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IGCC Dissertation Fellowship Applications to Open Next Month

October 30, 2023
Courtenay Monroe


Since 1991, IGCC has provided more than $6 million to 553 UC doctoral students to support UC graduate student research, writing, fieldwork, networking, and policy engagement. In this interview, IGCC Steering Committee Chair and UC Merced Professor Courtenay Monroe shares the history of the Dissertation Fellowship, tips for applicants, and the benefits of early career involvement with IGCC. Applications for the 2024–25 cohort will open in early December 2023.

Courtenay Monroe, you’ve been the IGCC Steering Committee Chair and a research affiliate and executive committee member of IGCC’s Future of Democracy Initiative since 2022, and you were involved in IGCC for many years before that. What drew you to IGCC?

I was interested in joining IGCC right when I joined the University of California, Merced. IGCC is this great intellectual hub of activity with affiliates that do really interesting research that is both academically rigorous and policy relevant. It’s also an institute that really is committed not only to supporting current researchers within the University of California (UC) system and beyond, but also to supporting the development of future researchers who are doing really important work on international conflict and cooperation.

As the Steering Committee Chair, you preside over IGCC’s Dissertation Fellowship program. How did the program start? What are its main goals?

The dissertation fellowship is pretty old now. It was founded in 1991, and since then IGCC has funded over 550 fellows and provided over $6 million in funding across those fellows. Alumni of the program include a long list of notable figures, including the current Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, Ely Ratner.

Ph.D. candidates can apply to the program to receive funding to help write their dissertation. Fellows are carefully selected by a steering committee that is comprised of faculty from each of the UC campuses. These folks come from a wide variety of disciplines. Right now, the composition of the steering committee includes political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, folks in schools of environmental science and management across the UC, and folks from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory. We also have faculty from UC San Francisco who are medical doctors.

The steering committee gets together in person once a year to decide who will be awarded the dissertation fellowships. The fellowship money is used for a wide variety of things, such as starting fieldwork, taking time off from teaching to be able to actually write the dissertation, and traveling to present the findings from this research.

The fellowship covers a whole host of topic areas, from political science and economics, to agriculture, earth science, psychology, and philosophy. You have a political science background and have mostly focused your research on government repression, political violence, and human rights. What do you find to be the most interesting—or challenging—aspect of reviewing such varied proposals?

The members of the steering committee read proposals across fields. What this means for me as a political scientist is that, not only do I get to read really interesting work from political scientists within the UC, but I also get to read really interesting work from folks in other disciplines. It’s so interesting as a scholar to be able to read research coming from anthropology and history and sociology. This year, we had our first dissertation fellow from the field of linguistics. The steering committee meeting itself is really intellectually vibrant in that it’s a lot of fun to get together with folks from across many different disciplines and be able to assess and learn more about what’s going on outside my own field.

You explained that the funding goes toward fieldwork, taking time off to write, and traveling to present research. Are there other activities involved in the program, such as periodic meetings between the fellows or an annual conference?

This is something that is really starting to happen again post-COVID-19. During the pandemic, we were limited in our ability to get the fellows together and build the community that we would really like to see develop among them. Just recently, though, I was down in San Diego, where [IGCC Director] Tai Ming Cheung, [Associate Director] Lindsay Morgan, and [Strategic Programs Manager] Marie Thiveos Stewart put together a great program where the fellows got to present the work that they will be pursuing over the next year with IGCC funding. It was really interesting to see what the money is actually being used for, but it was also great to see the fellows get together and talk about synergies within their work and be able to create this community of scholars within the program at IGCC.

You mentioned that there have been many alumni who have gone on to do great work. Is there a strong alumni network, or ways that the fellows can receive mentorship from people who’ve been through the program already?

This is something that is developing and that IGCC is really committed to moving forward. Increasingly over the years, the fellows have become more dialed into what Lindsay Morgan calls the “extended IGCC family.” Many of our past fellows are currently still writing for IGCC, still engaging with IGCC by participating in podcasts, and having IGCC highlight their research through its networks. That alumni network is something that IGCC has been committed to in the past but is really growing under Tai and Lindsay’s leadership.

What advice do you have for graduate students interested in applying for the 202425 cohort?

My first piece of advice is just to please apply! If this is a program that seems interesting to you, and you are doing research on conflict and cooperation internationally or [other work] that can fit within one of IGCC’s themes, I encourage you to take the leap and apply.

In terms of your application, it’s important to remember that the steering committee is comprised of a very diverse set of scholars coming from different disciplines. Make sure that you not only describe the technical aspects of your work and the science behind it, but also that you describe the methods that you’re using and the importance of your topic for a broad audience. Really talk your work up; be clear about the impact that you think your work will have and the contribution you think it will make to IGCC. Make sure that it can be clear not just for an audience within your discipline, but again for a broader set of scholars that will be reading your application.

Another major benefit of being involved with the dissertation fellowship is getting a foot in the door with IGCC early. Having the opportunity to be able to work with scholars who have a lot of experience talking to policymakers and being able to make their work more broadly noticed and understandable to a wider audience. The dissertation fellowship is a good opportunity not only to get funding to be able to connect dissertation research, but to also get involved in the broader life of IGCC and increase the visibility of your work.

Applications for the 2024–25 fellowship will open in early December 2023. An application link will be posted here at that time. Decisions on awards will be made in mid-May 2024, and applicants will be notified of their status in early June. 

Thumbnail credit: UC Merced Newsroom

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