It was with a great sense of eagerness and anticipation that I headed off for Cambridge last Monday for a full week of uninterrupted research. My reading list in hand, I arrived at Cambridge University Library bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, nothing daunted by the airline’s loss of my luggage or the taxi-driver’s surly insistence that the long way around was the only way to go at that hour, or even the resulting exorbitant taxi fare. I’ll admit my enthusiasm was slightly dampened by the consternation with which my request for a certain printed catalogue was met. And, my fervour received a further, harsher blow when I was sent away with the words, “leave it to me”. Luckily, said catalogue had been located by the next morning, and I settled to work with a sigh of relief.
Halfway though the first triple-decker Gothic novel I’d requested, all contentment and delight had vanished in the face of rising panic. If it was taking me this long to read one novel, how was I ever going to read all of the titles on my list? What had seemed like an ambitious but viable goal in the rosy glow of enthusiastic academic zeal now appeared horribly naïve in the cold glare projected by the microfiche reader. By Wednesday, I was resigned to my fate: a future research trip, or several, to complete my reading. How exactly to afford those projected research trips, however, began to prey on my mind. Accordingly, when I got back to Ireland, I began to search for possible funding opportunities with which to make these trips.Such opportunities, however, proved few and far between, at least from a Humanities perspective. I highlighted a few possibilities, including the Royal Irish Academy Mobility Grants, the British Academy Visiting Scholars Scheme, the Heritage Council Grants Programme, and the Worldwide Universities Network scheme, but I came away from the whole experience feeling rather despondent. Many of the available mobility schemes seem focused on established academics, rather than those of us dependent on our own slim means or schemes in which travel costs are rolled up with salaries. The irony, of course, is that without the means to complete necessary research outside of Ireland, younger academics without permanent positions risk never finishing their projects at all. In turn, they place themselves at an immense disadvantage in the ever-hotter competition for permanency in Ireland and abroad. (If anyone can cheer me up with opportunities that I’ve missed, please do!)
The conclusion that this whole situation brought me to was a rather pessimistic one. In an atmosphere in which external research funding is increasingly dependent on forging links with academics and institutions abroad, the funding actually to form those relationships and to utilize the facilities unavailable at home is fundamentally lacking if you’re not in a permanent position. It seems, as with many facets of academic life these days, there’s an essential disconnect between what the talking heads think ideal and what is actually achievable within the remit of available structures. Perhaps I’m being bitter and unfair here, but I’d be interested to hear about the experiences others have had with conducting research abroad. Have you been able to source funding for your trips? Or have you found such research expeditions a costly strain? What can be done to make this research more accessible? Or am I simply being unrealistic in my expectations for a relatively comfortable situation in which to complete my research, whether at home or, as is sometimes necessary, abroad?
To end with a moral, as the Gothic novels I read in Cambridge did, is impossible, I think, but I will offer a kind of exemplary tale. Whilst systematically combing through the aforementioned printed catalogue, I came across what promised to be a miraculous guarantee of future academic acclaim: an heretofore unknown Gothic drama attributable to my favourite Gothic author, Charles Robert Maturin (1780-1824). I suspected it was all too good to be true but awaited my delivery with a considerable amount of excitement, only quickly to realise, for various reasons, that Maturin could never have written it. My dreams of a discovery and attendant article on which to secure my future academic career over, I promptly called my financial advisor to discuss money-management tactics for my next research trip.