It took all day yesterday, till about 6.00 p.m., for the traffic on the ARC's website to lighten up enough to let me on. All round the nation, eager scholars were trying to log on in order to start the torturous process of second-guessing the fate of their applications, remembering that these reports are only half the picture. As we did last year, we received four reports on our team project: three are strong, with only one or two little quibbles; the fourth seems to be written from a different disciplinary perspective...
I find I'm being rather coy about the content here: don't want to boast about the good things the reviewers say about the project, and don't want to tempt fate by criticising the fourth report. (Anyone in Arts at Melbourne who's interested, and who is going through this process, is welcome to contact me and I'll share reports and the rejoinder, when it's drafted.) Seems to me that the reports are substantially stronger, on balance, than last year, and IF this translates into higher scores, and IF we write a good rejoinder and IF the college of experts can see that (a) the application is stronger than last year and (b) the assessors overall agree that it is (one of them, who read it last year as well, even says so, which is fantastically helpful), then we are in with a good chance, given that we came so close last year.
But... there will be hundreds of applications all with similar claims, all clustered around the cut-off point, whatever it is. And stories are legion of people with good reports not getting grants, and people with mixed and even very critical reports being successful. We know that there is a high degree of uncertainty about this process, given that the written reports we see are really just advice to the College of Experts. It's just that the lead time is so very long. According to some schedules, you should start in July to write the application you submit in February and find out about in November, to start the research in the following January. That's a lead time of about eighteen months. For post-doctoral applications, this is pretty unrealistic.
If we get this grant, it would be just wonderful, and will give me and my collaborators the opportunity to do some really exciting work together, and with our international partner, and with the PhD students whose stipends we've applied for. If we don't, we'll have to face up to submitting it for the third time. And I will then have to decide whether I also press ahead with my individual application on public and popular culture in a manuscript era, whereas the only research I really want to focus on between now and over the summer to come is my Garter book.
It's just so important that we keep getting these grants, though, as funding for our Schools and Faculties increasingly depends on how many dollars we are able to raise for our research. On the latest proposal, the formula would be 50% on higher degree completions; 40% on research income; and 10% on publications. Sigh. I must admit it does seem as if Australian academics really do struggle under this system. We are well resourced in many ways (well, especially at the older and wealthier universities like mine), but it is sometimes hard not to look on with envy at colleagues in the US who don't have to put themselves through this annual mill.