University of Iowa

The D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize

The D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize was established to recognize excellence in doctoral research. Each year, a winner of the D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize is eligible to become the University of Iowa's nominee in the national competition for the Council of Graduate Schools/University Microfilms International Distinguished Dissertation Award.

D.C. Spriestersbach
D.C. Spriestersbach, former Graduate College Dean

Spriestersbach prizes are awarded annually in two of four broad disciplinary areas-Humanities and Fine Arts, Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Engineering, Biological and Life Sciences, and Social Sciences. The Graduate College, in turn, holds two D.C. Spriestersbach Prize competitions in the areas specified by the Council of Graduate Schools.

Rajula Elango, who earned her Ph.D. in integrated biology in 2017, has been awarded the 2019 D.C. Spriestersbach Prize in the Biological and Life Sciences category. Elango's dissertation research focused on the genetics of DNA repair and recombination. 

Stefan Schöberlein, who received his doctorate in English in 2018, won the 2019 Spriestersbach Prize in the Humanities and Fine Arts. Schöberlein's dissertation centered on the intersections of anatomically justified theories of brain function and the literature of the United States and Great Britain in the nineteenth century prior to 1880.

In 2020, two D.C. Spriestersbach Prizes will be awarded – one in Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Engineering and one in the Social Sciences.

To be eligible, a student must have received the doctorate or completed all doctoral degree requirements (includes having the final deposit of the dissertation cleared through the Graduate College) between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2020.

Nominees' dissertations should represent highly original work that is an unusually significant contribution to their fields. Subcommittees chosen by the Graduate College will review the nominations and select recipients of the prize. See a list of past winners and their dissertation titles.

Recipients of the D.C. Spriestersbach Prize are honored in the spring at a special reception held in conjunction with the James F. Jakobsen Graduate Research Conference, organized by the Graduate Student Senate. At that time, winners are presented with $2,500, an award certificate, and a copy of Spriestersbach's book, "The Way It Was."

Nominations for the 2020 prize should be submitted online by June 3, 2020 and must include:

  • a brief letter of nomination from the DEO or DGS
  • an extended double-spaced abstract of the dissertation in PDF form, not to exceed 10 pages
    • appendices containing non-textual material, such as charts or tables, may be included
    • this should approach the 10-page limit – do not submit the short abstract deposited with the dissertation.
    • pages should be numbered and each should bear the name of the nominee
  • a 3-page double-spaced dissertation summary in non-technical language, presenting the purpose, methods, and results of the research, and a clear statement of its significance within the discipline
  • an updated copy of the nominee's curriculum vitae, not to exceed 5 pages
  • an electronic copy of the dissertation in PDF form

Nominees should also request three references to submit letters evaluating the significance and quality of the dissertation work (Please include a list of names and contact information for references).

  • one of these letters is to be from the nominee's dissertation supervisor
  • another from a member of the nominee's dissertation committee
  • the third from a person of the nominee's choice

List of Eligible Departments for 2020 D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize

The following lists, although not all-inclusive, illustrate the fields to be considered in these disciplinary areas:


  • Actuarial Science
  • Applied Mathematical and Computational Sciences
  • Astronomy
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical and Biochemical Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Informatics
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Physics
  • Statistics


  • Anthropology
  • Business Administration
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • History
  • Political Science
  • Psychological and Brain Sciences
  • Social Work
  • Sociology


Nominations for the 2020 award are due June 3, 2020.

Winners of the D.C. Spriestersbach Prize have fared exceptionally well in the national competition. With five winners, Iowa has been recognized more times than any other public university since the inauguration of the national competition in 1981.

UI's national dissertation award winners

2008—Jessica Horst, Psychology
2007—Michael Chasar, English
1997—Susan Behrends Frank, Art History
1993—Matthew P. Anderson, Physiology & Biophysics
1984—David Lasocki, Music

Fifteen other Iowa nominees have been finalists in the national competition. The success of Iowa's candidates in the national competition is a tribute to the high standards of excellence met by doctoral research conducted at this University.