Procedures and Selection Criteria
Adopted by the Faculty 2/6/04; revised 11/30/09; 03/25/10; 04/22/16
The university awards Mellon fellowships competitively. In any given year the selection committee consists of faculty from various departments in the Arts and Sciences; you may have sociologists, musicologists, or chemists reading your application. Our department must first nominate applicants. In HAA, we reserve our nominations for students who have already passed their comprehensive exams, and had their dissertation prospectuses approved. All of our applicants are therefore applying to work full-time on their dissertations (either research or writing). We give preference, though not absolute priority, to students who have completed the foundational research for their Ph.D.’s., and seek further funding to write the dissertation, as well as take care of any final research.
The key components of the fellowship application are: the project proposal; letters of recommendation; and the CV. All three are important, but the three-page project proposal is weighted most heavily. (Transcripts are required but are less important; GRE scores we do not consider a factor at this stage.)
A. The project proposal is a concise statement of your dissertation project and the work you intend to accomplish during the fellowship year. To be successful, the statement must:
1. Have an interesting, original, and persuasive intellectual framework. What is your leading idea? What is your approach? Why is it significant (both within the field and without)? Remember that your readers will be outside art history: the broader the significance of your project, the better. If your project looks narrow, specialized, and unguided by ideas, then it will not succeed.
2. Explain what you intend to do during the fellowship year. If you plan to do research, you need a concise research plan that is tied to the intellectual framework you have articulated (see #1). In addition, it is always a good idea to include a sentence or two on your preparation to date. What research or writing have you already done to prepare you for the fellowship year? E.g. have you presented any of this material at a conference?
B. Letters of recommendation obviously need to be cultivated over a long period of time from writers who know your project well and can speak to its distinctive strengths. Give a copy of your project proposal to your letter writers at least a month in advance of the departmental deadline for the letters.
C. The CV likewise must be built over a period of years. An impressive CV will show that you have scholarly initiative and professionalization already underway during your graduate career. Please note that, while the department looks for signs of ambition and seriousness from the cv (e.g., presentations at conferences and symposia), publications are not a significant part of our criteria. Because we give preference to students who are carrying out and/or completing the research for the dissertation, the department does not believe that publications, for students at this intermediate stage in their development, represent a necessary part of the cv.
From this brief summary, it should be obvious that an excellent application is not put together in days or even weeks. A terrific project proposal requires good academic preparation and an extended period of thinking, reading, writing, and rewriting to refine the key ideas in your statement. Plan far ahead. The same is true of your letters and CV: think strategically about how to build a case for yourself on paper, and implement your ideas as soon as possible in your graduate study. We also do not re-nominate students who have already been awarded a Mellon Fellowship.