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Dissertation Completion Fellowships

27 Jun Posted by in Uncategorized | Comments

Imagine a year in which you got paid to do nothing but focus on completing your dissertation and preparing for what comes next.

If this sounds like a dream, maybe you should think about applying for dissertation completion fellowships, sometimes also referred to as “dissertation writing fellowships.”

Dissertation completion fellowships are intended to support for the year in which a student will complete and defend their dissertation. They provide a stipend to live on – typically around $20,000-$30,000 for the year – and ask little beyond a commitment from the fellow to dedicate themselves full-time to the goal of completing the dissertation.

In essence, the goal of these grants is to offer the luxury of time unburdened by the demands or teaching and working for pay – perhaps the only such time in a scholar’s early career. They also offer the prestige of belonging to an elite cohort of dissertation fellowship recipients. This last benefit should not be overlooked; the cache associated with an award like this will continue to bear fruit long after the money is gone.

Why Dissertation Completion Grants?
Dissertation completion grants exist because the final year of dissertation writing is a crucial moment in an emerging researcher’s professional development, yet also a time when the danger of attrition is high. With funding options running out, fatigue and isolation setting in, and the competing demands of teaching, work, or family, this is a moment when even a talented and driven student can hit a wall, getting stuck at “ABD.” This problem is particularly acute in the humanities and social science fields, where the combination of isolation and poor funding prospects for advanced doctoral students is worse than in the sciences. Partly for this reason, many (though not all) dissertation writing fellowships are focused on supporting scholars in liberal arts fields. Others (though, again, not all) seek to support demographic groups that suffer from higher-than-average rates of attrition, including women in male-dominated fields and members of under-represented minority groups.

Here are some well-known dissertation writing fellowships:

AAUW American Fellowships (Supports women in any field who are U.S. Citizens or Permanent Residents.)

Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowships (Supports scholars in most traditional field of study who are either members of underrepresented groups, or whose research promises to contribute to conversations about diversity in higher education. Limited to U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents.)

Harry Frank Guggenheim Dissertation Fellowships (Supports scholars in all fields whose research deals with themes of violence and aggression in human society.  No citizenship restrictions.)

Jack Kent Cooke Dissertation Fellowships (Supports scholars in any field whose dissertation topic deals with the educational pathways of high-achieving low income students.  No citizenship restrictions.)

Jennings Randolph Peace Scholarship Dissertation Program (Supports scholars writing dissertations related to peace and conflict studies, with preference for policy-relevant studies.  No citizenship restrictions.)

Josephine de Karman Dissertation Fellowships (Supports scholars in all fields of study.  No citizenship restrictions.)

Mellon / ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships (Supports scholars in the Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences.  No citizenship restrictions.)

NaEd / Spencer Dissertation Fellowships (Supports scholars in any field whose research pertains to education and the improvement of education.  No citizenship restrictions.)

Woodrow Wilson Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies (Supports scholars writing on women, gender, and LGBTQ studies from interdisciplinary perspectives.  No citizenship restrictions.)

Strategies for Making Yourself More Competitive
Dissertation completion fellowships are among the most competitive and sought-after of graduate fellowship awards. However, there are some things you can do to position yourself more competitively for these grants.

Timing is crucial. Sadly, many students do not start looking for support until it is too late to apply. Or they apply too early and then get discouraged by their initial lack of success. Understanding the timing of dissertation completion fellowships and planning for these applications far in advance –two or more years is ideal! – will greatly enhance your chances of success.

Applications for dissertation completion fellowships are usually due in the fall or winter of the academic year PRIOR to the year in which you plan to complete your dissertation. For example, an application might be due in November (with notification in April) for an award that will commence the following September.

Dissertation completion fellowships almost always run on a normal fall-spring academic calendar, September-May. The general expectation is that you will defend some time in the spring semester, or very soon thereafter. Do not expect fellowships to conform to your calendar – it is you who must adapt.

What this means for you:

  • Applications for dissertation completion grants are submitted nearly a year before you will actually use them – which means you need to start working on your application even before that. Award committees usually expect that at the time of application you (a) have advanced to candidacy and finished your required coursework; (b) have defended your dissertation proposal and finalized your dissertation committee; and (c) are actively engaged in research or even the early stages of writing.
  • Students attempting to finish on compressed timelines or who envision doing research and writing simultaneously will have difficulty putting forward a competitive application, since (a) these fellowships are not intended to support research; and (b) if the student is too early in the process at the time of application it is difficult to make a strong case for the research, and hard to predict if the writing will really be done in time.
  • You will be better positioned to compete for these grants if you can synchronize your progress through the PhD program with the traditional academic calendar. If you plan to defend your dissertation in September or October, your timing is not in sync with a fall-spring fellowship, and your application will go to the bottom of the pile no matter how outstanding your record and how brilliant/important your research. Fellowship committees want to give the awards to people who really need that year, and will devote the whole of it to their work. Consider how you can structure your year to take maximum advantage of the award.
  • Your letters of reference, particularly the one from your dissertation advisor, should clearly express the advisor’s confidence that you will complete and defend your dissertation during the fellowship year. Only academic references from dissertation committee members or other academic mentors familiar with your work should be used; professional and character references are not relevant in this context.
  • Your application essays should offer a timeline of how you will use the fellowship year to complete the work. It usually doesn’t hurt to point out that without the fellowship you will have to TA or work an outside job (or whatever) to support yourself, which will considerably slow your progress. Let the review committee see that this award will be put to good use and will really make a difference for you.

Ready to apply for a dissertation fellowship during the 2014-15 academic year (remember, that means if 2015-16 will be the year you plan to finish writing and defend)?  If so, contact the Office of Graduate Fellowships to set up an appointment!


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