rejected from something (having only recently begun to apply for new grants and fellowships), it’s useful to think about what, exactly, rejection is good for.

Rejection is tough because you do a lot of work trying to get money to do more work, and not getting the grant throws a wrench in those plans. BUT grant-writing, even in the case of rejection is useful for:

Forcing you to think about how best to present your project
Making you consider possible collaborations and other experts in your field
Introducing yourself to institutions on campus that you might otherwise have ignored
Necessitating a compilation of relevant literature
Getting to know how the finance people on campus cost and fund events

I’m not sure where I’m going to go next. I should probably talk to my mentor and/or head of department, and I may go after another set of conference grants. On the other hand, this edited book will get written no matter what, and perhaps it’s a bit too ambitious to try to organize and fund and run a conference just for the hell of it during the same span of time in which I’ve promised to write ALL THE THINGS.

I guess what I’m saying, people, is that I’m thinking about trying to catch the Frisbee. But also, there might be some other pressing items to sniff out and investigate. 

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