Working Groups on Post-Doctoral Fellowship Research Proposals: What They Are, How They Work

[Update: November 28, 2022: Working Groups on Post-Doctoral Fellowship Research Proposals run over four weeks in May/June of every year. In 2023, there will be at least one group for applicants from Humanities and Social Sciences, which will meet IN PERSON every week for FOUR weeks, dates and times TBD. A second group for applicants from Life & Physical Sciences *may* be added if there is sufficient demand. After reading the description below, you can express your interest in joining that group now by completing this “Statement of Interest” form, and I will be in touch as soon as possible.]

The purpose of these intensive groups is to give postdoctoral applicants an early start on their research proposals for postdoctoral fellowships, as well as constructive feedback on making the proposal more effective. Starting early is particularly important for Banting applications, whose internal deadlines can be as early as mid-June; however, it is also very helpful for other postdoc applications with later deadlines in the fall. Priority will be given to Banting applicants and participants who have previously applied for a postdoc (i.e. who have an existing version of the proposal to revise). (For some testimonials from former participants, see below.)

In line with the group’s philosophy, our discussions are geared toward constructive feedback—as opposed to critique or picking apart arguments. This is not to say that there should be no criticism—of course not! It’s more an issue of emphasis, tone and intention: our goal as members of this group is to help each other out with the writing / revision process. Submitting your writing to the group should not feel like submitting to your supervisor or committee; the group is not there for quality control or for picking apart ideas. It is there to identify and suggest places in the document that may benefit from extra attention, from re-arrangement, etc.

A good meeting should leave the submitting authors feeling eager and full of ideas about how to revise their manuscript.

Eligibility: Each group will be capped at 8 participants, so selection will be competitive. Participants must
1. Be current senior PhD candidates (ABD) or recent PhD graduates of a graduate department in the Faculty of Arts & Science
2. Be certain they will be applying for at least one postdoctoral fellowship in  the summer or fall of 2023.
3. Be certain they will be ready to write a draft of their proposal (or already have a draft or version from a previous application cycle). If you’re not sure you’ll be ready to write a proposal by May-June 2023, this group is not yet for you.
4. Be serious about actively and consistently participating in all aspects of the group (including submitting your own writing twice) for all four sessions (barring emergencies, of course).

Note: Some postdocs, especially in the Natural Sciences and Math, ask for a research statement as opposed to a research proposal. This working group focuses on *proposals* for fellowships, not statements for job-type postdocs. Statements are an entirely different type of document.

****It’s possible to apply too early for a postdoctoral fellowship. If you’re not sure about your realistic timeline, please talk to your supervisor before signing up for this group.****

General Schedule

  • Week 1: Introduction to Principles of Proposal Writing (Postdoctoral Edition). This is a virtual presentation, run jointly for the working group and the separate module on writing post-doc fellowship proposals.
  • Week 2: Workshopping all 8 participants’ lay abstracts.
  • Week 3: Workshopping full draft proposals by four participants.
  • Week 4: Workshopping full draft proposals by other four participants.

Testimonials

“Not only did this workshop give me the impetus and tools necessary to craft my postdoc proposals, helping me breakthrough the fear of setting the first word down on paper, but it helped me build a sense of solidarity with colleagues in diverse disciplines struggling with the same proposals and aiming at shared goals. This solidarity was perhaps the most enduring motivation, helping me put my own struggles in perspective and providing me the courage to plunge into the wilderness of postdoc and tenure-track proposals!” (PhD graduate in Study of Religion [UofT], currently Arts & Science Postdoctoral Fellow, Political Science, UofT)

“I have been actively encouraging anyone who is within 18 months of graduating to take this workshop! I feel very lucky that I took it when I did because the process of applying for the SSHRC Postdoc is quite complex and involves engaging early with several outside actors, having a strong draft of my proposal by June really made my application process successful. This workshop pushed me to think through the components of my application much earlier than I would have on my own. The structure of the workshop was so helpful, because having to read and give feedback on a range of proposals on topics I knew nothing about really made me think about how I framed my own research for the non subject matter experts on the SSHRC panel. Besides enjoying the review process, I also feel that interacting with peers at the same stage of study as me, and feeling the encouragement we all gave each other, really helped me feel confident in writing my application.” (PhD graduate in Geography & Planning [UofT], currently SSHRC PDF, Geography, Newcastle University)

“I highly recommend participating in the postdoctoral proposal writing group! I found the organization and structure of the meetings helped me to think more critically about the proposal-writing process and what would work for my particular piece, and to get revisions done effectively and much more quickly than I would have done if I were working on my own. The group size is large enough to ensure a variety of solid feedback and small enough to be unintimidating. I found the feedback both constructive and friendly. No one bites.” (PhD graduate in Cell & Systems Biology [UofT], awaiting results in the 2022 competition)