MY NEW PROJECT! Trafficking transformations: objects as agents in transnational criminal networks


A €1.5 million grant is making it happen!

In a previous post I mentioned that I interviewed for a European Research Council (ERC) starting grant. I’m humbled, excited, and terrified to say that this application was successful, and I and my team have been awarded a full five years of funding to explore, well, antiquities and wildlife and dino bones and the like! You can access the full list of grantees this year here.

Yes, it’s more in-depth than “dinos-n-stuff” and once everything is finalised, I will post the full proposal here, but to shamelessly steal text from (not plagiarism because I wrote it…):

Donna’s 5 year project will explore the role that objects play within transnational criminal networks, exploring the broad question “can objects cause crimes?” Using methodologies for understanding the relationships between objects and people, and how networks form from these relationships, Yates and her team will follow the pathways of what they’ve termed “criminogenic collectables”: objects of desire and collecting that seem to, at times, inspire crime. Specifically, they will be looking at the movements of cultural objects, fossils, and collectable rare wildlife starting in the Americas, the South Pacific, and Africa.

Donna’s team includes Prof Simon Mackenzie of the Trafficking Culture Project and Dr Annette Hübschle of the University of Cape Town.

Consider this a teaser, then, until I can share more.

Thinking about grant stats

On a different note, I’ve had a look at the ERC Starting Grant statistics document. There are several interesting bits of info in there, at least to me. Pardon the slight “bite the hand that feeds” tone here, but what am I here for if not to think about patterns in data, eh? Note that “female” and “male” are what the ERC uses and it is based on self-reporting so I’m stuck with that binary in this case; I don’t recall if they had another option than those two.

  • 67 grants of up €1.5 million each (and most are probably at or very close to that limit) were awarded to researchers in UK institutions. This is the second most after Germany’s 76. This means give or take €100 million was just awarded for exciting new research…€100 million that was only awarded because we are currently members of the European Union. The UK is completely unable to match this level of funding for important research if it exits the EU. Research and education here will wither. There is no possibility of it not.
  • The gender spread is pretty rough. On page 7 you can see that 227 males (60.5%) got a grant and only 159 females did (39.5%). This is a little bit misleading because elsewhere it was reported that drastically more males applied for grants than females and a female who actually applied had a slightly better chance than a male who applied to get a grant in the end. The big question is, why aren’t more females applying? This is the starting grant, by the way, meaning it is limited to people within 10 years of completing their PhD so the argument that it’s mostly men at the top is true, but this isn’t a grant for people at the apex of their career. However the gender breakdown by subject on page 7 hints at what is going on…
  • Though females seem to dominate in the Social Science and Humanities panel (I was in SH3 which is for projects related to “The Social World, Diversity, Population”; 15 women and 7 men were given grants from that lot), there are only 6 panels in this subject area, as opposed to 9 for Life Sciences and 10 for Physical Sciences and Engineering
  • Life Sciences is noticeably more male than female and Physical Sciences and Engineering is WAYYYY more male than female. PE1 “Mathematics” seems to have granted to one single female and 11 males. PE7 “Systems and Communication Engineering” granted to 3 females and 15 males. PE6 granted to 3 females and a terrifying 21 males… that was “Computer Science”… I knew it was going to be Computer science before I looked it up. They’re all terrible actually.
  • Even in the Social Science and Humanities grouping, two panels went majority male: SH1 “Individuals, Markets and Organisations” with 4 females and 8 males and SH4 “The Human Mind and its Complexity” with 8 females and 14 males.
  • All told, out of 25 panels, 19 panels had a male majority, usually by a lot, 5 panels had a female majority, and one panel (LS4 Physiology, Pathophysiology and Endocrinology) hit even.
  • This problem is exacerbated by the fact that more ERC grants are awarded to Physical Science and Engineering Projects: 170 vs 118 and 115 for the other two categories. Sure, more people apply for the Physical Science and Engineering panel, but weighting the awards on the panel that has the fewest women…and clearly failing to get women to apply to that panel, is always going to end up with a pretty terrible spread. 60% male/40% female is shameful as anything, and for an early career grant even more so.
  • The two “cultural” panels were the female-est: SH5 “Cultures and Cultural Production” was 11 females and 4 males and SH6 “The Study of the Human Past” was 12 females and 6 males. This squares, generally, with the gender break down I’ve seen in recent years in archaeology and art history. It shouldn’t be like this either, mind. Girl subjects v boy subjects is not cool.

What’s the take away message here? The usual “funding is a mess and women miss out” probably, but to some extent the missing out is a bit self selecting. If grants are to be awarded based on the quality of the project rather than gender (correct way to do it), as long as way fewer women apply, way fewer women will get grants. The not applying is a bigger fish to fry, however. We women have a tendency to underestimate our ideas, our value, our abilities and to take less risk in applying for very risky funding. We are taught to do this by everyone, society, so much so that we don’t even notice. We don’t apply for promotion, we don’t exert ourselves, and, apparently, we don’t apply for ERC starting grants.

If anyone (female, male, neither, other) are thinking about applying for an ERC, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I can’t say I have much advice to give but I can offer what I have.