It could be you: Academics receive a Helping hand-out

May 12, 2000

W. G. Sebald:novelist.

The German-born writer W. G. (Max) Sebald, 56, is professor of European literature at the University of East Anglia and one of the most original fiction writers today.

His first book published in this country was The Emigrants (1996), followed by The Rings of Saturn (1998) and Vertigo (1999), originally published in German in 1990.

Critics have praised the way Sebald crosses the divide between creative and analytical writing and opens up new perspectives on prose fiction. His trademark is to insert illustrations into the text - old photographs, railway tickets, postcards or restaurant bills - the ephemera he has collected while researching the book. "They all go in a box. It would be foolish to leave them behind. They are part of the whole thing and serve a useful function," he explains.

Sebald says his Nesta fellowship of Pounds 70,000 over four years will make a huge difference. His plan is for a book covering the period 1900-50, set mainly in Germany. "It will begin with an episode in Germany that is not well researched, the six or seven months after the first world war. It will look at the emotional formation of the younger generation in the 1920s and 1930s who came to support fascism. It will have a lot of my own family history in it. A key element will be to look at the Ordensburgen, built by the Nazis in the 1930s, intended as elite training colleges."

Sebald will take a year off to research the book and then teach only in the autumn terms for the next four years.

Lamenting the difficulties imposed on academics, he says: "It is no longer the case that when you approach the 60 barrier you are spared various administrative tasks. On the contrary, they seem to increase. In the past it was possible to keep the vacation clear for writing. Not now. I know colleagues who are quite desperate about this. For me, it's a feeling of having been set free."

Tom Paulin: poet.

"The Nesta award has a late Jamesian quality about it. It encourages you to become a flaneur in Paris because it's all part of your imagination developing," explains Northern Irish writer and lecturer Tom Paulin.

"With other awards you watch people worrying about what they'll produce. Nesta is saying don't feel guilty if you haven't produced anything at the end. Taking that burden away releases all kinds of energies."

Paulin, 51, published his first collection of poetry, A State of Justice, in 1977. In addition to several poetry collections, he has written stage and television dramas, a critical biography of William Hazlitt and he regularly appears on BBC2's Late Review. He is GM Young lecturer in English at Oxford University, a fellow of Hertford College and he previously taught English at Nottingham University.

"Any kind of writing, if you've got a job, has to be fitted into the interstices," Paulin says. The main effect of his Pounds 75,000 fellowship will be to give him three years almost completely free of teaching. He intends to keep up only his faculty lecturing and his ten research students.

Paulin's proposal is to write "a kind of epic poem but I'm nervous of trumpeting that because it sounds frightfully pompous. I want to say something about the struggle and memory of the generation that fought the second world war before the doors of living memory are closed."

Michael Hobson:physicist Michael Hobson, 32, is a member of the Cavendish Astrophysics Group at Cambridge.

He has pioneered the use of image construction algorithms - new methods of mathematical analysis providing a fast, accurate means of turning hundreds of complicated observations into one clear picture.

With their aid he has turned cosmological information from satellite data into clear images. Hobson hopes his work could help improve medical imaging, for example, making mammograms looking for calcite deposits in breasts clearer, as well as helping to sharpen pictures from traffic cameras for crime detection.

"My proposal is to establish cross-fertilisation among different areas of science and technology, applying the techniques I've learnt and developed in astronomy. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of my work it is difficult to get funding from traditional sources."

The Pounds 57,000 three-year fellowship will enable Hobson to take on a PhD student, give him time to attend international conferences and pay for a high-end workstation, which is vital to the success of this computationally intensive project.

Jonathan Hare: research scientist.

Jonathan Hare is a member of the Sussex University Fullerene group, headed by Nobel prizewinner Sir Harry Kroto. He is also a talented communicator of science.

In 1995 he set up on a voluntary basis the Creative Science Centre at the University of Sussex with the aim of giving children, students and the community at large an opportunity to explore science through making things.

"The CSC is my baby and I want to develop that by making a bigger, new centre at the university, comprising a lecture theatre, a small laboratory, a cyber cafe and reception area. There isn't much scope in most schools to spend time building anything, they don't have the resources."

Hare has helped one local school to build a recording studio with mixing desk, microphones and amplifier, and he wants to undertake more projects.

"It's how kids learn naturally, by coming up with their own queries and not doing things because they feel they ought to. But I don't just want to aim the centre at children. Recently, for example, we rewired a van for a group of travellers."

Hare, 33, says his four-year, Pounds 48,000 fellowship will provide him with freedom to experiment, and money for equipment to prototype ideas. He is currently building aprototype for recharging batteries.

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