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Summer Research Fellowships Bridge Funding Gap

This year the Graduate School was fortunate to be able to fund 101 summer research fellowships for Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences. The fellowships, which are funded through endowments and private donations to the Duke Annual Fund, help relieve the financial burden for students who are guaranteed only nine months of support during the academic year. This prevents interruptions in their graduate careers due to financial need, and allows a more seamless progress toward degree completion. Students frequently find that taking summer jobs results in having to put aside academic work, then having to recalibrate themselves to get back into an academic mindset in the fall.

Students’ comments on their summer experiences reflect how greatly summer support enhances their scholarship and alleviates the worry of self-support during those months. Summer support also allows students to take advantage of professional development opportunities that otherwise might not be available to them. Jessi Bardill, a 2010 summer fellowship recipient and doctoral candidate in English, says “The time freed up allowed me to attend and present at my first international conference, the Nagoya American Studies Summer Seminar in Nagoya, Japan. There I presented a second chapter I have been working on this summer, making great progress toward finishing my dissertation.”

Another 2010 recipient, Michael Dalton, a third-year Ph.D. student in Economics, notes the opportunity the fellowship provides for the establishment of professional networks: “As a result of this award, I was able to attend and present at the Population Association of America conference in Dallas, Texas. This was a great opportunity because I was able to present my own work for the first time in front of a large academic crowd from many disciplines and backgrounds. I was also able to meet other graduate students and professors from different universities that have similar research interests to mine.”

Patrick Alexander, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in English, focuses on the concrete progress he made this summer because of the funding: “This summer, I have been able to revise the first chapter, work on drafts of the introduction and second chapter, and continue research on the remaining three chapters in order to ensure timely completion of my project. The completed dissertation will be an exploration of how the abuse of real, historical prisoners in late-twentieth-century U.S. culture—as well as prisoners’ resistance to such abuse—finds illuminating narrative expression in contemporary African American fiction. There is no way I could be continuing the research work at the pace that I am without the fellowship support I have received.”

Doctoral candidate Alexis Franzese found summer support critical to completion of her dissertation: “The summer funding, in short, made it possible for me to complete my dissertation. Without the demands of teaching and other research projects, I was able to focus exclusively on completing my dissertation research. The funds ‘bought’ this time for me. As a result, I successfully defended my dissertation this summer. I am very grateful to the Graduate School for this support. The summer support is one of the ways that Duke embodies its commitment to the development of graduate students.”

Matthew Mitchell Presenting His Research This Summer at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies

Additionally, students at earlier stages of their graduate career sometimes discover a more appropriate focus for their dissertation topic, as second-year Ph.D. Religion student Matthew Mitchell found while conducting preliminary research on fiefs controlled by Buddhist temples in the 17th through the 19th centuries: “The fellowship provided me with the opportunity to spend every day in archives examining 300-year-old diaries and letters or in libraries locating secondary materials. Additionally, I was able to form connections with local historians who will be able to guide my research. Because of this opportunity, I discovered a more feasible dissertation topic than what I had been pursuing, saving me precious time in the field when I return for dissertation research.”

Although each student uses the support in a different manner and has a different story to tell, every student tells the same story when it comes to the support itself: Summer research funding from the Graduate School is an invaluable resource that extends the time students can devote to scholarship, reduces disruption in their academic progress, and lessens the time to degree completion.