Meet Graduate Student Advocate for Fellowships: Leah Aldridge

Leah Aldridge, Graduate Student Advocate for Fellowships

Leah Aldridge, Graduate Student Advocate for Fellowships

In addition to being the Graduate Student Advocate for Fellowships, Leah is a USC School of Cinematic Arts PhD candidate. The focus of her research examines the international circulation of black cinematic images. Specifically she investigates the historical and industrial determinants that trigger Hollywood black film production cycles and analyzes their consumption abroad.
Leah’s Role at the Graduate School
My responsibility is to work with USC graduate students as they prepare application for external monies. There are graduate students all over the country competing for much of the same funding and we want our USC students to move to the front of that line and be successful. We hold information sessions where you can learn more about what’s available to you and how to access external resources. I love what I do as a Graduate Student Advocate because I’ve seen how just a little bit of information can make a big difference to a graduate student trying to figure it all out. I enjoy being of service and providing education to people and that’s why I’m here with the Graduate School.” –Leah Aldridge
Leah’s Advice for PhD students

First off educate yourselves on the different funding opportunities; your department’s stipends for Teaching or Research Assistants are terrific but you should be aware of other opportunities to fund your education and research. Also be creative in your search for fellowship funding: the funding you pursue might not be limited to the focus of your research, it could be to support you as a member of an historically under-represented group. Or it could come from a country abroad that wants to promote and create awareness of their research value. There are so many different types of funding available and I strongly suggest that you don’t limit yourself in your search. You might not get one big grant but you might be able to construct a funding fellowship plan made up of many different items. Some good resources are GRAPES UCLA, H-NET Humanities and Social Sciences Online. And, be sure to connect with other PhD students; your peers are the best source of information. There’s a big chance that other graduate students have had similar experiences and you can learn from them. Of course you must do your own digging around, but graduate student chatter is a wonderful source of information!” –Leah Aldridge

You can contact Leah for any questions related to Fellowships and the USC Graduate School at

USC PhD Student Profile: Darshana Mini

Darshana Mini, first year PhD student at USC

Darshana Mini is a first year PhD student with the Cinema and Media Studies Division at the School of Cinematic Arts. She is an Annenberg Fellow and a recipient of the National level Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship (DPDF) awarded by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). Darshana is involved on campus as the Graduate Programme Assistant at the Center for Women and Men and part of VOICE (Violence Outreach Intervention and Community Empowerment), a peer outreach program that works to support survivors of trauma and prevent sexual and gender-based violence. She is also part of the Clinical/Advocacy subcommittee of the USC Sexual Assault Task Force.

Darshana’s Research

Darshana’s research looks at Indian cinema’s relationship to sexuality, import policy and censorship by tracking the emergence of the South Indian state of Kerala as a hub of soft-core pornography. Her PhD dissertation examines how the genre of soft-porn cinema emerged as a subversive form in the late 1990s by contravening government prohibitions on the circulation of sexual content.

USC Graduate School and the Fellowship Application Process

It is essential to take steps towards professionalization very early on. The USC Graduate School also has great resources run by their Academic Professional Department and Fellowship Department

– Darshana Mini

In her first semester as a PhD student, Darshana was curious about the Fellowship application process. Through colleagues in her department, she found out about DPDF –  one of the few external fellowships available to early-career PhD students and one that is specifically geared at aiding the proposal development process. In Spring 2015, she attended the VSGC Grant Writing Workshop held by USC’s Visual Studies Research Institute (VSRI) where she brainstormed her proposal with a panel of mentors. The advice from seasoned academics at the workshop helped her fine-tune her proposal and make it palatable to a wider audience. Extensive discussions with her supervisor, Professor Priya Jaikumar and her committee member, Professor Ellen Seiter, were crucial to the success of her application.

Darshana’s Advice to PhD Students

Given the extremely competitive job market in academia, attending conferences, publishing in journals and applying for Fellowships are crucial for well-rounded academic development. One needs to apply for these opportunities widely. As PhD students we lose nothing if we apply, but we deprive ourselves of so many opportunities if we don’t apply.

– Darshana Mini

USC Celebrates PhD Applicants for Major National Awards!

Dr Meredith Drake Reitan (far right) speaking to guests at the USC Graduate School’s event for Fellowship applicants

The USC Graduate School highly encourages its PhD students to apply for Fellowships, which is why on February 9, 2016, we took an afternoon to celebrate all those who worked hard to put forth applications.

We want to reiterate that this is a celebration not about having received but about having applied for an award. We want to acknowledge the risk you have taken by putting yourself out there. Regardless of the outcome, we are happy to support you in this endeavor.”

Meredith Drake Reitan, PhD, Associate Dean for Graduate Fellowships 

USC had approximately 150 PhD students apply for major national awards this year! We were especially delighted to see that at least 50 students applied for the NSF Fellowships and 11 students applied for the Ford Foundation’s Pre-Doctoral or Dissertation funding. Furthermore, of the 46 students who completed this year’s Fellowship Boot Camp, close to 80% submitted a proposal!

Whether it be the the NSF GRFP, NIH NRSA F31, SSRC DPDF, AAUW, DOD NDSEG or any other Fellowship, these acronyms represent a wonderful alphabet soup of opportunities! The Graduate School is here to encourage PhD students and provide the resources they need to put forth competitive Fellowship applications.

USC PhD Student Profile: Marko Chavez

Marko greets Dr. Sally (Sarah) Pratt, vice provost for graduate programs

Marko greets Dr. Sally (Sarah) Pratt, vice provost for graduate programs

Marko is a first year PhD student in the Physics program at USC Dornsife. In his first academic year, he undertook the ambitious task of applying to six external graduate research fellowships!

Marko’s Research

Marko’s research is primarily focused on harnessing the unique “metal-reducing” properties of the Shewanella bacteria for the construction of primitive renewable energy devices such as photoelectrochemical cells.

USC Graduate School & the Fellowship Application Process

Marko chose to defer his Teaching Assistantship in order to dedicate his time outside of the classroom to developing his fellowship applications. He saw this as an opportunity to develop his own research focus, collaborate early on with an advising professor, and thus put forth the strongest applications he could.

“It was an incredibly challenging experience, but I had fun writing each and every statement. The applications required that I produce an original research question and a realistic procedure for getting to the answer. This in turn encouraged me to think proactively about the direction I want to take my doctoral research in. I felt like I was taking control of my future,” said Marko.

In addition to frequent collaboration with his advising professor, Dr. Moh El-Naggar, Marko used the USC Graduate School’s resources to help with time management. He met with Leah Aldridge, the Graduate Student Advocate for Fellowships, to discuss strategies he could use to help with balancing his classroom commitments with the Fellowship application process.

Leah and I touched base several times throughout the semester. She assisted me with prioritizing and organizing the many projects I was juggling my first semester. Together we made sure that nothing important fell to the wayside while I worked through each application.

– Marko Chavez

Marko’s Advice to other PhD Students

“I am the first person in my family to pursue higher education. My father never finished high school. He had to immigrate to America from El Salvador at the age of seventeen in order to escape a civil war. My mother, whose parents were both non-English speaking Greek immigrants, was unable to attend college. As a result, I did not have access to many professional development resources growing up. When I first discovered my passion for physics, it was up to me to find and then utilize the resources around me. From my persistent searching, I was able to meet the professors who would ultimately offer me a spot in their laboratories and I was able to find resources like the external graduate research fellowships I applied to here at USC,” said Marko.

Sometimes opportunities are easily obscured by difficult circumstances growing up. Therefore, it is important that students keep their head up and stay on the lookout for anything and everything, no matter how small, that can bring them closer to accomplishing their dreams.

– Marko Chavez

USC PhD Student Profile: Chris Warren

Chris Warren speaking at the 2016 USC Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute Symposium

Chris Warren speaking at the 2016 USC Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute Symposium

Chris is a PhD student with the Keck Department of Preventive Medicine in his third year of the Health Behavior Research Program. He is a USC Provost’s Predoctoral Fellow and recent recipient of a NRSA F31 award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Chris’ Research

Chris’ background is in cognitive neuroscience and developmental psychology. As a doctoral student he has explored the neurocognitive factors that influence a child’s ability to engage in goal-directed behaviors relating to health. He focuses specifically on executive function. Executive function forms a key part of the mechanism that allows an individual to say “no” to unhealthy options in service of a long-term goal. An example would be the ability to forgo having a calorie-laden dessert in an effort to achieve a weight-loss goal. He is particularly interested in knowing to what degree near-roadway pollution may affect the development of executive function in children. Near-roadway air pollution is loosely defined as the pollution from vehicle traffic including tailpipe emissions, partially combusted fuel, and debris from tires and brakes. The NIH, which funds most biomedical research, was particularly interested in Chris’ research because most of the current attention in the field is directed towards regional air pollution (smog, power plants, etc.) and the effects of exposure to pollutants early in life. Focusing on the effects of near-roadway air pollution on behavioral outcomes during adolescence is what sets Chris’ research apart from the rest.

USC Graduate School & the Fellowship Application Process

USC Graduate School Academic Professional Development

USC Graduate School Academic Professional Development

Two summers ago, Chris participated in the USC Graduate School’s Academic Professional Development program, which ran for ten weeks. In this doctoral summer institute, students from across the university gathered once a week to attend workshops on grant writing and manuscript writing.

Forcing yourself to explain your research to someone who isn’t well-versed in it is valuable because you’re communicating and translating the research to concepts that everyone can understand. That was the value of the summer institute – there were people from all around USC and it’s great to have any opportunity to bring people from various disciplines together and learn from one another – Chris Warren

Chris also credits the Provost Fellowship as instrumental to his capability of putting forth a competitive application for the NIH F31 Fellowship. Due to the fact that he wasn’t a TA, it freed up an additional 15-20 hours per week where he could pursue his own research ideas.

Chris’ Advice to PhD Students

As a graduate student, you need to take advantage of the fact that you’re in this incredible community of scholars and put yourself out there, otherwise your focus may narrow too much  – Chris Warren

“For instance, within the Health Behavior Research Division there’s little focus on air pollution; they’re looking more at other determinants of health. But within the broader department of Preventive Medicine there are many people who are interested in that topic and the health effects of environmental exposures more broadly. Seeking people outside of my division is what led me to make these links in my own research. Had I not put myself out there and attended talks on topics different from my own, and taken additional classes taught by professors from other disciplines, I wouldn’t have made these connections. There’s a tendency to want to focus on one area and be the expert, which is important, but as a graduate student you need a variety of perspectives,” said Chris.

USC PhD Student Chris Warren

USC PhD Student Chris Warren

Graduate School Fellowships for Advanced PhD Students 2016-2017

Kate Tegmeyer, Fellowship Assistant at the USC Graduate School, held two info sessions this week detailing our Fellowships for Advanced PhD Students.

These included: Endowed PhD Fellowships, Dissertation Completion Fellowships, Research Enhancement Fellowships, and Provost’s Mentored Teaching Fellowship.

In case you missed it, below is the handout from her presentation with all the information you need! You can also reach Kate at if you have any questions.

Advanced Fellowship Info Session Handout 2016


Info Session Info Session

Top Ten Fellowship and Scholarship Opportunities for International Students

Top 10 Fellowship and Scholarship Opportunities for International Students

American Association for University Women – International Fellowships

International Fellowships are awarded for full-time study or research in the United States to women who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Both graduate and postgraduate studies at accredited U.S. institutions are supported. Applicants must have earned the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree by September 30, 2013, and must have applied to their proposed institutions of study by the time of the application. Up to five fellowships are renewable for a second year. Recipients are selected for academic achievement and demonstrated commitment to women and girls. Recipients return to their home countries to become leaders in business, government, academia, community activism, the arts, and sciences.

Application due December 1st.

American Scandinavian Foundation

The American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF) offers fellowships (up to $23,000) and grants (up to $5,000) to individuals to pursue research, study or creative arts projects in one or more Scandinavian country for up to one year. The number of awards varies each year according to total funds available. Awards are made in all fields. Applicants must have a well-defined research, study or creative arts project that makes a stay in Scandinavia essential. Applicants must be United States citizens or permanent residents and have completed their undergraduate education by the start of their project in Scandinavia. Team projects are eligible, but each member must apply as an individual, submitting a separate, fully-documented application. First priority will be given to applicants who have not previously received an ASF award. Only in exceptional cases will a third award be considered

Application due November 1st.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) – Japan Scholarship Program
For citizens of ADB’s developing member countries to pursue postgraduate studies in economics, management, science and technology, and other development-related fields at participating academic institutions in the Asian and Pacific Region. The ADB-JSP provides full scholarships for one to two years.

Association for Women in Science Educational Foundation

Several fellowships available, all of which support bibliographical inquiry and research in the history of the book trades and in publishing history. Eligible topics may concentrate on books and documents in any field, but should focus on the book or manuscript (the physical object) as historical evidence.

Applications due December 15th.

National Academies Fellowships

The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council offer several fellowships in science, engineering, and medicine. Information on eligibility guidelines and application deadlines is available on specific programs’ websites. The Fellowships Office (FO) of the National Academies administers predoctoral, postdoctoral, and senior fellowship awards on behalf of government and private/foundation sponsors; these fellowship awards play an important role in the career development of doctoral and postdoctoral researchers and scholars for the academic, federal, industrial and international workforce. Current opportunities can be found on the above listed website.

Deadlines vary.

Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program

This fellowship is designed to engage graduate science, engineering, medical, veterinary, business, and law students in the analysis that informs the creation of science and technology policy and to familiarize them with the interactions of science, technology and government.

Applications are due the fall before the session begins.

International Dissertation Field Research Fellowships

The Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) offers nine to twelve months of support to graduate students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences who are enrolled in PhD programs in the United States and conducting dissertation research on non-US topics. Eighty fellowships are awarded annually.

Applications due November 5th.

Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Scholarships

The Foundation’s Dissertation Fellowship is for up to $25,000 for advanced doctoral students who are completing dissertations that inform the Foundation’s mission: advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. To be eligible, candidates must demonstrate superior academic achievement, have successfully defended their dissertation proposals, and be enrolled full-time in a US graduate degree program.

Application deadline is February 4th.

Josephine de Karman Scholarships

$16,000 scholarship to support either the final year of study for juniors or for Ph.D. candidates with ABD status. DeKarman fellowships are open to students in any discipline, including international students, who are currently enrolled in a university or college located within the United States.  Only candidates for the PhD who will defend their dissertation by June 2015 and undergraduates entering their senior year (will receive bachelors degree in June 2015) are eligible for consideration.  Postdoctoral and masters degree students are not eligible for consideration.  Special consideration will be given to applicants in the Humanities.

Application due January 31st.

Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship

Candidates for the doctoral degree at a graduate school within the United States are eligible.


External Funding Databases and Information Resources

Looking for external funding opportunities?
External Fellowship Databases and Information Resources

USC Graduate School External Fellowship Resources page

USC Visual Studies Research Institute

USC Office of Academic & International Fellowships

H-Net, resource for fellowships, jobs, conferences, and calls for papers

USC Center for Excellence in Research, Federal Programs and Fellowships that Provide Support for Graduate Students

Grinnell College, Resources for International Students

University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana, Fellowship Database

UCLA Graduate & Postdoctoral Extramural Support (GRAPES) Database

Dissertation Fellowships Wiki

USC Graduate School Pinterest page

Top 15 Funding Opportunities for Humanists

Top 15 Funding Opportunities for Humanists

  1. American Association of University Women (AAUW) Fellowships
    Dissertation Fellowships
    International Fellowships
    Selected Fields Fellowships 
  2. Boren Fellowships
    Provides U.S. graduate students the opportunity to add an important international and language component to their graduate education through specialization in area study, language study, or increased language proficiency.  Applicants must explain how their language and study relate to issues of National Security, broadly defined. Boren Fellows also incur a service requirement, wherein they must agree to work for the federal government for a period commensurate with the length of their fellowship, or one year, whichever is longer.
  3. CES Pre-Dissertation Research Fellowships funds two months of travel to Europe to conduct the exploratory phase of a dissertation work in the social sciences or humanities that requires a stay in Europe. The 2014-15 application deadline is in January.
  4. The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program offers U.S. undergraduate and graduate students fully-funded intensive summer language institutes in thirteen critical foreign languages.
  5. Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Awards offers an annual stipend of $20,000, an award to the institution of $2000 in lieu of tuition and fees, and expenses paid to at least one Conference of Ford Fellows. For U.S. citizens, nationals, green card holders or undocumented students. Deadline in November
  6. Fulbright-Hays Fellowships for Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad provides grants to US colleges and universities to fund individual doctoral students who conduct research in other countries. Apply through the USC Graduate School. The deadline is in late summer.
  7. Josephine de Kármán Fellowship is open to students in any discipline. The deadline is in early January
  8. Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships supports a year of research and writing to help advanced graduate students in the humanities and related social sciences in the last year of Ph.D. dissertation writing. The deadline is in late October.
  9. Mellon-CES Dissertation Completion Fellowships in European Studies are intended to facilitate the timely completion of the doctoral degree by late-stage graduate students focusing on topics in European Studies. The deadline is usually in January.
  10. Mellon Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources help junior scholars in the humanities and related social science fields to gain skill and creativity in developing knowledge from original sources. The application deadline is in November.
  11. The Rome Prize includes room, board, studio/study and stipend. Supported fields are: Architecture, design, historic preservation, landscape architecture, literature, musical composition, visual arts and ancient, medieval, renaissance, early modern studies & modern Italian studies. The deadline is in November.
  12. SSRC’s Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship Student Competition is for graduate students in the humanities and social sciences developing research proposals through exploratory research and exchanges with other scholars within interdisciplinary areas of study. The deadline is in February.
  13. SSRC’s Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowships support graduate students in the humanities and social sciences — regardless of citizenship — enrolled in PhD programs in the United States and conducting dissertation research on non-US topics.
  14. Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans provides support for 2 years of graduate study. The deadline is November 1.
  15. Woodrow Wilson Foundation provides a number of opportunities, including the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, which supports the final year of work on Ph.D. dissertations dealing with ethical or religious values in fields across the humanities and social sciences.

Follow #USCgetfunded on Twitter and Facebook for tools, resources, and strategies for securing external funding.

Fellowships: They’re For You!

Fellowships: They’re For You!
By Adam Feinman

Every graduate program has different standards for how their students pay their way. However, everyone can benefit from investing the time in applying for fellowships. Be they large or small, unheard of or prestigious, acquiring fellowships demonstrates a person’s ability to convince others that they can do valuable research. This is particularly important in academia (where grant-awarding agencies often fund projects with societal impact), but all research fields need people who can communicate about their research.

No matter who you are, what your personal profile looks like, or how much research you have done to date, there are fellowships geared towards you. Many fellowships are designed towards advancing research done by minorities. Some fellowships are looking to encourage certain types of research, such as certain types of literary scholarship or particular medical disorders. Others are “patriotic” in nature, seeking to advance a national interest.

One of the most broadly available fellowships is the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, abbreviated as NSF GRFP. (How scientists love their abbreviations!) The overall mission of the NSF is to fund scientific research that has societal benefit and broad impact. It is not, however, limited to the so-called “hard-sciences”. Any field that is scientific and non-clinical can apply for this fellowship. So if you’re working with human subjects, you might be out of luck for this one. If you’re studying animal models of human disease you’re also going to be ineligible. But some clinical psychology and bio/medical engineering projects are eligible, as are the humanities aspects of science (e.g., science education, history of science). This fellowship is usually due in November, and requires essays, a research plan, and letters of recommendation.

It might be hard to get prestigious fellowships like this (or the Hertz and NDSEG fellowships) without previous research experience, but the process of applying can help you refine your research proposal and the way you write about it. The NSF GRFP wants your essays to reflect the “Broader Impacts” (i.e., how it affects society) and “Intellectual Merit” (how it advances knowledge), and the former is very important in this fellowship. One of the great things about this process though is that if you don’t get the fellowship, the NSF will give you feedback on how you can shore up your application. In many cases, you can apply for it as a first-year grad student and still re-apply as a second-year student.

Follow the USC Graduate School and #USCgetfunded on Facebook and Twitter for continuing articles and advice on obtaining external fellowships. Get a head-start with this breakdown of the application timeline. Your path to external funding begins now!