How to Win the Wenner-Gren Foundation Grant

I have received an email asking me for tips on how to win the Wenner-Gren Foundation grant (although the request was formulated mildler, like to send my application, and if I have any tips or can share my perspective), but I decided to answer the greater question and to make my response open for whoever else might need this information.

“Yes, I do have some tips for you. In the attachment, (well, I’ll link it here) you’ll find my successful grant application and also a PDF of the article that is available on the WG website but is too often ignored. (This article is “Writing Grant Proposals for Anthropological Research” by Dr. Sydel Silverman, published in Current Anthropology in bloody 1991).

It is crucial to read this article.

It is very short, and it contains everything you will need to know.

Almost no one reads or even knows about this article. Even professors who should know better do not know about it and do not provide their students with due guidance. Yet if people read it, they would increase their chances exponentially.

Additionally, I share with you my collection of the explanations of Procedures_collected_from_WG_website_by_Vasilina Orlova – they will be of help. (I’ve uploaded this file here on the blog).

It is important to read the WG questions literally and answer them in full. Of course, the biggest overarching questions of them all is the one you will encounter throughout your career as an academic: What is at stake of us knowing or not knowing the answer to your research question?

Better think through and know the answer to this question!

It is the so-called significance question.

(As an aside, people hate to be asked this question. But it is YOUR–and not someone else’s–JOB to have a good and ready answer to this question. Even if you think your research is important, super important, self-evidently important, obviously important, do not expect anyone to know this just from the theme of your research, and do not expect them to do the job of making sense out of your research for you.

Yes, you can give them the woke spiel “it’s not my job to educate you,” fair enough, but it’s also not their job to fund you.)

But the minor things (apart from “what’s at stake?”) have the power to make or break your application too.

What I personally found made a difference with my application:

– I engaged with the local scholars. I named names. I showed that my research is not only USA-based. It is really important for the WG.

– I provided the timeline: what, when, how I will be doing what I am going to do; when I will know that this will be enough; when I will move on to the next stage. When I collect data versus when and how I am going to analyze it. It makes a difference for the WG.

It may sound like minor things, but the reviewers are looking for them like archeologists are looking for fragments of a skeleton, and to omit them is a mistake.

You will hear a lot of rumors surrounding the grant writing process. Even some professors and people who win the WG grants do not know why something wins and something fails.

They would say that it is “good luck.”

Having studied the WG procedures, I assure you that this idea can’t be farther from the truth. There are very strict criteria, and what fits these criteria, wins, whereas what does not fit them, fails. When people do not attend to studying these criteria, they, even having won the grant, have no idea why they won.

That’s only “luck” in the sense that they serendipitously answered all the criteria without knowing so.

It does not have to be a blind process. Study the materials, and you will be closer to the victory than lots of your competitors. Science is not a competition, but getting a grant is.

There is not an awful lot of time before the deadline, but don’t let it discourage you; two weeks’ worth is still a considerable amount of time. Two weeks is enough, especially if you already have drafts. Best of luck with your application!”


I spoke to another applicant to a WG fieldwork grant this week and told them that grant is a strict genre. It is like a medieval sonnet. It is a very formal genre. There are things that should be in there. There are things that should not be in there.

You can be taught these things. And you can teach yourself these things.

I am of the opinion that our universities should do a far better job of teaching people to get grants. It is an acquirable skill. Skills get better. The more you practice, the better are your skills. Study the system calmly and be methodical. It’s a beatable game, and it does not have to be hidden under the shroud of mystery because it’s not a mystery; it’s a skill that can be mastered.

The severe lack of good teaching of writing grants constitutes a serious problem in acquiring this skill with minimal waste of time and expenditures for careers, but that’s a topic for another article.

Update: 2019

I am inviting everyone to follow my work by following my website, my pages on and, as well as my Twitter and Instagram.

The main event of 2018 was coming out of my book, Anthropology of Everydayness (Antropologia povsednevnosti), in Russian. Nezavisimaya Newspaper included it on the list of best nonfiction books of 2018 (even though it contains poetry, among other things–syncretic genres have always been my main vein of writing).

In 2018, I presented my work at the ASEEES conference in Boston, Massachusets.

I spent 7 months of 2018 in Russia in my field: Moscow, Irkutsk, the village of Anosovo (Irkutsk district) and visited more than ten towns and villages on my ways throughout the region.

One of the significant parts of my travel was the train journey Moscow-Irkutsk. The last and only time I took this journey before was in 1998, that is to say, exactly twenty years ago. Back in 1998, I was taking notes even more copious and detailed as I do now as an ethnographer, and I am wishing for this valley of time where I can superimpose these two almost week-long train travels following the same route with the distance of twenty years in one work.

The next year promises to be even more fruitful in terms of the collecting of data. Because I won the Wenner-Gren dissertation fieldwork grant (and I uploaded my winning proposal for the benefit of my colleagues seeking information on the grant writing process and favorable result), I get to spend another year in Russia beginning May 2019 and ending possibly May 2020 (or later, depending on circumstances).

Meanwhile, I began deciphering and transcribing my field recordings. I have 828 recordings collected in 2018 alone (smaller numbers for 2017 and 2016). Some of my recordings are no longer than several minutes, others stretch for hours (sometimes with embedded long pauses). Transcribing is a long and meticulous work that requires supreme attention to the details of the speech texture. I made the decision to transcribe my recordings just as they were made: in Russian first, and only then to translate (of course, not all, but some of them, most interesting little fragments). I am transcribing in Russian for two reasons: translation will obliterate the greatest part of the unique value of the speech. It is only possible to translate a silhouette of the speech, as it were. Perhaps I will include the Russian original alongside the English translation as Don Kulick did it with the language(s) he was working in Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture Among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (1998); I find this attention to the language instructive even when I don’t speak the language. The second reason why I am transcribing my recordings in Russian is that they are valuable as is, and I am open to the possibility to consider that they in themselves are more precious than anything that I will be able to write about or around them. In the end, working through these recordings–deciphering, careful editing of them to eliminate repeated words and leave what needs to be left, cutting things that distract attention, introducing the speakers and providing descriptions for the settings could be my main work as an anthropologist and a writer.

The Spring semester at UT I am teaching Expressive Culture course. Together with my students, I am planning to (re)read some of the foundational works in anthropology that allow us to understand the differences between cultures. I am therefore anticipating the beginning of the semester with excitement, and I am planning to upload to the syllabus that I am still tweaking.

I have a big chunk of my dissertation written when it comes to the initial framing–I anticipate a lot of the writing that I already have will serve me in this capacity–but absolutely unedited. My dissertation is not my concern though, my concern is writing articles introducing my work to the anthropological public. I have been writing steadily beginning with 2014-2015 when I started writing prose and started writing ethnographically in English, and I continue organizing my material. The nature of anthropological work is such that it takes time; unfortunately, there is no way around it, one has to be ready to invest a lot of effort and be patient. No quick results are possible in this field.


In the photo: the cover of my book Anthropology of Everydayness (Moscow, Nookratia, 2018)