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IO Fellowships Deepen Interdisciplinary Discourse, Advance ‘Professional Narrative’

Time, space, and a wider audience is what Minta Zlomke got when she received an Interdisciplinary Opportunities (IO) fellowship at the John Carter Brown Library. “This fellowship gave me the opportunity to think through the aims and central questions of my dissertation in a more interdisciplinary way, which has only made it stronger,” says the doctoral student in English. “Part of this strength comes from a deeper understanding of how to market myself and my project to a larger community of scholars.” 

Advanced PhD students in the humanities and social sciences are invited to apply for interdisciplinary opportunities at more than a dozen centers and institutes. Brown University students who will be in their 5th or 6th year of doctoral study in 2017-18 are eligible to apply by January 30, 2017. Support will be offered to up to 16 candidates, who will engage in scholarly life at a center or institute and benefit from a broader intellectual community, additional mentorship, and professional development.

Through this Graduate School program, selected students gain affiliation with scholarly communities ranging from the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES) and the Haffenreffer Museum to the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women.  First piloted in 2015-16, the IO program is now a distinctive element of graduate education in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Brown. The roster of participating centers and institutes and the fellowship parameters can be seen here.

The Pembroke Center found that IO fellows enhanced the quality and depth of the graduate teaching in the Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies course and contributed to the Center’s work on the journal differences and Pembroke Seminar discussion. “Their participation in the Pembroke Seminar contributes to the collaborative, interdisciplinary work of the seminar as the fellows bring their own disciplinary training and insights to bear on the work of the seminar,” says Drew Walker, Associate Director of the Pembroke Center.

Scholarly community is an important element of the program. Patrick Chung, a doctoral candidate in History who was affiliated with the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, says the fellowship provided invaluable opportunities to share his research and receive feedback from both advanced and junior scholars.

“Every month, we met twice a week for a fellow's seminar that included advanced faculty, junior faculty and postdocs,” says Chung. “Hearing about other fellow's research and sharing my own was incredibly helpful for the development of my dissertation. Further, I was able to interact and forge relationship with scholars that were not in my field but who have shared research interests.”

Zlomke, who focuses on Renaissance English literature in the context of national cultural production, says being in residence with historians, many of whom worked on the Spanish New World, allowed her to think in new ways about the imbrication of England's global aspirations with those of their Spanish rivals. “Conversations with scholars from international institutions made me more aware of the ways in which my project had broader appeal outside of the American academy as well as interesting resonances with current debates in the UK,” she says. “These conversations made possible a kind of rigor and depth that simply isn't possible at international, interdisciplinary conferences that take place over a weekend. 

For Colin Johnson, a doctoral candidate in Political Science who had a fellowship at the Population Studies Training Center, the program gave him a concrete way to demonstrate his interdisciplinary training as well as comradery.

"During coursework and in my dissertation research, I sought out interdisciplinary perspectives to inform my work,” he explains. “As I moved into the advanced stages, towards publication and the job market, it became difficult to highlight my interdisciplinary training. I prepared articles for submission to discipline-specific journals, and the job market demanded 'interdisciplinary qualifications.' The Interdisciplinary Opportunity Fellowship on my CV highlighted my training and expertise, allowed me the ability to focus on my dissertation, and gave me additional professional opportunities that typical sixth-year support couldn't guarantee. The fellowship provided a simple anchor in cover letters and research statements that assisted my professional narrative, and I believe bolsters my credibility for search committees wary of the potential for 'unstructured' interdisciplinary training. 

“The support and community at my host Center also expanded my professional networks and mitigated the isolation that can occur towards the final years of the dissertation process," Johnson adds.

Diana Graizbord, who was affiliated with the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs through the program, says the fellowship semester was essential in managing the job-market process while continuing to write her dissertation. She is now an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Georgia, and holds a joint appointment with the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute. 

Article by Beverly Larson; photo by Susan Ely.