Late last year we announced our next Patreon goal would be $450/month. When we reach it, we’ll launch a new program called the WeMartians Travel Grant. Following that announcement I promised an in-depth look at my thought process for this grant and what it means to this community. This is that in-depth look.
The program can (and will) change between now and when it formally launches. It’s a work in progress. But I’m a big fan of transparency, especially when it comes to handling money from our listeners. So this is my way of sharing my thoughts and soliciting feedback!
But before we begin…
None of this will matter if we never achieve the goal. We’re sitting a little over 1$100/month short as of this writing. That’s not that much considering the listenership of this show! So if you haven’t signed up to be a patron, this is a great time to think about it. We’ve even done some blog posts to really explain the benefits of the Orbiter Level ($1), Lander Level ($3) and Rover Level ($5). And if you’re feeling really generous, we have $10-$25 levels that give you discounts in our store, a presence on our donor page, and more. So pledge today and help us help a student travel to a conference.
Why do this?
Most of the episodes you’ve heard on the podcast have been long form interviews with scientists, engineers, & communicators. We have not compensated these guests for their time; they are generous people who want to share their work with the world. These acts represent a culture in space of sharing and teaching, a culture I am deeply grateful for, and one I want to pay forward.
As the WeMartians community continues to grow, I want to make sure that our collective values are something we can be proud of. Supporting the next generation of STEM professionals as they communicate their work is completely in line with this project’s mission statement: to engage the public in the exploration of Mars in a simple, fun, educational and inspiring way. Most importantly, it’s a way for us to invest in the future of Mars exploration. The astronauts who first walk on Mars, whether they be geologists, mechanical engineers, doctors or pilots, may well be studying today.
Why a Travel Grant?
Other ideas considered were simple scholarships or bursaries, but I made the ultimate decision to specifically fund travel for a number of reasons. First, travel to conferences is expensive. I know this first-hand now thanks to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. Hotels book up quick, rates are artificially inflated, and registration fees can be high (in the hundreds to even thousands). Throw in meal expenses and it becomes a work week that costs as much as a vacation. If you’re travelling internationally this can be even worse.
Second, in developping this grant, I spoke with some industry professionals and students and learned a lot. Often, grants do not cover conference travel, and many supervisors do not have extra cash to include it. Facing competing priorities of lab work & equipment, fieldwork and you know, salary, travel is often left out.
And here’s the thing. Conference travel is about sharing, networking, and expanding your horizons. Students attending learn valuable skills in connecting with others and presenting their work. What could be more appropriate for a podcast than to fund others communicating their science?
Who would be eligible?
For the first year at least, I’d like to cast a broad net. We welcome undergrads, masters students, PhD students and even post-docs. As long as you’re studying at an accredited post-secondary institution, you’d be eligible.
But what about the topic of your study? Again, the net will be broad. We only stipulate that your field is connected to Mars exploration. This could be directly or indirectly. For science majors, we might fund students studying planetary science, astronomy, astrobiology, geology, space medicine or more. For engineers, we might select students working on developing technology that helps people or robots launch, travel to, communicate back from, or directly observe Mars. This could include propulsion engineers, life support technicians, and instrumentation experts.
The application will ask that you show how your work furthers our understanding of Mars. That’s it!
What about different demographics? Will there be preferences for one over the other?
WeMartians is committed to representing and supporting people from all demographics. Students of any nationality, culture, gender identity, sexuality, religion, ability or ethnicity are welcome and encouraged to apply.
Selections will not be awarded based solely on demographics. However, WeMartians is committed to levelling the playing field by supporting underrepresented groups. Preference will be given to applicants who can demonstrate financial hardship or who are or have been disadvantaged by current or past bias.
Any other special skills?
Science communication inspired this grant. Therefore, applicants who can demonstrate public engagement efforts will earn preference. Whether through public talks, instagram accounts, sciart or community volunteering, we love hearing about your work to engage the public with STEM.
The WeMartians Podcast will offer an episode slot to all awardees to talk about their work and their experience.
How much is the grant?
The final grant amount is still unknown and will probably change year to year based on available funds. WeMartians is entirely listener-supported. Disposable income changes year to year depending on travel schedules, hosting expenses, and equipment needs. In the first two years of the show, WeMartians operated at a loss, which I personally cover.
Once we reach our goal of $450/month, we will also initiate a special limited edition T-Shirt sale with a special design. All proceeds will contribute to the grant. Depending on the speed at which we reach our goal and the volume of shirt sales, the grant amount will change. It is my wish to be able to award at least $500 USD but it is possible it could be more. If the available funds are extraordinary we will also consider breaking up the grant and making multiple awards.
So what’s next?
We’re continuing our drive to $450. This week, we’re at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston live-tweeting and blogging all kinds of Mars science. We’ll be interviewing people to hear about their work. And we’ll be making podcasts all about it. If that content is valuable to you, lend a hand and pledge on Patreon or pick up a sweet t-shirt in our shop.
We’d love to hear your feedback on the grant. Make a comment below, tweet us, or send us an email. We’ve done our best to solicit feedback from students and professionals, but at the end of the day academia is something we’re new at. So, we welcome any perspectives that might help make the grant or the selection process better.
Thanks for all your support. I cannot express how excited I am to bring this grant to life.