How to get into the Helsinki Collegium? / Tips for managing the Academia

How do you get into the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies? Well, for one thing, you need to be lucky: the acceptance rate of applications revolves around 5%. Thus chance inevitably acquires a role in the selection process, as with any application: who are your evaluators, how does your application fit in with this year’s applicant pool, what kind of themes are emphasised etc. 

Yet perhaps there might be some ways to improve one’s odds. During the past weeks a few people have asked me for tips on their applications. This has gotten me into thinking of the selection criteria that I could identify on the basis of the people that I see as having been chosen to the Collegium.

So here are my four tips: have a (fabulous) project, highlight innovative inter-disciplinarity,  explain why the Collegium & Finland  – and build a good case for yourself.

To go back to the beginning: The most important thing that you will need for any research position is of course a fabulous research project. For the Collegium this could mean an entirely new project including data gathering, or something for which you have already data from earlier funding periods. Yet emphasise that there is something new in what you will do at the Collegium.

Today Collegium fellowships are for 1-3 years – and I would be inclined to say that there is something of an emphasis on write-up grants (even if others might disagree). No matter what, think of a tangible project that you can complete while you are at the Collegium. Simultaneously some people do mention that they hope that their project leads to the creation of an ERC project proposal – will this be right for your application too?

The idea of Collegium is to offer the possibility for in-house fellowships, and thus long fieldwork periods would not necessarily be favoured – even if they are not impossible either.

The same with longer research visits – the point of the application should be to show why you want to be at the Helsinki Collegium, not use this funding to go to another research institute. You should also indicate that you are planning to live in Helsinki or be otherwise actively present during your fellowship as this is expected of fellows.

As for project outcomes some – like myself – mention a book as their goal, others a series of articles, for example together with artistic interventions. All this seems to work just as well.

No matter what the tangible form of your goals, aim high in your plans.

Second crucial point: emphasize the inter-disciplinary angle of your research. This is one of the most important overriding ideas of the Collegium, so explain what is interdiciplinary in your exisiting research and what you would hope to get in terms of scholarly input from the inter-disciplinary environment at the Collegium.

Think in terms of big questions and aspirations for answers that transgress narrow disciplinary borders while building on your strengths as a scholar.

Third, explain why the Helsinki Collegium in specific and Finland in general are the right places for you and this particular project. Emphasize the connections and interest that you have for diverse research groups and people at the University of Helsinki, and perhaps other parts of Finland too.

The main point is to avoid the impression that you are just applying for the money. Look at current Collegium fellows, particularly those who are staying while your funding period would start. Browse the University of Helsinki website for information of ongoing research projects and scholars linked to your interests.

Perhaps look for Collegium alumni among Helsinki University’s researchers: many of them remain engaged with the Collegium in diverse ways. Such collaborations are encouraged as together they contribute to a broader Collegium community.

Reach out to these scholars and boldly ask for possibilities for collaboration as a Collegium fellow. In your application you could mention some of these names for example with prospective symposium proposals, for which there exists the possibility of applying for funding.

Finally, be bold in how you introduce yourself at a scholar.

In my view the Collegium also functions a bit like a ‘pre-selection’ of people seen to hold the potential for the likes of ERC grants or permanent positions for those who do not already have them – and given that many Collegium alumni go onto receiving both shows that there may be some truth in this assessment.

If you can somehow communicate in your application that you are your own scholarly person with a calm confidence in your planned path, I would say that this is something the Collegium may be looking for.

I hope that this helps – the Collegium really is quite a wonderful place to be scholar!

And if this attempt fails, do remember that it is not a testament of your calibre as a scholar! Better luck next time, and if you are really lucky, you will feel that the time spent on the application was not entirely wasted either but rather a relevant step in your intellectual trajectory – with concrete rewards awaiting in the form of another research period in the near future.

Fingers crossed

This post commences my new blog series on ‘Tips for Managing the Academia’ including everything from how to revise an article or finalise a thesis to staying (or at least trying to stay) healthy and happy in today’s increasingly mad academia.

*Miia Halme-Tuomisaari is a Core Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies for a period of 2018-2020. The deadline for fellowships starting in September 2020 closes on September 13 2019. 

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