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.

The Only Poem Mentioning “Grant” in Existence

Preface of the Publisher (That is to Say, Me)

A while ago I had a project, called Poems by Famous Anthropologists They Were Unaware They Wrote. “Poems” consist of broken into lines passages from anthropologists’ works, which the authors themselves never had an intention–a wild idea–to break into lines.

Also recently, I got on Skype, which I do not do that often. And this is not a remarkable event worth mentioning by itself, but only in connection to the poem, which I found there to my amazement. This poem was written by my scientific advisor, Professor Campbell, during our conversation when for reasons of unstable internet-connection he could hear me but I could not hear him. Which made it a one-side communication poetry often is. The text is already broken into lines, and, although it was not intended as poetry, in this it shares the feature of many pieces of poetry. Even more, perhaps poetry written with an intention to write poetry is not poetry. And perhaps poetry is only poetry when it is written by chance and without intention. Without further ado, here is the piece (with the title I gave it):


Skype Poem

there are many
visual documents
on soviet ruins

a grant
I received to copy
many slides
this is a good idea
it seems to me a strong visual component would be good for this project.

your photographs
plus archival documents
it is important because of
a very strong contemporary record of ‘ruin porn’

this is your response.