This week I learned, via a paper my son is writing, that the molecules in rubber are polymers, meaning that they are shaped like a chain. In a resting state those molecules bunch up in a chaotic tangle, but, when you stretch them, like when you stretch a rubber band, the chains sort themselves into clean lines.
I suspect he was writing about the physical properties of rubber because we’ve been talking about how much flexibility the pandemic is requiring of us all. That flexibility can be enormously challenging. It would be nice to think that when we stretch, things get untangled like polymer molecules but the metaphor only stretches (sorry) so far. What we do know about this extraordinary time is that we are being stretched in many new ways.
No one at the OI can claim to have anticipated the pandemic or its durable impact. But we were in a pretty good position to adapt, to stretch, to be flexible in meeting changed circumstances and new demands. We spent the last couple of years developing digital infrastructure for our work including online program management and file storage and integrating virtual meetings to accommodate team members working remotely. We had to ramp up, but the incline wasn’t too steep.
Some areas have required an entirely new structure and process, none as much as our events and program calendars. The new OI Events page allows folks to see our full schedule, register for individual events, get individualized links to join the events, and also respond to our surveys about how well things are working. This last is quite important. Some of these programs are adapted, while some are entirely new. As we work on OI events and collaborate with other organizations to bring new programs to you to meet the very different needs of the pandemic year, we want as much feedback as possible. We will be flexible as we continue to refine those structures and processes as well as the programs themselves.
One of the biggest changes is to one of our most prominent and longstanding programs: the OI-NEH residential postdoctoral fellowship. Since the first fellowship was awarded in 1945 and supported for the last four decades by NEH, the OI-NEH fellowship had been two full years, residential, and came with the expectation of publication with the OI (and our partner, UNC Press). With the help and feedback of a wide group, we have reconfigured the fellowship to be more, well, flexible. Starting with the current 2020–2021 application round, the fellowship has been redesigned to serve a larger group of early career scholars and to recognize both that needs for fellowship support are intensifying and that two residential years in Williamsburg may not be possible for many or even most folks. It was a tough process, but we came through it with a sense of confidence about this path— and funding from the NEH. The selection committee will now be able to award eighteen months of residential fellowship support annually over the next three years in whatever configuration it thinks best. It could award three six-month fellowships, for example, or two nine-month fellowships, or one twelve-month and one six-month. And, the OI no longer holds right of first refusal on manuscripts, although we will continue to provide the OI-NEH fellows with support for manuscript development.
We hope you will check out our full slate of fellowship opportunities, modified for this very different year, and recommend the reimagined OI-NEH fellowship to your advanced graduate students and early career colleagues. We also hope you’ll join us for our online programs, as we work to convene our community virtually in ways that are productive, supportive—and flexible.
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