A&S Fellows and PhD+

A&S Fellows and PhD+

SIF145 A&S Fellows and PhD+: 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


Grand Challenge Fellowships

The Grand Challenge fellowship program comprises a suite of funding opportunities that advance recruiting, inclusion, research, collaboration and professional development at all stages of the graduate-student career.  Along with the PhD+ program that is administered by the Provost’s office, this award is raising the profile of doctoral programs in the Arts & Sciences at UVA among prospective applicants, faculty colleagues at peer institutions, and national organizations.  

For the purpose of reporting to the post-award committee, the Graduate School provides updates regarding the Grand Challenge Fellowships program, whereas the Provost’s Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Affairs provides updates regarding the PhD+ program. There are important intersections and synergies between the Grand Challenge and PhD+ programs, and the Graduate School works very closely with Graduate & Postdoctoral Affairs to optimize the value to the University and to faculty and students of the overall investment in SIF145.

Due to the timing of the award during the 2018-2019 academic year, the associated budget for the Grand Challenge program was shifted to FY20 through FY23. The Graduate School was able to launch the Dean’s Doctoral Fellowship, Teaching Relief Fellowship, Dissertation Completion Fellowship programs immediately in the Fall 2019 semester.  We required a planning and recruiting year in order to implement the Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship, Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship, Inter-School Doctoral Fellowship and Exchange Fellowship programs, which funded students beginning in Fall 2020. As of the Fall 2021 semester, the Graduate School has established concepts and promotional materials, recruiting and selection processes, faculty and administrative leadership, orientation events, and programming for multiple cohorts of fellows across seven initiatives. During the 2021-2022 academic year we will finalize our implementation of assessment protocols for each funding initiative and data profiles at the school and departmental level regarding admission, academic and career outcomes to support a comprehensive three-year review of the Grand Challenge initiatives in Summer 2022.


The charge to be both great and good requires us to conceive of doctoral training as an opportunity to prepare a new generation of researchers and scholars in all fields and disciplines who are motivated and prepared to contribute to society’s most pressing challenges. Assaults on democracy; a worldwide pandemic; and the persistence and pervasiveness of social and racial injustice should be heard as additional calls to action in the ongoing reform of doctoral education that seeks to train and prepare our most promising, and diverse, researchers for a spectrum of careers both within and outside of academia through which they may influence society. This is the mission of PhD Plus, a University-wide initiative launched in 2019 as a $2.3 Million component of the larger $15.8 Million SIF145 award made to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences devoted to transforming doctoral education in Arts & Sciences.

Despite the disruption brought about by COVID, including the delay of hiring two key staff members in grant and fellowship training and experiential learning, the project has continued to make significant gains. New training programs are being developed with partners both within and external to the University, including a new Business in Society module offered in conjunction with the Darden School of Business. Overall participation has continued to increase across successive years, including among postdocs. More students are taking advantage of the opportunity to receive a non-credit credential for the completion of select modules and activities. More students are participating in newly developed internship opportunities. The program is contributing to the development of training grants, such as NSF NRT proposals, and significantly, this upcoming academic year some doctoral programs will begin offering PhD+ designed modules in career design as credit-bearing courses within their programs. The impact of these activities on career outcomes will take more time to realize, but as some of the first participants in internships and other experiences enter the job market and workforce, preliminary feedback is very encouraging.