Funding a Research Trip

This guest post comes from the Transatlantic experience of Kiefer Holland, and is essential reading for anyone at a Scottish HEI planning to fund a research trip!

Kiefer is an English Literature PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. His research looks at the writing and speeches of six nineteenth-century African American women: Jarena Lee, Maria Stewart, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Charlotte Forten, and Anna Julia Cooper. The work aims to analyse how each woman’s work created imagined and realised freedoms in a US context where they were systematically ideologically oppressed because of their race and gender.

I recently embarked upon, and remain embarked upon, a research trip to the US. Over the duration of my just-over-a-month-long trip I will be staying in five locations: Newburyport, Salem, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. In those places I will be visiting several institutions researching the lives and works of the six nineteenth-century African American women that my thesis will discuss. More than just enabling me to access materials not available in the UK, this research trip offers me the opportunity to meet and network (ew, I know) with people working in my area on this side of the Atlantic.

A dramatic Boston (Mass.) sunset as seen from the train

The trip is completely funded by SGSAH through what is now called Engagement Funding but was called Student Development Funding when I applied for it. The funding is paying for flights, accommodation, and travel between locations. The only thing that isn’t covered is food, which is probably doing my waistline the world of good anyway. The good news is that, if you happen to be a SGSAH full studentship or are on a “fees only” SGSAH scholarship, you too have access to small or large sums of money to do this kind of thing (and a world of other things) through Engagement Funding. I really have no idea what the solid “dos” and “don’ts” are for applying for this funding, but the following is based on my own experience of applying for the funding, and it largely refers to getting funding for a research trip, although some of it would be transferrable for other uses for the funding.

The first thing I did when I decided I was going to apply for the money was note down the deadline for applications. In my case the appropriate deadline was 31stMay 2019. It takes up to four weeks to get a confirmation on whether your application is accepted and your activity should take place before the deadline/decision time for the next date. The next three dates for applications are 31stOctober 2019, 31stMarch 2020, and 31stMay 2020, so if you want to get Engagement Funding for something happening before April 2020 now would be the time to be applying.

If not, you can chill out, maybe finish reading this blog post, maybe don’t, maybe make a sandwich.

Maybe contemplate a research trip as you sit by the tranquil waters of Central Park, New York, NY.

Next, you’ll need to get your supervisor on board, both to agree to write an amazing supporting statement and to help you draft your “Strategic Case for Funding”. I imagine most of you will have been through a process like this before when applying to get onto PhD courses and such. Personally, I found drafting and redrafting the “Strategic Case for Funding” is most like answering those questions you get on what your PhD is and why on earth what your studying it is important. That is, it was largely self-evident to me, which actually made writing a justification for it more complicated. What I didn’t realise before I looked at the application form was that I would not simply be justifying the trip in and of itself, but that a key element of the application would be justifying the benefit of the trip to me as a researcher. The application requires you to attach a Training and Development Plan (TDP) and to refer to it in your “Strategic Case for Funding”. For me, this process relied heavily on the Researcher Development Framework (RDF), remember that? The RDF, dehumanising as it may have seemed as you scored yourself, comes in mighty handy when you need to identify how gaining funding will help you follow the TDP that you, of course, keep readily available and up to date. If you use the scores you gave yourself on the RDF as the backbone of your TDP then you can quite comfortable indicate how the funding will help. For example, in the case of requesting funding for a research trip, if you have given yourself a low or mediocre score on “A1: Research Methods – Practical Application” and “B3: Networking”, then a research trip will clearly help you address those two scores, thus making the trip not just beneficial to your thesis but to yourself as a researcher. Going through your obviously already pristine TDP to ensure it is up to date and detailed on a variance of points other than just those that support your application might also be a good idea.

It is also worth mentioning that you will have to justify the timing of the thing you are applying for funding to support. So, on top of its benefit to your research and to you as a researcher, you also have to come up with a convincing case for the time of the year and stage in your studies that you plan to do it. Thinking about this genuinely might also be of benefit to you. For example, there might be cheaper flights or nicer accommodation available, or, even more practically, archives might be closed or people you hope to network with (ew) might be away at certain times.

The suitably festive “Witch House” of Salem, Mass. Scarier than a funding application!

Finally – and I have to give a shout out to the “Fellowships and Funding” training provided at the Scottish Association for the Study of America’s (SASA) 2019 conference here, because that’s where I learned this – it could help to look up and take screenshots of the charges that may be incurred for whatever you are asking for funding for. In the instance of my trip this was flights, train journeys, accommodation etc. Evidence of where your estimates are coming from is not asked for, but if you attach these screenshots and “show your workings” it can only be of benefit to your application. Two other useful pieces of advice from the SASA training were, firstly, to overestimate a little to cover prices going up and, secondly, to be honest with yourself about where you want to stay and don’t just go cheap to try and seem appealing. Your safety and comfort are far more important than saving costs.

I would add another thing, and this is for those who do plan on doing a longer research trip: also be honest with yourself about how long you are comfortable being away from home. It’s easy to get carried away and try to do everything in one go, but your health and happiness are more important than your project or how good a long research trip will look on your CV.

Thanks, Kiefer! We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Jimmy via email at or connect with the blog on Twitter

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