By Deborah Vieyra
Your research proposal has been spinning around in your mind with increasing speed, gaining momentum for when it will finally be unleashed. You have reviewed and analyzed, dissected and scrutinized. All that is left is to see how your proposal survives when you allow it outside of your head. Only one problem—how do you talk about your work to people who know nothing about your field, let alone your niche area within it?
For many fellowships, your research proposal is a vital component of the material you need to submit to be considered. It highlights the necessity of the work you would like to do, as well as how suitable your work may be to specific host institutions. Selection committees will be looking for relevance and originality. They will also be looking to see if you are the right candidate to be performing the kind of research you are proposing. Are you at the right level of expertise? Are you familiar with methodologies necessary for you to conduct your research? Perhaps most importantly, do you have sufficient passion about your topic to sustain your interest for the duration of your study?
Whether you need to figure out how to translate your work into something that can be more widely understood for a specific fellowship application or are looking to make your research area generally more palatable to other people, here are three ways to make your research proposal a little more digestible.
#1 Personalize it
The best way for anyone to understand your work and the passion you have for it is to get them to see it through your eyes. If they can envisage your research topic from your perspective, you will go a long way in convincing them of the work’s necessity.
Take an inventory of your journey to this point. What drew you to this research topic to begin with? Why do you think the current research available on this topic is insufficient? How do you propose to add to the knowledge that already exists? Also, why should it be you who does this research rather than someone else?
If you do not have a lot of experience on your side, think of other relevant attributes you may have. Perhaps you are good at working with people or are meticulous when it comes to data collection and organization. If you are honestly drawn to a specific area of work, chances are you already have abilities that are appropriate to the field.
#2 Put it in layman’s terms
Imagine you are a literature major with no prior post-secondary experience with science and are forced to sit in on a postgraduate lecture on astrophysics. You would feel as if you were in a foreign country. Nothing would be familiar, and however passionate and animated the professor tried to be, you would struggle to follow along. In quite a few cases, the selection committee for a fellowship may feel a bit like this.
Explain your research in a clear and concise way, and make it relevant to your audience. They may have little more than a cursory knowledge of your discipline. Who knows, you may just spark an interest in them that will lead them to find out more!
#3 Story tell
No matter what field you are in, the way in which your work fits into the world has a compelling story behind it. Why is this research important at this critical moment in history? How will it affect individuals and communities in society? Why are the stakes high enough to warrant time and money be spent on it? Deliver a story that makes your research the hero.
Your work is important. You have been drawn to a particular topic because you have identified a need for something that is currently missing in the world. What lies before you is the task of convincing others to see it in the same way you do. Allow your passion to emanate from you. This may just be the first step on a journey of lifelong exploration.
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.