By Margaret Speer

Recently, Megan and I (the undergraduate Project Assistants to the Blake Archive at the University of Rochester) applied for Discover Grant funding to support our continued work this coming summer. Without funding, we really won’t be able to participate as much as we do during the fall and spring semesters—possibly not at all.

Marriage of Heaven and HellThis is a relevant concern for undergraduates trying to be involved in research-based projects and internships. It seems like it’s a necessary experience to know what you’re doing (you get practical experience, academic immersion, networking potential, a line on your résumé or CV) and to get where you’re going (graduate school, further internships, potential jobs). But, if you’re an undergrad trying to make a dent in your tuition (maybe with an eye to master’s degree debt coming up) and you can’t afford a job that doesn’t pay, then it’s especially a catch-22.

Seeking research grant funding is an excellent way for undergraduates to resolve this problem. Most obviously, it materially facilitates the edifying and rewarding work that you want to be doing. Further, taking on the responsibility to make a coherent and convincing statement about your project and your work to a grant organization demonstrates independence and capability to 1) the program you are working with 2) your institution and 3) yourself. All of these aspects of grant writing are really useful for future endeavors.

One of the most striking experiences of writing this proposal, for me, was how hard it was to define for an outsider exactly what Megan and I do with the Blake Archive. Try to figure out what this illegible word is in one of Blake’s letters? Look stuff up in Erdman and Keynes? Add choice tags? It was really productive for me to give this some thought and figure out what to say. It made me think critically about my work and feel good about doing something I can point to. The experience also left me with a few key words and phrases I can spit back to my aunts and uncles when they skeptically ask, “The Blake Archive? What’s that? Yeah, but what do you do?”