January 19, 2017

By Simon Goodacre | Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Brandeis University $700,000 to support the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’s (GSAS) Re-Imagining Doctoral Education in the Humanities initiative. The funding will enable the school to extend its Dissertation Year Fellowship (DYF) program, which provides resources to PhD students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences to ensure completion in their sixth year. 

The new grant will help sustain a set of programs first launched with the Mellon Foundation’s support in 2009, which have helped reduce time-to-degree and created cross-disciplinary bridges and support mechanisms for Brandeis doctoral students in the humanities. “I am grateful to the Mellon Foundation for renewing its support for our efforts to rethink doctoral education in the humanities at Brandeis, and for recognizing the importance of these disciplines and the excellence of these programs,” says Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz. “The Dissertation Year Fellowship has been a phenomenal success over the past several years,” notes Eric Chasalow, Irving Fine Professor of Music and Dean of GSAS. “The Mellon Foundation’s generous gift will enable us to support two cohorts of eligible PhD students in the final stages of their dissertation writing, while we study and devise new methods to facilitate student success.”

The fellowship is awarded to eight doctoral students every year. Applications for the award are reviewed by a committee of faculty. In addition to the fellowships, the grant funds a “prospectus seminar”, open to all doctoral candidates, to help students start the dissertation and an interdisciplinary dissertation seminar where DYF fellows offer each other constructive feedback. Greg Freeze, Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of History and co-director of the dissertation seminar, says, “The seminar is a working group where participants read chapters from in-progress dissertations and offer extensive comments on style and substance that differ greatly from the disciplinary readings in the home department. This is often an eye-opening, transformative experience, critical as these young scholars launch their careers in the humanities and learn how to speak effectively to colleagues in other disciplines.”

The new funds will also support the GSAS Working Group on the Future of Graduate Education, which will be evaluating these programs in the context of other initiatives and the changing pressures on graduate education in the humanities. The committee will consider aspects of both study and practice to come up with a set of recommendations for changes in the shape of Humanities graduate education at Brandeis “Everything is on the table,” says Chasalow. “We will consider all elements of a Humanities education, including pedagogy, the role of the dissertation, and how we can equip graduates for a variety of careers.”

The next cycle of Dissertation Year Fellowships will be awarded in April. The gift will also support Dissertation Research Grants of up to $3,000 for doctoral students in the Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences. Eligible students can review the application materials for the research grants and fellowships and read about last year’s winners on the GSAS website.