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Distributed October 3, 2003
Contact Kristen Cole

Grant funds workshops for graduate students writing dissertations

Brown University has received a $224,936 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish a program that will support graduate students during the intense and often isolating dissertation-writing experience.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Brown University has received nearly a quarter-million dollars to establish the Mellon Graduate Workshops, a program that will support graduate students who are writing their dissertations – a crucial stage of graduate training that can be isolating.

The three-year, $224,936 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant will fund the activities of five dissertation groups a year. Each group will consist of graduate students from the social sciences and humanities and will be organized around a theme or issue. The groups will meet regularly in workshops and invite visiting scholars to present research during the year.

“This program will provide support for graduate students in the latter stages of their careers and prevent the isolation that can sometimes happen when students are no longer enrolled in courses or working as teaching assistants,” said Karen Newman, dean of the graduate school. The workshops will also provide a boost to students’ research and scholarship by assembling participants from a range of academic disciplines. “A multidisciplinary approach can offer unexpected angles or solutions to an individual’s dissertation research. Someone studying a sociological issue, for example, would be across the table from a student doing historical or literary research on a similar topic.”

Newman also sees the Mellon Graduate Workshops as an effective strategy for reducing the time it takes to earn a doctorate. Time to degree is significantly longer for students in the humanities and social sciences than in the physical and life sciences, where students are funded as research assistants and work together with their advisers in laboratories and groups. Since 1990, the time to degree has been more than seven years for students in the humanities and social sciences and more than five for students in the physical and life sciences.

Graduate training is structured differently among departments, but most doctoral programs in the humanities are organized along the following timeline: seminars and coursework the first year; coursework, teaching and research assistantships the second, third, and often fourth years; dissertation research and writing the fourth, fifth and subsequent years. Students who have been advanced to candidacy and have begun their dissertation research will be eligible to participate in the Mellon Graduate Workshops, which will be organized by a faculty member. The Graduate School will administer the program, which will begin in the fall of 2004.

Brown’s efforts to improve graduate training are part of the University’s Initiatives for Academic Enrichment. In addition to the Mellon Graduate Workshops, the Initiatives have led to stipend increases, full health insurance coverage, increased summer support, and dissertation fellowships for students in the humanities and social sciences, where outside funding is rare.

The Brown Graduate School, which celebrates its centennial this year, has seen a dramatic rise in applications over the last few years – a 40-percent increase since 2001. Brown received 6,079 applications this year and accepted 18 percent, according to Newman. Currently, there are more than 1,400 active full-time graduate students at Brown.


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