A&S Fellows

A&S Fellows

SIF145 A&S Fellows: Transforming Doctoral Education in Arts & Sciences

Project Managers: Ed Barnaby and Phil Trella

The intent of this award is to increase funding for doctoral programs in order to improve strategic recruitment opportunities.

BoV Approved: March 2018

Project Dates: 7/09/2018 – 7/08/2023

Funding Awarded: $15,831,486

Executive Summary

A substantial investment in graduate education is essential to achieve the University’s ambitious goals for reputational advancement and increased sponsored research. As part of its long-standing commitment to the creation of new knowledge for the well-being of the Commonwealth and the nation, UVA has created pan-University institutes and hired faculty strategically to establish research networks across numerous fields. A significant investment in doctoral training is needed to fuel this research engine and to unleash the full capacity of the faculty we have cultivated across Arts & Sciences. Since 2009, the College of Arts & Sciences has undertaken three phases of aggressive and significant curricular and managerial reform in order to: 1) right-size our doctoral programs; 2) enhance the oversight of students’ degree progress and more effectively administer financial commitments; and 3) bring the quality of support for doctoral students closer to nationally competitive levels. In 2016 the College received an award from the Strategic Investment Fund, SIF32, to support the third phase of this foundational effort. The current SIF award leverages and builds upon that initial SIF award, but represents a completely distinct capstone investment in the strategic vision that will bring national distinction to the Graduate School that befits a major research university.  This past spring, a faculty committee of innovative and experienced mentors from across the disciplines was convened to envision a series of strategic investments that would establish a new, future-focused model of what graduate education can be at an elite public research university in the 21st Century.

This SIF award supports two of the initiatives that emerged from that discussion:

  1. Establish research-accelerating “Grand Challenge” fellowships to attract the most promising doctoral students to UVA and empower them to pursue ambitious and novel intellectual pathways, especially those that engage society's most pressing challenges and have the potential to shape the external funding landscape.  The Grand Challenge Fellowships will signal to prospective faculty and students the University’s commitment to addressing the world’s most intractable challenges and allow Arts & Sciences to align fellowship resources in an unprecedented manner with strategic research areas and identified talent. With the capacity to take our top 100 students each year and enable them to focus exclusively on their research, we will sustain the strength of deep disciplinary knowledge within our departments while at the same time steering the overall doctoral enterprise towards more trans-disciplinary, team-driven, and strategically prioritized research objectives.
  2. Launch a signature career development program called “PhD Plus” that distinguishes UVA PhD graduates as versatile academics who are eminently prepared for the professoriate, deeply engaged with society’s needs, and poised to become influential professionals in other sectors across the globe.  We are prepared to seize an extraordinary opportunity to shape the emerging national conversation about expanding the boundaries of doctoral education –transforming how we prepare our students, and what we prepare them to do in life.  “PhD Plus” is an initiative to equip graduate students with the skills and methods to allow them to engage more intensively with society than traditional programs. Our students will put their research and professional training into concrete, active practice through experiential learning opportunities, such as internships and short-term immersions.  Depending on research and career goals, students might intern with a national media organization; a congressional legislative director or a public policy institute; a law firm specializing in licensing and patents; a biotech startup in Charlottesville, or an NGO in Africa.  By leveraging the deep professional network of our faculty and alumni, we will provide unmatched experiences to our doctoral students that will revolutionize the way students and employers conceive of – and value – the PhD.  We will produce future academics who are societally aware and engaged, and future leaders beyond the academy who will be able to bring a research-focused mindset and toolset to the professional world.


Each component of this vision contributes directly and measurably to the research capacity and reputation of the University.  Taken together they will greatly enhance our ability to recruit and retain the best faculty and graduate students; optimize their collaboration; and produce highly visible successes across all sectors of society that will raise the University’s global profile.

Current Status: Active


This award was formally reviewed by the PAC in January 2020. This is a five-year award, with SIF funding distributed during years 2-5. The first year of the award was dedicated to start-up activities, such as establishing mechanisms to capture and record baseline, current, and future data in order to be able to report on the achievement of metrics in future reports. The project team shared that though this program is relatively young, twenty-nine students have been recruited so far into seventeen programs, and that twenty-five teaching relief fellowships have been awarded. Following a semester of preparation and pilot activities in the fall of 2018, the PhD Plus part of this SIF award was officially launched on January 17, 2019 as part of a national mini-symposium, Shaping the Future of Graduate Education, which brought together more than 300 students, faculty, alums, employers, and national leaders in graduate education. The program has sponsored over 150 different events, workshops, and trainings.