December 7, 2016

Versatile Humanists at Duke Ph.D. Innovation Grants

A key premise of Versatile Humanists at Duke is that robust doctoral training in the humanities must embrace curricular experimentation to ensure that our graduate students have the preparation to excel as researchers, teachers, and intellectual leaders.  We see humanistic doctoral education as best guided by a recognition that effectively trained humanists make significant contributions both within and beyond the academy, whether pursuing sole-authored scholarship, collaborating with academics from other fields, or applying their skills in non-university contexts.         

Our PhD Innovation Grants provide support to departments in the humanities and interpretive social sciences to try out and assess new ways to study, teach, and communicate humanistic knowledge.  The grants invite scholars to reconsider how  doctoral education best serves the needs and goals of today’s graduate students, to identify  elements of training that might need revision or replacement, and to develop innovations that will attract future generations of talented and diverse PhD students.  

These competitive grants can range from $1,000 to $7,500. Departments can request this funding over a one- or two-year period.

In Spring 2017, VH@Duke awarded PhD Innovation grants to support the following four projects:

  • Developing a portfolio-based comprehensive exam and hybrid theory/practice dissertation for the new PhD program in Computational Media, Arts & Cultures (Victoria Szabo)
  • Reimagining how the History PhD program trains students to teach, with emphases on public engagement, interdisciplinary pedagogy, and transferable skills for non-academic arenas (Kristen Neuschel and Phil Stern)
  • A yearlong program to support student writers in the PhD program in Literature, with an emphasis on helping students communicate to audiences beyond academia (Mark Hansen)
  • A new interdisciplinary seminar, based in the Philosophy PhD program, to provide students with interdisciplinary, team-based, and hands-on instruction in scholarly digital publishing (Andrew Janiak and Liz Milewicz)

Visit the VH@Duke blog for more information on these curricular innovations.

To Apply:

PhD programs may propose a range of innovations, including, but not limited to:

  • Embedding collaborative, team-based research experiences into the curriculum
  • Integrating public engagement into graduate pedagogy
  • Developing new interdisciplinary seminars, intensive summer workshops, or online modules connecting the humanities to other domains of knowledge
  • Implementing the use of portfolios in place of comprehensive exams
  • Experimenting with the form of the dissertation
  • Developing new curriculum modules focused on new skills
  • Embedding advising and career planning into the curriculum

At the end of the award period, recipients will be expected to complete a brief assessment and share their experiences with other Duke faculty and graduate students via one or more of the following:

  • Reflection on the VH@Duke blog
  • Presentation at an on- or off-campus event
  • Participation in the development of a whitepaper, digital resource, or scholarly article

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Any regular-rank faculty member in the humanities and interpretive social sciences may apply. Proposals may cross departments and schools, but must be targeted toward doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences. Collaborative proposals are encouraged, especially if the department wishes to partner with a non-curricular unit. Departments might also consider proposing a matching-fund model.

Funds can be applied to support innovation in a variety of ways, including:

  • Departmental retreats
  • Travel to other campuses to learn about innovative pedagogy
  • Bringing in outside experts to consult with department faculty

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Currently, proposals for PhD Innovation funds are accepted on a rolling basis.  We strongly recommend that you consult with Maria LaMonaca Wisdom or Edward Balleisen as you plan your project and draft your proposal. 

Completed proposals can be emailed directly to Maria LaMonaca Wisdom.  This document (5 pages max.) should include:

  • A summary of the idea and its potential effect on doctoral education
  • The goals of the project
  • Name(s) for the project lead(s) and a description of how other faculty in the department (or outside of it) will be involved
  • Timeline of activities: Projects should begin as soon as possible and can last up to two years
  • Plans for evaluating the effect of the proposed idea and for sustaining successful elements
  • Budget: The funds requested should be between $1,000 and $7,500. Funds cannot be used to support faculty course replacement. Please also note if additional funds will be provided from other sources.
  • A letter of endorsement from the department chair or DGS; additional signatures of commitment from other faculty in the department are also encouraged.

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Applications will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Potential effect of the proposed idea
  • Clarity of goals
  • Appropriateness of the project scope
  • Appropriateness of the budget
  • Demonstrated commitment of the department/faculty
  • Ability to sustain the idea if proven successful

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For questions, please contact Maria LaMonaca Wisdom (