Fellowships and Grants > Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship (DPDF) Program

DPDF Student Fellowship Competition

Providing graduate students with support to formulate effective doctoral dissertation proposals

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The Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship (DPDF) Student Fellowship Competition is organized to help graduate students in the humanities and social sciences formulate effective research proposals through exploratory research and exchanges with other scholars within interdisciplinary areas of study.

Each year, the program offers dissertation proposal development workshops led by pairs of tenured senior faculty who define emerging or reinvigorated interdisciplinary research fields. These research field directors lead groups of 12 graduate students through two multiday workshops during the fellowship cycle. The spring workshop helps students focus their research questions and prepare them for summer exploratory research that will inform the design of dissertation proposals. The fall workshop helps students apply their summer research experiences to writing dissertation research proposals for their departments or funding agencies. Students may apply for up to $5,000 to cover summer research costs. Travel, accommodations, and meals for both workshops are covered by the DPDF Program.

Working together with faculty research directors, graduate students design research that will help to shape evolving fields in the humanities and social sciences. All of the program's activities seek to create professional networks that will have value throughout the participants' research careers.

Research Fields

Each year, the DPDF program selects five or more fields of study for dissertation research proposal training, choosing emerging or reinvigorating fields that address broad public concerns and can be approached from multiple intellectual, societal, and geographic orientations. Each field centers on a core set of issues and questions that can valuably be addressed through the intellectual perspectives and research styles of different humanities and social science disciplines. Usually, at least one research field is formed through an international partnership with a non-US research institution, expanding the potential for cross-national dialogue.

The 2014 DPDF Research Fields are:

Potential applicants are asked to review carefully the current research field descriptions to assess into which research field, if any, their project might fit best. For questions about whether a specific research project conforms with a field, please contact DPDF staff.

Structure of the DPDF Program

Workshops and Summer Research

DPDF annual cycles are organized around spring and fall workshops that bracket student summer research. Student fellows are required to participate in both workshops.

  • In the spring workshop, fellows work with their research directors in both individual and group settings to refine research questions and identify useful methods of investigation, considering the field's broader research literature in conjunction with their own research goals.
  • During the summer, fellows are required to undertake at least six weeks of exploratory research that will help them become familiar with sources, locations, and intended methods of investigation, which can be supported with stipends of up to $5,000.
  • In the fall workshop, fellows work with their research directors to draw lessons from their spring workshop and summer experiences to refine their research proposals for their home departments or external funding agencies.

DPDF Workshops for all fields are held in the United States at the same time and place, except for the spring workshops of fields labeled "international fields," which meet overseas.

Student Support

The DPDF program covers all travel and lodging expenses for fellows to attend both workshops, as well as meals during the workshop period. In addition, applicants may request up to $5,000 to support expenses directly related to summer research, such as travel, accommodations, and limited research equipment and supplies. Please read the Summer Research Funding section in the DPDF Frequently Asked Questions for Prospective Student Applicants for guidelines on allowable expenses.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Applicants must be currently enrolled full time in PhD programs at accredited universities within the United States.
    • The "international field" is open to students enrolled in PhD programs within the United States and the United Kingdom. Review each research field's description for specific information.
  • Applicants must have completed at least two full years of graduate study by the end of the 2013–2014 academic year (including study toward a master's degree at their current or previous institution).
  • Students based at U.S. institutions: Applicants must be on track to obtain approval of their dissertation proposals within their doctoral programs after the conclusion of the fall workshop but no later than the end of the 2014–2015 academic year. Similarly, applicants must also be on track to complete all other precandidacy/pre-ABD requirements by the end of the 2014–2015 academic year.
    • Students based at U.K. institutions: Applicants must be in the first year of their doctoral programs at the time of application. While they may apply with previously-approved dissertation proposals, they must not have begun long-term dissertation research before the start of the spring workshop.
  • Students who have already submitted proposals to funding agencies for support of dissertation research are no longer eligible to apply to the DPDF Program. Refer to the FAQs for details.

Please read the DPDF Frequently Asked Questions for Prospective Student Applicants, which provides answers to common questions. If your question is not answered within the FAQs, please contact DPDF staff for all other inquiries regarding the program, eligibility, or application process. Do not contact research directors directly.

Application Requirements and Procedures

All applications to the student competition must be submitted through the SSRC application portal by the posted deadline.

Each completed application must include four components:

  1. An online application form (available within the online portal). The form contains questions about the applicant's:
    • Educational background;
    • Proposed dissertation topic and its relevance to the research field;
    • Preliminary research plans and a proposed summer research budget (if requesting research funds);
    • Relevant research and employment experiences;
    • Applicable language skills;
    • Previous, current, or pending funding opportunities in graduate school.
  2. A one-page bibliography (uploaded in PDF format to the online portal).
  3. Copies of unofficial or official transcripts from all prior and current graduate-degree granting institutions (uploaded in PDF format to the online portal).
  4. One letter of reference, to be written by the applicant's advisor or the faculty member who can best speak to the applicant's research interests and abilities (uploaded to the online portal by referee).

Additionally, all applicants must confirm within the application form that they will be able to:

  • Attend both the spring and fall workshops in their entirety. (Please read each research field's description for workshop dates and locations.)
  • Undertake at least six weeks of exploratory summer research between the spring and fall workshops.

All necessary instructions for submitting an application are included within the online portal itself. Applicants with questions about the application process should read the Frequently Asked Questions for Prospective Student Applicants before contacting DPDF program staff. For any remaining questions, contact staff at dpdf@ssrc.org.

Selection Criteria

Student applications will be evaluated on the basis of the following criteria:

Fit of proposed dissertation topic within a selected research field. The dissertation topic must be clearly relevant to one of this year's research fields as described on the DPDF website. Applicants will be assessed on how their topics can both draw from and contribute to the stated aims of the research field and also add to the interdisciplinary dialogue within the field.

Potential significance of proposed dissertation topic. The description of the dissertation topic should explain how the applicant seeks to build upon and add to theoretical or interpretive understandings of current scholarship by posing an innovative research question and employing insightful methods of research and analysis that will enable the applicant to answer the question posed.

Preparation of the student for proposal development. The application materials submitted should demonstrate the applicant’s readiness to develop and refine a dissertation proposal for their department or funding agency. The most competitive students will likely have completed one or more research papers or presentations related to their dissertation topic or the research field (e.g., undergraduate honors papers, major research papers, MA theses, or workshop or conference presentations).

Connection between summer research plans and proposal development. The program’s goal is to help students explore the potential value of different research methods and approaches rather than to get a head start in completing their dissertation research. Therefore, preliminary summer plans must explain how undertaking exploratory empirical investigations—whether qualitative, quantitative, archival, library-based or other—can contribute to the development of their dissertation proposals. Students should describe the kinds of investigations they expect to pursue, sources they might consult, and how they might explore alternative methodologies. It is recommended, though not required, that students make prior formal and professional contacts at their research sites.

Clarity of goals and potential for benefit from the DPDF Program. The application materials submitted should make clear in what ways the applicant seeks to benefit from the training and research components of the DPDF Program. Applicants should be able to describe how they anticipate their dissertation proposal and summer research plans could benefit from dialogue with colleagues across different disciplines.

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    Josh DeWind
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    Josh DeWind
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