Accessibility and transparency in grant applications
Sarah Messbauer is a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology, studying the impacts of public arts policy on refugee communities in Canada. Messbauer recently completed her tenure as the 2016/17 graduate student assistant to the dean and chancellor, where she engaged in programming and advocacy efforts aimed at improving the student experience for more than 8,000 graduate and professional students at UC Davis. She is interested in pursuing careers related to strategic initiatives coordinating, project management and instructional design.
Describe your project or venture.
My research focuses on federally funded arts foundations in Canada and how the rules and regulations regarding what they fund ultimately shapes the way people—particularly those who belong to Canada’s rapidly growing population of new and established immigrant communities—understand the value and impact of the arts.
What’s important about your research—and where do you hope to take it?
Many grant institutions have very clear ideas about what their goals are and how they want to affect the communities within which they operate. But it is sometimes the case that the grant process of an institution—which includes calls for proposals, application structures and merit and review procedures—does not produce projects that fully advance those goals. My research helps to bridge the gap between the theories of how these institutions impact their communities with the practice of their impacts on-the-ground. In doing so, I am helping to better align grant institutions’ practices with their goals and making the entire process more accessible and transparent for applicants.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
Using the knowledge I have gained to support the artistic and cultural endeavors of underrepresented communities. I worked with the organizers of several Haitian-Canadian music festivals and gained a strong sense of purpose from helping them navigate the application process and share their experiences with the grant institutions. Seeing the result of this kind of advocacy work—where I help communities in their efforts at self-empowerment and growth—is incredibly rewarding.
The academy provided me with a primer on ‘business language’—the way people talk about the skills I have, and how I, in turn, should be talking about them.
What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?
I learned to keep experimenting with how I describe who I am and what I do. My research is not only interdisciplinary, it is based heavily in the humanities, an area of skills development that can sometimes be harder to quantify in nonacademic job markets. I came into the academy already knowing the value of what I can offer future employers. What the academy provided me with was a primer on ‘business language’—the way people talk about the skills I have, and how I, in turn, should be talking about them.
What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?
I spoke with one person at a mentorship event who replied to my elevator pitch with: ‘That sounds completely uninteresting to me’. I was disappointed to hear that, but they followed up by saying, ‘But even though I’m not interested, that doesn’t mean you need to change what kind of work you want to do. It means that we aren’t the right fit, and you need to keep at it until you find an employer who needs the very thing you’re talking about.’ I was impressed that they were able to offer me helpful advice despite their disinterest in the particulars of my work and goals.
Leaders for the Future forced me to rewind the narrative I had built in my head about my educational path and career plans and start back at the beginning of it all.
What is the most important thing you discovered in the Leaders for the Future program?
Even if you have already tried something, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it again. Even if something seems simple, or rudimentary or basic, that doesn’t mean it won’t be helpful. LFTF forced me to rewind the narrative I had built in my head about my educational path and career plans and start back at the beginning of it all. Making a resume, going to a career fair and giving my ‘elevator pitch’ over and over and over again were things I’d never been pushed to do before, so I never realized the value of them until engaging with this program. At the end of the day, Leaders for the Future has taught me the benefit of small steps. After all, small steps can lead to big changes.
How will your experiences help you to change the world?
Thanks to the support I have received through these programs, I am delighted to say that I have secured full-time, permanent employment in the Office of Research here at UC Davis. I am going to use the grant-writing expertise I developed through my doctoral work to train and supervise campus researchers in their pursuit of research funding. In doing so, I am providing some of the world’s finest researchers with the tools and support they need to change our world for the better.
How will your experiences as a Leader for the Future and at the academy shape your professional future?
I have always had eclectic interests—a background in biochemistry, professional training in anthropology and a Ph.D. in music. I used to view this eclecticism as a liability because people never seemed to know which box to put me in. But because this program forced me to go back and rewrite the story of my journey, I have come to understand these diverse interests as a huge strength. It has been a wonderfully affirming and empowering realization. Participating in Leaders for the Future has really expanded my confidence in who I am and the value I can bring to the world by opening my eyes to the many, many career paths that will allow me to do the kinds of work that bring me personal fulfillment.
Anything else you’d like us to know about you?
My diverse interests include an eclectic work history in addition to my unusual academic path: I’ve worked as an amusement park employee, a full-time corn husker, a professional clown, a dental assistant and a fraternity housekeeper.
As an ethnomusicologist, I can play or sing music from nearly every country on earth… a fun party trick, if nothing else!