Most of what I know about dealing with gremlins I learned from Havi Brooks at The Fluent Self. (She calls them monsters.) She even sells a manual for dealing with them, complete with colouring book.
The most important thing about dealing with gremlins is to remember that they are not you. Thinking of them as gremlins (or monsters, or whatever makes most sense to you) enables you to engage with them — talk to them, disagree with them, negotiate with them, etc.
I know this sounds crazy, but even if you know this is a game and a very silly game at that, it still works.
The things they might say
Some of the things your gremlins might say as you are writing your grant proposal include:
- How do you know what you’re going to find until you actually do the research?
- Who do you think you are? No one is going to read anything you write? You can’t have an impact on how other people do research in this area?
- You have got to be kidding? Do you really think they will publish your work? Have you even talked to them?
- What if you do all this work and you find something completely different? What then?
- What if you do all this and what you find turns out to be completely banal? What if no one is interested in it at all?
- There is no way that anyone, much less the esteemed people who sit on these SSHRC committees, is going to think this is “significant” research? What makes you think this is “significant”? Doesn’t everyone know all this already? And if they don’t, maybe they don’t care?
I’m sure you get the idea. Gremlins aren’t very nice.
What the gremlins are trying to do
It’s hard to believe but they are trying to protect you.
They are worried that the adjudication committee will laugh at you.
Or that you won’t get the grant and you’ll be disappointed.
Or that if you will try to publish in an important journal or with an important press and be disappointed. Or the peer reviewers there will laugh at you.
They don’t want you to be hurt or disappointed. And for some reason they think aiming low to avoid disappointment is better than aiming high and missing but maybe achieving more than you expected to.
How to deal with them
Whatever you do, don’t tell them they are being ridiculous. This just makes them shout louder.
You can ask them to speak reasonably, not shout, and try to be helpful.
You can definitely ask them questions:
- What makes you think that will happen?
- What if you’re right? What might really happen if I find something completely different?
- I know I might not get this grant, but if I don’t apply, I definitely won’t get the grant. How about if apply anyway, and see what happens?
You can provide information that might help allay their fears:
- This is a proposal. I’m not promising to find anything in particular. I have good reasons to believe that this is what I might find based on this stuff I’ve read (and summarized in the Context section).
- Even discovering that this isn’t the case is still a contribution to knowledge.
- No one is ever going to read this proposal again after the competition. Whatever I find and wherever I publish my findings will be judged on their own merits. No one is ever going to compare what I did to what I proposed to do.
- This is just a draft. I’m going to ask X to read this and s/he’ll make sure there is nothing in it that anyone would laugh at.
You can make a “plan B” for how you are going to continue your research program even if you don’t get the money. You might want to suggest to the gremlins that that is the first thing you are going to do after you’ve got this application in.
Sometimes just listening to them and writing down the things they are saying calms them down. They feel heard and can then let you get on with applying for the grant.
Sometimes gremlins really ruin your day. And in their zeal to protect you they can make it hard to do the things you need (and want) to do.
Dealing with gremlins is one thing we could do under the heading “coaching”. I can help you identify your particular gremlins and figure out effective ways of dealing with them.
Find out more under What I Can Do For You.
BTW, if you are a Canadian academic and writing a proposal for the SSHRC Standard Research Grant competition in the fall, I have specific help for you on this page.