Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.
Okay, so if we were concerned with causation, we might also point to the inconvenient existence of gravity, and/or to our own culpability in acting carelessly in the vicinity of a precipitous drop, but that’s really beside the point: it’s really all about the building of character, so that we head straight back out onto that ledge (perhaps now with a few helpful gadgets) rather than living in constant fear of falling again.
Why do our applications for research funding fail? Hmm.
Again, let’s ignore the inconvenient facts that money is in limited supply and the competition gets ever fiercer, not to mention the possibility that it’s actually a personal failure in conceiving the project and/or writing the application, and even the obvious fact that one of the peer reviewers was determined to sabotage the whole enterprise. No, let’s focus on the question of what’s supposed to happen next. As far as the university is concerned, I’m pretty sure it’s the Batman principle: pick yourself up, stop feeling sorry for yourself and devise a new, even more exciting proposal as soon as possible, as this will both benefit the faculty finances and enable you to work through your psychological problems by building a jet-powered black helicopter with heat-seeking missiles and blowing stuff up. Metaphorically.
I do, however, wonder about what the view of the AHRC and other funding bodies might be on the matter. It’s striking that they have a rule to the effect that, if your proposal was judged fundable but not funded, you’re not allowed to return with a revised proposal on a similar theme (whereas if it was judged not fundable but with potential, you might be offered a second chance; not entirely sure of the logic here…). Is their expectation that I will go away and immediately develop a completely new proposal, more in tune with their expectations (which is, I think it’s fair to say, the science model: keep on applying for funding to keep the research going), or rather that I will go away and work diligently on the proposed project – because obviously that’s the research I’d decided to pursue – and maybe come back to them in five years’ time with a new proposal for a project once I’ve finished the current one.
It’s not that I now intend to drop Thucydides and his reception altogether, simply because I’ve had a rejection letter; on the contrary, the subject remains endlessly fascinating as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve certainly got a couple of article-length pieces that I want to finish if not anything more extensive. The twin problems are (i) that the project as currently conceived really isn’t workable without funding, precisely because it was intended to be interdisciplinary and collaborative, and (ii) that I like working as part of a team, and so am strongly inclined to develop a completely new proposal with that end rather than plugging on solo with Plan A. The fact that this also aligns with the university’s expectations is just a bonus.
But still I wonder whether I am therefore marking myself out in some way: as someone who is excessively infected by the research approaches of the social sciences (teams, projects etc.) rather than old-fashioned humanities scholarship; as someone who was clearly insufficiently committed to the original project if I’m now willing to put it on one side (which of course retrospectively justifies not giving money to the original proposal); as someone who’s greedy enough to want a series of research grants rather than being content to have had one at all.
Why do we fail, Bruce? So that we wonder whether it was a good idea to try in the first place?