Ryan  Burns, phd
May 15, 2013

FAQs about my FundRazr Campaign

A couple weeks ago I was admitted to the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme in Toronto. As thrilled and honored as I am to attend the program, I found out that I don’t qualify for any funds from my school. And as you might imagine, the $2600 tuition bill plus around $800 for airfare is way, way beyond the budget of most grad students! So I started a FundRazr campaign to ask my friends and family for help in getting there.

My FundRazr campaign

Now, I was fully expecting some of my more critically-minded friends to remind me of the problems associated with this model of funding and so on. And I’m not *at all* dismissive of these objections - as is becoming pretty common in my life, I just have to acknowledge the contradictions that frame how I - how we all - have to operate. However, some of the questions they’ve raised have some pretty simple answers, so I thought I’d put them down here for others to see. I’m calling these “frequently asked questions”, but that word “frequent” is used rather loosely, haha!

  1. Why are you attending? How do you stand to benefit from it?

    The program is designed to help late-stage PhD students think about their dissertation project in conversation with others and with experts in the field of Internet Studies. The idea is that by coming together to discuss our work, the quality of our dissertations will improve. I went to a summer school in Bergen, Norway a few years back and that program was one of the most deeply thought-provoking and impactful experiences in my doctoral work. I hope the program in Toronto will be similarly productive.
  2. Why would you go here instead of writing your dissertation?

    I’m basically already writing my dissertation right now, and I hope to have a chapter out to my adviser by the time Toronto comes around. But I’ll still be able to translate some of the lessons learned in Toronto into a higher-quality product (dissertation). It’s really an “and” situation rather than an “or”: I’ll attend the SDP *and* be writing my dissertation (especially since the program is only 11 days!).
  3. So are you going just to improve the quality of your dissertation?

    I’m glad you asked! No, that’s probably the biggest benefit, but it will also be a chance to network with my future colleagues (people I may work alongside in the future!). Depending on how well our interests overlap, I may write papers with them, organize panels/workshops/conferences, or an inter-university collaborative research project. I may even meet people who will be able to help with employment in the future… Who knows? And beyond these professional benefits, I love meeting new like-minded people. I hope that while there I can make a few new friends!
  4. Why are you asking for money from friends/family/networks rather than paying for it with student loans?

    That’s a fair question, especially since that’s how most grad students pay for their education. I have three reasons for taking this approach over student loans. First, I’m trying out a creative solution to the problem I’m in. My most immediate need is to get to Toronto and I’m SOL with regard to help from my school, so in an act of desperation I came up with this creative solution to my problem. I’m not one to ask people for money, so this put me far, far outside my comfort zone. But… I’m kinda at a loss for other options. The second reason is that my wife and I are already up to our eyeballs in student loan debt. I don’t even think we’ll be allowed to take out any more loans for next year, so we’re terrified of our financial prospects over the next year. I know that many in my audience of begging (Facebook friends) are facing similar challenges. In fact, the third day I sent most of my really close student friends an email acknowledging this problematic, and instead of asking them for money I asked that they forward the link to their networks. The third reason is related to that: I’ll probably still have to take out loans to cover the full cost, so I’m hoping the FundRazr will offset those costs.
  5. This is just a privileged ivory tower summer school. Why should we care about that?

    So, I can identify another contradiction that I’m living in, and I tried to expand on that in a previous blog post. For my dissertation work I’m working in a field that I am able to thoroughly critique. Like so many others in digital humanitarianism, we recognize the problematic nature of lots of what we’re doing, yet we continue doing it because it’s still a worthy goal. Now, back to the point: my work is *very* much NOT ivory tower work. One of my most important goals is to produce scholarship that contributes to the community I study. As an academic, though, I have to recognize the multiple audiences I have to placate: I have to contribute to my community (digital humanitarians), I have to write to other academics and speak to academic conversations, I have to speak to geographers but make contributions beyond my field. So the program may have legacy elements of ivory tower-ness, but that’s just one of my many audiences.
  6. Can you remove me from your FundRazr posts?

    Obviously I’m saddened to hear the request, but I absolutely can. Just shoot me a private message - email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever, and I’ll except you from future posts.

Any other burning questions? Anything you’re dying to ask? Let me know! :)

EDIT (5/19/13): I’ve been asked a few more questions.

  1. I worked hard for funding for my research. Why should I give you some of that money when you could have done the same as me?

    There are a couple ways I could answer this question. First off, everyone should know that, as is the case for the vast majority of graduate students, I applied for many, many grants/fellowships/scholarships and was turned down for most of them. I lost count, but I think I applied for around 8 (NSF, SSRC (twice), Fritz-Boeing, UW-Presidential, Qualitative Rsrch Specialty Group (twice), many others), and secured only one source of funding: working as a research assistant for the Commons Lab at the Wilson Center in DC ($12 an hour). I’m not complaining - working for the Center has been *incredibly* rich and has given me invaluable information and connections. I’m just saying that I worked very, very hard to fund my research - as do most grad students - and secured enough to live in DC but not much else.

    The second thing I’d like to point out is that if you can’t afford a financial donation right now, that’s totally fine! Other ways you can help include passing along my FundRazr link to your online and offline social networks, “liking” the page or my posts about it, and re-posting my posts. I know that everybody is in a different financial situation, so just remember the cliche that “every dollar helps”, and exposure often translates into dollars! :)
  2. FundRazr is a really non-traditional way of funding academic work - why are you doing it this way?

    Sites like FundRazr, IndieGoGo, and Kickstarter are collectively called “crowdfunding”, and for better or worse, crowdfunding is increasingly being used by academic researchers to fund their work. At times it makes me cringe because it can assume a market value for scholarly work, which I’ve worked hard to argue against in the past. And one could see the shift as academics being “proper neoliberal citizens” by asking individual people for contributions rather than demanding that support from the state. BUT the reality of academic work is that researchers, myself included, must find funds to support our research within the social, political, and economic contexts in which we work. Whatever our current situation, I would benefit immensely from this trip to Toronto, and this FundRazr platform is increasingly being used to help researchers do just this sort of thing. I think we all understand that ideally I would have secured funding from my school or from another organization, but many grads are now having to turn elsewhere for money.
  3. What is digital humanitarianism and why should I care?

    Well, personally, I think it’s a pretty cool new development we’re seeing that uses technology to distribute humanitarian action to collaborators across the globe. We’re seeing it in websites/software like Ushahidi, the Standby Task Force, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, and the Digital Humanitarian Network, and it basically is the set of technologies, social networks, and political-institutional reconfigurations that enable people working on-the-ground and remotely - usually volunteers! - to collaborate on a humanitarian project. Like any other social-technical development, it is open to critique (and that’s my job as an academic researcher!) and is based on communal knowledges, geographical power relations, and political economy. I think it also depends on the trend identified by Ananya Roy where the new “digital millenial” generations want to use the vast resources at their disposal to help the world in a Gates-Foundation sort of way. Although it’s quite new, formal and informal disaster and humanitarian responses are beginning to engage with this approach, so we need to really start digging in to understand its foundational concepts, its problematic power relations, its contradictions, and its social and political implications.
blog comments powered by Disqus