Dear SSHRC, What Do You Want? An Epistolary Narrative of Expertise, Identity, and Time in Grant Writing




research funding, social sciences, epistolary narrative, self-study, letter writing


The current research climate has heightened expectations for social science researchers to secure research grant funding at the same time that such funding appears to be more competitive than ever. As a result, researchers experience anxiety, confusion, loss of confidence, second guessing, and a lack of trust in the system and themselves. This autoethnographic study provides an insider perspective on the intellectual, emotional, and physical experience of grant writing. A team of scholars document the production of a research grant for their major national funding agency, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The story is presented through epistolary narrative in the form of a series of unsent letters addressed to the funding agency. The letters foreground themes of expertise, identity, and time as they were shaped through the grant-writing process. The analysis draws attention to unnecessary complexities and challenges that could and should be eliminated from granting processes if the intention is to foster quality research and strengthen research capacity. Implications may prove instructive for other grant applicants, resource personnel employed to support applicants, and potential funders.


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Author Biographies

Michelle K. McGinn, Brock University

Michelle K. McGINN (PhD) is Interim Associate Vice-President Research and Professor of Education at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Her primary interests relate to research collaboration, researcher development, scholarly writing, and ethics in academic practice. She is a co-investigator on the Academic Researchers in Challenging Times project from which this article is drawn.

Sandra Acker, University of Toronto

Sandra ACKER (PhD) is Professor Emerita, Department of Social Justice Education, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is a sociologist of education whose research has highlighted gender and other equity issues in the careers and workplace cultures of teachers, doctoral students, academics, and academic administrators. She is the principal investigator for the Academic Researchers in Challenging Times project.

Marie Vander Kloet, University of Toronto

Marie VANDER KLOET (PhD) is Assistant Director of the Teaching Assistants' Training Program and the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation at the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In addition to being a collaborator on the Academic Researchers in Challenging Times project, her current research focuses on three areas of higher education: graduate student teaching and professional development; contingent faculty, labor and pedagogy; and accessibility and equity in higher education.

Anne Wagner, Nipissing University

Anne WAGNER (PhD) is Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, Nipissing University, North Bay, Ontario, Canada. Her teaching and research interests include the areas of gender, race, social justice, (higher) education, critical pedagogies and violence against women. She is a co-investigator on the Academic Researchers in Challenging Times research project.




How to Cite

McGinn, M. K., Acker, S., Vander Kloet, M., & Wagner, A. (2019). Dear SSHRC, What Do You Want? An Epistolary Narrative of Expertise, Identity, and Time in Grant Writing. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 20(1).



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