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The SSRC requests proposals from US-based universities to establish interdisciplinary training programs that will assist humanities and social science graduate students to prepare cogent and effective dissertation research proposals. The University Initiative of the Council's Dissertation Proposal Development Program will partner with five universities to design and institutionalize innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to research proposal training that can serve as models for emulation by additional graduate institutions.

The University Initiative will take place over three years, during which the DPD Program will provide guidance and advice in program design, coordinate collaboration between participating universities, and subsidize most of the initial financial costs, with the expectation that each participating university will sustain their program independently by the initiative's closing. The DPD Program anticipates covering costs of up to $130,000 per university over the three-year initiative.

The University Initiative of the DPD Program is made possible by grant funds provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Background and Goals

For nearly a decade, the DPD Program coordinated fellowship competitions, workshops, and exploratory summer research for graduate students in the humanities and social sciences in order to help them prepare dissertation research proposals. Central to the DPD Fellowship Program's approach was exposing students to multiple perspectives grounded in the theories, literatures, methods, and intellectual traditions of different disciplines. The program's workshops fostered peer critiques within small groups under the guidance of faculty with extensive experience working with doctoral students in interdisciplinary contexts. See the DPD Program's student and faculty competition pages for further information.

In assessing the DPD Fellowship Program's benefits for students, program staff found that alumni were, on average, significantly more successful in winning dissertation research grants and quicker in obtaining doctoral degrees than were students who did not participate in the program. Student participants also reported overwhelmingly that the program's activities helped them to develop professional skills in writing clearly and explaining their research to broad audiences, giving and receiving critiques from colleagues, and developing academic networks that furthered their career advancement.

The DPD Program's University Initiative will work in partnership with universities over three years to establish similar interdisciplinary training programs, adapted to their own particular educational goals, organizational structures, and available resources. The DPD Program's goal is to expose students to multiple disciplinary perspectives in order to help them clarify the basic questions, intellectual contexts, methodologies of investigation and analysis, and broader significance of their own particular research project, whether it is based in one or multiple disciplines.

Eligibility Requirements

Only universities based in the United States are eligible to submit applications to this initiative. The proposed dissertation proposal development program may be housed within any appropriate institutional entity of the university (e.g., graduate school or research center); however, the DPD Program will only accept one application per university. Additionally, please note the following:

  • The primary target audience for the proposed training program must be students within PhD programs in the humanities and social sciences who have not yet defended a dissertation prospectus or submitted a funding proposal to conduct major dissertation research. Generally, such students will be in the second or third year of their PhD programs.
  • Proposed dissertation proposal training activities must include engagements between faculty and students from multiple disciplines of the humanities and social sciences.
  • Universities must be prepared to recruit and select faculty and students who can participate in the initiative's first year of interuniversity training activities to be organized by the DPD Program.
  • Universities must be prepared to provide partial and then full financial support for their proposed program activities during years two and three, respectively, and commit to seeking the institutionalization of the program after this initiative is over.

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact DPD Program staff with any questions regarding eligibility, organization, program design, and participation well before the application deadline.

Selection Criteria

Priority will be given to applications that provide evidence of:

  • Contribution and fit of the proposed training within the applicant university's broader educational curriculum, organizational structures, and available resources.
  • Background and skills of the proposed program's administrative and faculty leadership.
  • Appropriateness of institutional location for the proposed program.
  • Innovative design and likely effectiveness of the proposed interdisciplinary approach to training humanities and social science students.
  • Opportunities for exploratory student research.
  • Likelihood of institutionalization of the proposed training program after the three year University Initiative will end.
  • Potential for future program expansion within the university and/or through collaborative activities with other universities participating in the program or other universities.
  • Potential for the proposed program to become a model for other universities to emulate.

Proposal Preparation and Submission

Universities interested in participating in the DPD Program's University Initiative should submit an application and supplemental documents through the program's application portal.

Universities will be asked to address the following elements within the application:

  • Goals: A description of how an interdisciplinary dissertation proposal development program for its humanities and social science graduate students will contribute to the university's broader graduate education mission.
  • Institutional Location: An explanation of the choice of the institutional location where the training program will be organized and administered.
  • Leadership: A letter of institutional endorsement for the application designating the administrator who will have primary responsibility for overseeing the organization, evaluation, and reporting of the university's proposed program; short CVs of administrators and faculty associated with the program.
  • Training: A preliminary description of the anticipated pedagogical activities, including the expected roles of both faculty and students in interdisciplinary engagements, and the potential involvement of the students' advisors.
  • Research: A description of opportunities to be made available for student exploratory research to refine research plans and proposals.
  • Recruitment: A description of plans for recruiting faculty and students from the humanities and social sciences to participate in the proposed program and for preparing faculty to lead interdisciplinary trainings.
  • Institutionalization: An assessment of the process and likelihood of success in establishing the proposed interdisciplinary training as part of the university's regular graduate education programming.
  • Expansion: An indication of interest, and innovative possibilities for, linking proposed trainings to those of participating and/or other universities.
  • Budget: A budget of the anticipated annual costs for organizing on-campus program activities and of the extent of financial support each university anticipates being able to provide in years two and three.

The deadline for submitting applications is Friday, October 28, 2016. All applications must be submitted through the DPD Program's application portal. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact DPD Program staff ( before the deadline with any questions about proposed programming.

Each application will be reviewed by DPD Program staff and an advisory committee comprised of administrators and faculty who have experience designing and implementing interdisciplinary programs for graduate students at US research universities.

Following a preliminary review of applications, DPD Program staff may contact the lead administrator submitting the application to clarify issues or answer questions that may arise. Finalists will be selected and applicants notified by December 2016.

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