Monday, 26 November 2012

Three Good Reasons to Apply for the New Generation Thinkers Scheme

Three Good Reasons to Apply for the New Generation Thinkers Scheme
by Sue-Ann Harding

The New Generation Thinkers scheme, now in its third year, is an AHRC and BBC Radio 3 joint initiative that brings together academics and the wider public through the media. It’s a fantastic opportunity for new researchers who are given a platform to share their research and their ideas. I applied last year because when I saw the announcement it seemed already to be ‘mine’. An avid radio listener, funded by the AHRC at doctoral and post-doc level, the very words themselves seemed to be from familiar territory. As busy as I was with the usual deadlines and marking that fill this time of year, I knew I would chide myself ever after if I did not at least give it a go. Now, speaking as one of the ten who were selected for the 2012 scheme, here are three good reasons why you should apply.

Firstly, the application is not onerous. 250 words on how your research “could make an engaging and stimulating programme of up to 45 minutes for a non-academic audience.” No long calls for CVs, personal statements, evidence of skills etc. Nor is this a cost-benefit analysis for a funding application, so you don’t have to think how you would do it, just what you would do if you could. My idea was to go to Russia and describe the various monuments erected in various cities in memory of the victims of the Beslan hostage disaster of 2004. It would be one of those evocative programmes full of “radio pictures”; and I still hope it gets made. The other part of the application is 250 words to “review a new film, play, novel, book of poetry, exhibition or other cultural event that you’ve recently attended. It must be on a topic separate from your research.” I wrote on the Magritte exhibition at Tate Liverpool and brought in memories of how I’d first discovered him as a school girl, leafing through glossy art books with a friend on Saturday afternoons at her house. The hardest part of the application was using the right 250 words for each piece, but the themes and ideas should already be familiar and close to you. Even if you get no further than this you will have a) met a deadline, b) met a strict word limit c) written about your research for a non-academic audience and d) thought about your research in terms other than the usual conference or academic paper.

Secondly, the workshops are great! “Each day-long workshop will consist of an introduction to programme-making; a chance to hear from a regular Radio 3 contributor who is also an academic; a meeting with producers from Radio 3 arts programmes and from BBC TV Arts; an opportunity to develop your own programme idea - and finally a pitching session for a place amongst the final ten.” Although the competition is still on at this point, I was simply so thrilled to be shortlisted (already a major achievement that you can put on your CV) that I forgot all about that and simply engaged in the day’s activities and thoroughly enjoyed myself. We had to prepare a two-minute pitch for a radio programme (I expanded on the one I’d used in the application) and then answer questions from the others in the group. Again, an excellent opportunity to talk about, and defend, your research. We also had to be prepared to argue on both sides of the question, “Is life a comedy or a tragedy?” I read up on this beforehand, formulated a few working definitions and settled on a basic argument for each side. In fact, this was the most difficult part of the day - it came right at the end after a whole day of thinking and discussions and I thought my head would crack open – but it was also incredibly enjoyable. I remember just physically relaxing into the role play and “pretending” I was on The Review Show or something. By then then whole thing seemed slightly ridiculous and so, was lots of fun.

Thirdly, actually making it through to the final ten is a fantastic opportunity to secure and develop a platform for your research and ideas. It also gives you the permission, if you like, to take that on, to believe that what you have to say is of interest to others. Most of us, in the early stages of our academic careers, don’t quite have that – which might well be why you are hesitating to even apply. My advice is: do it – meet the word limit, stick to the deadline, write about what you know best, what you care about, and what moves you. And just see what happens. Nothing to lose and plenty to gain.

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