By Brittany Schieler
Hi there! One of ASLO’s LOREX assistants here.
The 2020 LOREX applications are due 31 July! That’s just three weeks away. Are you a grad student considering applying for the next cohort of LOREX students, but struggling with how to start on an aspect of the application? Are you currently working on your application and looking for some insights to polish your submission? We recently asked the current students for the advice they would give their 8-months-ago selves for pulling their application and proposal together. Here is what they had to say:
- Wiley Wolfe “Contact your collaborator early and stay frequent in communication. Finish your application early share it with your collaborator, this will leave time to make any suggested edits. Be detailed in planning, but remain adaptable for changes both big and small.”
- Eilea Knotts “My advice to you would be to think of a project that you cannot do at your home institution. It’s easy to look at your research and easily come up with another question that may benefit your thesis or dissertation. But if the project can be done at home, why travel? You don’t need to have a firm project idea but shoot for an idea that either 1) allows you to research somewhere or something that you normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to or 2) learn a new technique or method with a collaborator that would not be possible at your home institution. Also, start sharing your ideas with your potential collaborator. They will be able to give you advice and to shape the project concept into something achievable. I actually gave my collaborator two ideas because the first one was not feasible with her lab. The second concept stuck and a beautiful project proposal blossomed from it. Good luck!”
- Marina Lauck “Give yourself more time. Contact your potential collaborator as soon as possible, and setup a Skype meeting. Give yourself more time to send proposal drafts back and forth with your collaborators and hash out details as soon as possible. Time flies, and it’s nice to have a solid, detailed proposal that has been thoroughly hashed out so you’re not frantically fretting about how you’re actually going to do all that you proposed. That being said, keep the proposal simple. 4-8 weeks is not actually that much time, especially when you are unfamiliar with the study system, and you want to make sure you have extra time to handle all the inevitable bumps along the way. Look for project funding as soon as you can, even if you just submitted the application to LOREX and don’t know for sure whether or not you will be accepted into the program. You can always decline the award, but you can’t go back in time to apply for the grant that was due a month before you get notice from LOREX.”
- Stephanie Owens “I would advise myself to start communication with potential collaborators early and frequently throughout the application process. I’d also advise myself that it is important to propose a project that is realistic and attainable with the given time frame. It is easy to get excited and caught up and try to propose more research than what is feasible. It is unlikely that everything will go perfectly and since it will be a completely new environment with a limited amount of time it is important to propose something that is achievable, which may mean scaling it back. Finally, I’d advise myself to create a list of supplies needed and a schedule/calendar for the project early on in the process.”
- Hannah Beck “I would tell myself Calm Down. It’s true that it’s equal parts scary and exciting sending that first introductory email to a potential collaborator alllll the way in a different country. But calm down. Don’t lose that excitement, but this doesn’t have to be any scarier than reaching out to graduate professors here at home. Scientists of all nationalities love hearing that someone is interested in their research! The same is true for writing the proposal. You only have a few months to pull it together, so calm down. It’s ok if you don’t read a dozen papers a day in preparation. No matter how thorough a literature search you prepare, you’re still going to stumble across that one perfect citation a month after the deadline. And your experiment design will never be perfect, because you haven’t conducted the experiment yet. Calm down and trust your collaborator; whatever they saw in you when they said that magical “yes” is really there even if you don’t see it yourself. The ASLO people who are reading and assessing your application know all of these things so calm down–your application will never be perfect, and that’s exactly where it holds the potential to improve you as a scientist and a dreamer.”
- Keiko Wilkins “Do not be afraid to pick a topic that interests you even if it is not in your study system. When I saw the LOREX call for applications I knew that I wanted to apply. I have always wanted to conduct marine research abroad. Given my location (Ohio), there are not many opportunities to be able to conduct this type of research through my school. When I looked through the potential collaborators and schools that I could travel to through LOREX, Southern Cross University (Australia) immediately caught my eye. I quickly searched through the potential advisors and found some of the research being conducted to be of interest, but not related to my current research or even within my study system. I still sent my emails to potential collaborators to see what would happen. After talking to a few people, I met Dr. Elizabeth Deschaseaux at the Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry. I told her that I was a freshwater ecologist who studied zooplankton within several lakes in the USA and had never been to Australia or studied coral reefs. I was surprised at how willing she was to provide me with several papers to help me learn background information about coral reefs, coral bleaching and Dimethylsulfoniopropionate. After working together for the past 6 months, I can say that I am so thankful that I decided to pursue a project outside of my current research. I have learned so much over the past 6 months that I would not have learned if I would have chosen a topic I was more familiar with. I was nervous about being able to catch up on the general knowledge of coral reefs, but I’ve been able to bring unique perspectives to the project from knowledge of my own system.”
- Chelsea Hintz “My advice for students pulling together their LOREX proposal is to be flexible in your project idea (my proposed project has shifted multiple times) and to take advantage of the opportunity to learn a new method and do research in a different system. My dissertation research is in urban stream ecology but I’ll be traveling to the arctic circle to do part of my dissertation research (thanks committee!) and I’m pumped to be getting experience in a new system and to broaden my research experience.”
- Trista McKenzie “1. Spend time reading up on potential collaborators, think about how their skills may complement or enhance what you already know 2. Start early, particularly for reaching out to potential collaborators. The earlier you start on this, the more time you have to conceive and discuss a cool research project for your proposal 3. Give yourself adequate time for the literature review. Look things up both independently and also ask your potential collaborator for any recommended readings (particularly if you’re doing field research) 4. consider how the research will be funded. Does it relate to your research at your home institution (and can perhaps be paid for from that grant?) Will you have to seek out and apply for funds to support what you want to do? 5. Discuss your proposal and research ideas with your advisor at your home institution as well as with your potential collaborator. Using Skype/Zoom/etc. to connect with your potential collaborator is very useful for discussing these ideas.”
- Sarah Burnet “check that you can use or bring equipment or supplies with you from the states. It is common knowledge you can’t travel with lithium batteries but other supplies/equipment should also be looked into. I realized (luckily early on) that the filters I commonly use in the US are considered flammable and can not be brought with me to Sweden. So I’ve researched similar filters that can be purchased in Sweden, which actually are cheaper there too! It has taken a little planning ahead but I would not have known this if I had not looked into it initially. Also, something you may have easy access to at your home university may not be easily accessible at your project site. Considering this ahead of time and discussing with your collaborator will create less headaches in the future.”
- Rachel Weisend “Be confident in your ideas and be excited about your project. Sharing your project to potential collaborators can be daunting but can lead to insight or ideas regarding your project or future collaborations.”
- Breena Riley: “Reach out to a collaborator as early as you can. I connected with my collaborator about a 5-6 weeks before the application deadline, but I feel that I wasted time by remaining in that first stage of conversation too long before I actually pulled up my sleeves and worked on my proposal. Take note of the final application deadline, and give yourself small personal deadlines each week (e.g., “I will a do literature search Thursday night after work,” “I will have the first draft of the introduction ready for my advisor to proofread by Monday morning,” etc.).
Also, try to build upon a project that you are already doing or have done in the past. Don’t worry if you don’t have a firm project idea when you start. The key is start and maintain that conversation with your potential collaborator. I think it is more important that your skillset lines up more with their research needs more than anything, pretty much like when you are applying for a job, than to have a super-new and outrageous idea. Initiative on your part and professional communication via email speaks very well about your maturity and ability to handle the LOREX collaboration as well.
My LOREX project is loosely based off my Master’s thesis project. I developed my proposal based on the research needs of my collaborator and the materials that I could either borrow through my own university, my collaborator’s institution, or that could be obtained through outside funding opportunities. LOREX does not pay for your project’s research costs, so I think that it is important to consider where your funding may come from when developing your proposal. My project is relatively inexpensive compared to others I have seen (essentially a species diversity survey). Actively research outside funding opportunities and develop a loose budget for your project while you actively research for your proposal. This will help keep your project in line with reality. I found it super-useful to talk with my thesis advisor concerning budgeting.”
There you have it! In summary, I think the major themes of their advice are to be flexible in your proposed work or field site (though make sure it is relevant to your thesis or dissertation), thoroughly research potential collaborators, give yourself plenty of time to complete the proposal (writing always takes longer than we think!), keep the lines of communication between you, your potential host, and your advisor open (check in with each other often!), plan plan plan! (keep in mind the logistics of international research like time zones and shipping equipment and samples), and have confidence! ALSO- Do not forget to have your potential collaborator submit a letter of support for your application.
If you have further questions you can email Dr. Adrienne Sponberg (firstname.lastname@example.org) or put them in the comments below!