The Dissertation Proposal Development Program began in 2006 as a fellowship program for early-stage doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences to help them formulate innovative dissertation research proposals. Known as the Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship, or DPDF, the program provided workshops, exploratory summer research, and writing guided by peer review and faculty mentorship.
Between 2006 and 2014, the DPDF was thematic, with several interdisciplinary research fields selected annually though the program’s faculty field competition as the basis for student training workshops. The faculty field competition was open to tenured humanities and social sciences faculty interested in creating or reinvigorating interdisciplinary fields of study through the training of the next generation of researchers.
Each year, five to six research fields were selected through the faculty field competition, with each field proposed by two senior faculty with different institutional affiliations and, as relevant, different disciplinary specializations. The successful applicants, known as “research directors,” designed and led two workshops for student recipients of the DPDF and served as mentors to the fellows during the course of their summer pre-dissertation research.
Following the 2014 fellowship cycle, the DPDF was reconfigured to engage with a broader cross section of graduate students in the humanities and social sciences. This reconfiguration eliminated the faculty field competition and thematic workshop components while becoming accessible to more students in the humanities and social sciences, regardless of topic, who were in the early stages of dissertation proposal development.
The faculty field competition defined research fields as domains of inquiry centered on a core set of issues and questions that can be valuably addressed by diverse scholarship. Successful applications proposed fields which addressed topics of broad public concern that could be approached from multiple intellectual, societal, and geographic orientations. Fields also were required to address topics that encompass broad geographic areas rather than focus on one specific country. Research fields proposed by pairs of faculty who bring distinct perspectives from any different disciplines are welcome, but fields stemming jointly from the humanities and
social sciences were particularly encouraged.
Visit the Past Research Fields and Workshops resource page for links to details about the 42 research fields that were selected through the faculty field competition.
Under the thematic configuration of the DPDF, annual cycles were organized around workshops in the spring and fall that bracketed student fellows’ summer pre-dissertation research. Upon selection through the faculty field competition in late fall, faculty research directors would work with program staff to prepare a description of their fields in preparation for the opening of the DPDF student fellowship competition. Faculty research directors were an integral part of the student fellowship competition, assisting in the selection of graduate students who applied to
participate within their respective research fields.
Research directors were required to design and lead two workshops to help fellows clarify how their dissertation research plans could benefit from and contribute to the interdisciplinary field.
• In a spring workshop, research directors helped students refine research questions and identify useful methods of investigation, referencing the field’s broader research literature in conjunction with the research plans of their fellows.
• During the summer, research directors kept in touch with fellows as they undertook exploratory research supported with stipends of up to $5,000, helping with any issues and questions that arise.
• In a fall workshop, the research directors helped fellows draw lessons from their earlier workshop and summer experiences to complete research proposals that could be submitted for approval by their home departments or external funding agencies.
Workshop agendas designed by faculty research directors included seminar discussions, collective and constructive critiques by research directors and fellow students, and presentations about securing research funding. They were structured to assist students in writing dissertation proposals that are intellectually pointed, amenable to completion in a reasonable time frame, and fundable. Throughout the fellowship year, research directors communicated with fellows utilizing an online workspace hosted by SSRC where they could share resources and initiate group discussions.
Upon the reconfiguration of the DPDF in 2014, program staff standardized the training materials for fellows, incorporating many exercises, assignments, and discussion prompts that former research directors and fellows reported as particularly successful.
DPDF workshops for all fields were held in the United States at the same time and place, with the exception of international fields (coordinated by the DPDF Program and a partnering institution abroad), which met in a host country for one of the workshops.
To view any previous workshop agendas used in the DPDF trainings, please visit the [Workshop Agendas] page in the resources section of this site.
Research Director Benefits
The DPDF program provided each research director with a $10,000 stipend and each field with access to up to $3,000 to cover the costs of guest speakers, local field trips, and other activities for the spring and fall training workshops. All necessary travel and lodging expenses and most meals during workshops were also covered by the SSRC.
From 2011 to 2014, DPDF alumni – both former research directors and student fellows – were also eligible for small grants to support follow-up activities that strengthened student research and professional development within their DPDF research field. Such grants supported partial support for travel to conferences for group presentations, preparation for joint publications, and other collaborative activities between junior and senior scholars. [Possibly create resource page that includes title and brief description of each alumni grant]
• Applicants could only apply in pairs.
• Applicants had to be senior scholars based at different universities, and at least one applicant had to be based at a doctoral-degree granting university in the United States. However, both applicants were required to demonstrate records of carrying out research activities and mentoring graduate students.
• Applicants had to be trained in different disciplines or bring different methodological frameworks to their proposed research field. (Applicant pairs comprised of scholars in the social sciences and humanities were particularly encouraged.)
Research field proposals were required to explain how the proposed field would incorporate both a fresh approach and multidisciplinary perspectives. They were asked to also explain how workshops would be organized to enable students from various disciplinary backgrounds to explore disparate research questions within the field’s broader intellectual context.
Applications to the DPDF Faculty Field Competition were evaluated on the following criteria:
Conceptualization: Did the proposed field revitalize an existing framework or identify a new research area? Did it combine disciplines and/or research methodologies in new and interesting ways? Were the suggestions for the proposed workshop activities well thought-out and likely to be productive?
Appropriateness: Would including the field in the DPDF Program direct resources to an area of study in need of support and to students who will benefit? Were student participants likely to learn approaches and methods that go beyond and complement those offered in their home departments and universities? How would workshops be organized to enable students from various disciplinary backgrounds to explore disparate research questions related to the field?
Research Directors: How experienced were the applicants in advising graduate students, including from disciplines outside their own? How complementary were their individual and disciplinary backgrounds and research formations? How qualified were the faculty of the proposed field to lead the training of students?
Impact: Would the design of the proposed workshops be effective in helping students to shape their research strategies over the summer and to develop their ideas into well-crafted dissertation proposals? Would the proposed workshop activities enable students’ dissertation research to contribute to the long-term development of a research field?