Our President continues her series of columns with more invaluable advice for building a competitive grant proposal. This week, we look at The Osmundsen Initiative and what you need to know about this program to receive supplementary grant funds.
One of the major goals of the Wenner-Gren Foundation is to support significant and innovative anthropological research; however, we are not merely a “passive” source of funds. We are also concerned with promoting the relevance of anthropology in the world today. One troubling aspect about anthropology is that many students and professional anthropologists don’t pay sufficient attention to explaining or promoting their work to more general audiences. If we are going to raise the profile of anthropology, and promote the significance of anthropological research, we need to think more broadly.
The Osmundsen Initiative was introduced in 2009 to encourage this – to promote reflection on the broader relevance of the proposed research and of the discipline in general. It was named after Lita Osmundsen who was President of the Foundation from 1963 – 1987 and was widely known for her communication and networking skills (Read a tribute to Lita).
The Osmundsen Initiative is an optional part of the Dissertation Fieldwork and the Post-Ph.D. Research Grant applications and provides the possibility of an additional $5000 for your research. The application is very simple – and it is well worth the effort. Not only does the Osmundsen give you extra money for your research, but it also increases your chances of overall success. This was very surprising to us because we don’t read the Osmundsen part of the application until the final decisions are made on the basic Dissertation Fieldwork or Post-Ph.D. Research grants.
To give you an idea of the “Osmundsen Effect”, in 2011 the success rate for Dissertation Fieldwork applicants who also chose to apply for the Osmundsen was 21.0% (60/286 applications). For those who did not apply for the Osmundsen the success rate was 12.7% (82/645). We think that the reason for this is that Osmundsen applicants have perhaps thought through their research a bit more than non-Osmundsen applicants, and are able to produce more competitive applications as a result.
To apply for the Osmundsen, all you have to do is answer an additional half-page question on the application form and provide a budget for your extra expenses. It couldn’t be easier – and we are a bit surprised that only about 25% – 30% of our applicants apply for the Osmundsen in any one season.
The Osmundsen question asks you to demonstrate how the unique quality of anthropology can make a significant contribution to the modern world and to describe the ways in which your project addresses broader issues of contemporary social or intellectual concern – and to do this in about 500 words.
The main thing to realize is that to be successful with the Osmundsen, your work does not have to address a major world issue. My advice is to think why a non-specialist would be at all interested in what you are doing. Write this answer as you would if you were explaining your research to your mother, partner, or friend. Start out with why they would find the work interesting or important and go on to explain why anthropological approaches provide the ideal way of exploring the topic. Another way might be to answer the Osmundsen question as you would if you were describing your research for the media, etc. How would it appear if it was written up for the New York Times or any other popular news or media outlet?
The biggest mistake that applicants make with the Osmundsen question is to simply reiterate what they have said earlier in the application in the same jargonese. This is not the place to restate the significance of your research to particular areas of anthropological theory – you make your case for this earlier in the application. You want to discuss why your research is interesting and important to audiences who are not familiar with the intricacies of the academic discipline. This is the trick to a successful Osmundsen answer.
One other thing to remember about the Osmundsen is that it is not for engagement activities and the answer should not describe how you are going to share the results of your work with your research group or with other stakeholders. We have another grant for this — the Engaged Anthropology Grant. The Osmundsen funds are also not intended to be used for outreach or dissemination activities. Rather, they are intended to be used to enhance the research project as described in the body of the proposal — which might include things like additional research or transcription assistance, additional time in the field or items of equipment that would facilitate the research.
So – you should look at the Osmundsen Initiative as an opportunity to step back from your research and think about its interest and importance to the broadest possible audience. No matter what subdiscipline you work in, you can make a strong case for the Osmundsen. There is no reason not to do this and the extra time involved in preparing the answer may have big payoffs — in terms of funds to support additional aspects of your research and just possibility in your own perspective on your work. In the end, we all want to be good ambassadors for anthropology and seeing your work in a broader context is a step in the right direction.