Sabbatical Fellowships, or My Semester of Applying for Stuff

This term has set a personal record for me: 11 applications for things. Eleven. Let me tell you about them.


(Are you a US citizen working a contingent academic job? Scroll down for an interesting opportunity that not a lot of people in my world seem to know about).

I’m up for sabbatic leave in 2024-5. Although historically McGill has usually approved faculty sabbaticals you still have to apply. Fine. It’s one of the best benefits of our job. Carrie is applying at the same time.

We are planning to travel for this sabbatical. Maybe you’d like to as well.

The easiest thing if you are fully funded is to call up a friend at another school in a place you’d like to be and see if they can work out a visiting position and office for you. These are unpaid but often you can finagle library privileges. I accept that this might smell of a slightly disgusting clubby dimension of academia but that’s how it works. You can write to strangers too–this occasionally happened back in my days of department chair, but usually the visitor needs a faculty host, which is why cold calls are less likely to work. Of course, you could also just move somewhere and set up shop without an institutional affiliation. We might do that in a future sabbatical.

Carrie says I like a “monastic” sabbatical. I don’t think the metaphor is quite right because it implies asceticism, which is not a behaviour I have ever manifested. But what I like is: a routine (none of the schedule noise of my regular job), a place to work, and a cohort of other people on leave with whom I can have conversations and be directed to new ideas and bibliographies. It’s basically like some kind of distorted summer camp scenario. Without the crafts, unless you count your writing as a craft.

These gigs often come with money, though not enough for full salary replacement. If you’re at a school that gives some funding for sabbatical but not enough for a full year, these can supplement your income.

This year Carrie and I mostly focused our search in the United States. That’s because for a leave starting in fall 2024, we started looking in May of 2023. By that time the deadline for a lot of European gigs had already passed. There are shorter 1-month residencies, like at Bellagio, but we wanted either semester or year-long gigs.

So, first takeaway: European Institutes of Advanced Study tend to operate on a two year timeline. Check out EURIAS for a comprehensive list. American Fellowships tend to operate on a one-year timeline with deadlines in the late summer and early fall. Which means you can’t start thinking about it in August.

In sum, I recommend you start thinking about sabbatical applications two years in advance of when you’d like to start. Year -2 will be applications to Europe if you want to go there. Year -1 will be applications to US institutions, and you’ll know the deadlines well ahead of time.

Here’s the list of places to which Carrie and I applied:

Institute for Advance Study in Marseilles, (that was Carrie; I would have applied for Paris but JUST missed the deadline–these need a university affiliation)

American Academy Berlin (only US citizens), 

Guggenheim (take it anywhere! but very hard to get)

Institute for Advanced Study Princeton School of Social Science (mix of topical and some open positions, I applied for open as I’m nowhere near the topic for 2024-5), 

National Humanities Center in the research triangle, 

Cornell Society for the Humanities (topical–this year was “Silence”; they do ask you to teach a seminar), 

Radcliffe Institute, 

Center for Advanced Study in Behavioural Sciences (Stanford), 

Stanford Humanities Center

Missed deadlines I might have considered for EURIAS places:

Berlin (duh), Sweden (Uppsala, I think, maybe there’s one in Stockholm too), Netherlands, Norway. Maybe for the next sabbatical.

The UK also has Leverhulme visiting professorships. You need a sponsor and might have to teach.

For Canadians: there are Fulbright Canadian studies professorships in the US (again, need to teach). Non-US citizens can also apply for Fulbright research fellowships to do research in the US.

Are you working a contingent faculty position and wishing you too could apply for a year’s support to pursue your research?

If you are a US citizens, the ACLS has switched their faculty fellowships from being for tenured people to being for people who are working contingent jobs (maybe also tenure track). They are hard to get but a great opportunity. You can’t win if you don’t play.

What happens if get all of them?

Hahahahaha. That’s not going to happen, but what could happen is that we are each offered something different. For now, our plan is to do what’s best for the couple. If we get nothing (also a possibility–these are all very competitive), we will just find a place to set up shop. We have lines on a couple options. (See point about friends above.)

A Few Thoughts on Logistics of Applying

Our results aren’t in so I can’t tell you for sure what works/makes a difference. This is my second application to the Guggenheim. Last time I didn’t have a book contract for the project I was pitching, so this time I went out and got a book contract for it. I generally just write the book manuscript and submit it, so this was a new thing for me. We’ll see if it makes a difference.

All of these places need a project description. The project description is the first thing your referees will read so be sure it’s your best writing. You can work up a basic template that you modify to pitch to the various institutions. That’s much better than a bespoke application for each place, though some ask for different enough word counts that you’ll have to reconceptualize.

Some universities will give you feedback on your draft project description. See if yours offers that service.

You will need letters of recommendation. Line them up ahead of time. It is my best guess that people who really know you are better than the most famous people you sort of know, but I could be wrong. I’ve done reviewing for some of these fellowships in the past and certainly I was more impressed by a good letter than good letterhead.

Everyone uses their own bespoke application system. This will be a pain in the ass, though some of them are actually very well designed. Some have specific requirements for your CV. Leave lots of time for this.

Research Support

In addition to sabbatical apps, I had to apply for other stuff. It was a lot of work, but hopefully will be worth it. I have a lot of grad students right now, and McGill’s system makes it more like the sciences for humanists like me–I have a responsibility to make sure my students are funded. That means applying for grants. My timing wasn’t good in the sense that a few things piled up in one term (like sabbatical apps on top of this), but I lived. I don’t really recommend doing all this though.

SSHRC Insight Grant: I’m used to these. I should write a thing about writing SSHRC Insight Grants someday. They are a ton of work. I think of it as about the labour of two journal articles every 5 years or so. But they’re also a ton of money compared to what humanists usually get. Due beginning of October, completed while I had Covid. Kind of sucked. But if I get it, I asked for close to $400,000 over 5 years, which would be great for everyone involved. (They could cut my budget but I didn’t inflate it, so I hope I’m successful.)

SSHRC Connection Grant: this is to help support a conference I’m co-organizing in April 2024 with James Parker, called Machine Listening: Critical Perspectives. It’s been a joy collaborating with James but the combined workload of the SSHRC form and university form were disproportionate to the amount of money. 70% of the work of the Insight Grant, for $25,000, about half of which will go to student funding. Due at the beginning of November.

Microsoft Research AI and Society Fellow: Again, this will mostly go to student funding. Related to generative music chapter in my Sound and AI book (for which I got the advance contract for the fellowships). This was the easiest one. You drag and drop two documents into their interface, and fill out a form with completely standard information in their system. I basically built out the outline for that chapter with things I’d thought about or learned since I sent in the proposal and sample chapters last spring. Due at the end of November.

Misophonia Foundation Letter of Intent. I wouldn’t have known about this except for an enterprising PhD student. She is enterprising, so I was persuaded to go for it. One page LOI for a potentially massive grant–$500,000US. They don’t normally fund people who aren’t scientists but there’s a tiny crack that we might be able to squeeze into, and you can’t win if you don’t play, right? Again, mostly for student support but it’s just one page to see if they’re even interested. Easy-peasy, right? No! The letter was the usual amount of work, but McGill’s own process of approving grant applications like this took way more time than the application itself. Special shout out to the dynamic XML Adobe Acrobat form that was missing fields I had to fill out and could not be saved as a draft. Due at the end of November.