Saturday, 30 April 2016

Figures behind the Figures: Dr Natalia Sobrevilla Perea

Each term I feature a different Kent award winner in the Research Services newsletter, looking at their research and discussing their career path and funding track record. I thought it would be worth adding these to the Blog. In February I featured Prof Adrian Podoleanu; today the spotlight falls on Dr Natalia Sobrevilla Perea, Reader in Hispanic Studies in the School of European Culture and Languages.


Dr Natalia Sobrevilla Perea
When I showed Dr Natalia Sobrevilla Perea a list of her applications and awards over the last seven years, she seemed genuinely shocked. ‘I’d forgotten about some of these,’ she said as she looked down the list, ‘but it does show that perseverance pays off.’
And how. Natalia, a Reader in Hispanic Studies, has put in 11 applications and got five awards, totalling almost £100,000. Her first two applications were unsuccessful, but she never gave up. ‘I had in mind a larger project, and submitted a series of applications to allow me to explore different facets of it.’
Her research, she laughingly admits, is focussed on an area ‘that nobody cares about’: nineteenth century Peru. The secret of her success has been her ability to ‘translate’ her interest to those outside the area, and demonstrate its relevance to wider history, policy, and culture. It’s a crucial skill for anyone putting together a funding application.
Her most productive recent project was funded by a British Academy International Partnerships grant. It allowed her to link up with colleagues from Argentina and Chile, and the BA gave her enormous freedom to develop the project and produce unforeseen outcomes.

The project demonstrated one of her main motivations: to get out, to meet new colleagues, and to forge new collaborations. She recognises that this doesn’t motivate everyone, but would encourage others to apply for funding to realise their research potential: it will buy you time to do the research, or hire assistance, or access archives. ‘My advice to others would be to start small and don’t give up.’
It’s a lesson she learned early. Her dyslexia pushed her to prove herself, and taught her that perfectionism was not everything. ‘Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity’, she says. ‘It is the idea that is the most important thing. Without an interesting idea, an interesting question, nothing is possible. An idea opens up new horizons. You can always get help and support, through grants, to realise the idea.’
Her current application is her largest yet, to the Leverhulme Trust. Once again it’s to make links with others working in the field. ‘It’s an International Network,’ she says, ‘which will look at how war became a catalyst for the creation of identity in South America.’ If successful, it will double her current grant total. If unsuccessful, you know it’s only a matter of time before it’s funded elsewhere. ‘A rejection is never the end,’ she smiles.

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