The University of Iowa

Mellon/ACLS Fellowship Community

Fellowships Community events for Fall 2020:


Fall 2020 Overviewmellon/acls logo

The Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship provides 1 year of financial support for the last year of PhD dissertation writing for graduate students in humanities and social sciences fields/projects that use humanistic approaches.  Support includes a $35,000 stipend, research costs up to $3000, and university fees paid up to $5000.  University of Iowa graduate students applicants are also eligible for the Fellowship Incentive Program ($400 for applying if feedback from both a faculty advisor and fellowships advisor is obtained before submitting to ACLS--full details on webpage).


Key Components
Resources for Applicants
Resources for Letter Writers
Community Contacts
Media Coverage

Key Components

Eligibility:  Official Mellon/ACLS fellowship eligibility is described on the organization website; read their descriptions carefully for full information.  Briefly, eligibility criteria include:

  • Being a PhD candidate who is ABD by the application deadline (all coursework and qualifying exams completed; only remaining degree requirement is the dissertation)
  • Being in a humanities or social sciences department in the USA; proposals can also be interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary.
    • Example eligible Humanities disciplines include: American studies, anthropology, art history, classics, film studies, history, languages and literatures, linguistics, musicology, philosophy, religious studies, rhetoric/communication/media studies, theatre/dance/performance studies
    • Example eligible Social Sciences disciplines if humanistic methods are used include: economics, geography, political science, psychology (not clinical or counseling), sociology
    • Example ineligible disciplines include: clinical/counseling psychology, creative/performing arts, education, engineering, library and information science, life/physical sciences, public health, medicine, social work
  • Being no more than 6 years into your degree program at the application deadline, including time earning an MA as part of that PhD program
  • There are no restrictions on eligibility due to citizenship


Application components are described more extensively at the organization website. Briefly, the components include:

  • 5 page (double-spaced) project proposal to be reviewed both by readers from your discipline (not necessarily your subfield) and by readers from a range of humanities and humanistic social sciences disciplines (Mellon/ACLS FAQ)
  • 1 page timeline
  • 2 page bibliography
  • 25 pages (double-spaced) completed dissertation chapter or representative excerpt of a completed chapter; may not be the introduction, conclusion, or literature review
  • 800 character dissertation abstract
  • 2000 character statement of your project's relevance to humanities as a whole
  • 2 reference letters, including one from your dissertation advisor
  • Statement from department chair, DGS, or dean confirming timeline and funding plans (note important information about post-fellowship funding restrictions)
  • Optional: 3 pages additional non-text supporting materials (e.g., images)

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Resources for Applicants

Feedback Appointments

  • The UI Graduate Success Office ( can give feedback on written drafts of your application materials.  We strongly recommend booking appointments well in advance, as Fall semester is the busiest season for fellowships.  If you are applying for the Mellon/ACLS fellowship and none of the available online options work with your schedule, please contact us—we will do our best to find additional scheduling options.


Web Resources:

Example Materials

  • UI donated example essays – log in to Sharepoint using your HawkID (hawkid[@], not first-last[@] and password. Please note these resources are donated for individual educational use by University of Iowa students only.


Reference Letters: The best letters are from people who can best comment on your activities and qualities that are most relevant to the fellowship’s evaluation criteria—for Mellon/ACLS, this will be your project’s originality, the project’s scholarly impact, the proposal quality, the project’s feasibility, and your potential for future scholarly achievements.  This means that writers who know you, your research, and broader context about your research field will be best able to provide supporting context to reviewers. The Graduate College has developed a fillable worksheet for the Mellon/ACLS fellowship that you can share with your advisor to help them write a more effective letter of recommendation. It can be accessed here (with hawkid and password).

  • Letters of Recommendation” by The IU GradGrants Center, Indiana University (introductory guide to picking and working with letter writers)
  •  “Writing a Letter of Recommendation,” an extremely useful resource for students and faculty by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (while some content is specific to biomedical research, most advice is generalizable across all disciplines)


Incentive ProgramsPreparing a competitive application for the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship requires a great deal of thought, time, and effort that helps you further develop your research ideas and writing skills.  In recognition of this investment and the benefits, UI graduate student applicants for this fellowship are eligible for an incentive program:

  • Fellowship Incentive Program (FIP): Graduate students who get feedback on a developed draft of their application from both a fellowships advisor (e.g., UI Grad Success appointment) and their dissertation advisor before submitting the final version to Mellon/ACLS can be eligible for a $400 award independent of the funding decision outcome. 
    • If you plan to work with a comparable fellowships advisor not listed above, please have them e-mail in advance to ensure coordination with the Fellowship Incentive Program.

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Resources for Letter Writers

Review Criteria and Reviewer Perspectives

  • Reviewers for the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion fellowship are evaluating applicants on their scholarly work with respect to the current project, the project’s likely impact, and the applicant’s future scholarly potential.  As a research mentor, you are in an especially powerful position to be able to provide expert context about originality, scholarly impact, proposal quality, project feasibility, and the candidate’s potential.  The most helpful recommendation letters will include specific examples and details to establish that context.
    • Saying an applicant is “the most promising student I’ve seen at this point in a degree program” would be an even more powerful statement with quantitative scope (“[…] in # years of mentoring # doctoral students”) and/or qualitative context (“[…]in terms of initiative to seek publication opportunities”) to clearly state the reasons that the student is promising. 
  • The first round of review will be by scholars in the student’s discipline, though not necessarily the same subfield.  The final round of review will be from scholars across a broad range of humanities and social sciences disciplines. (Mellon/ACLS FAQ)  Likewise, do not assume that the same reviewers reading your recommendation letter will have substantial background in your specific subfield.
    • Asserting that “this project is very original” is less persuasive than establishing the prior approach and then giving concise explanations of the new approaches, new subject matter, new perspectives, etc. the applicant uses.

Reference Letter Resources

  • Writing a Letter of Recommendation”, an extremely useful collection of advice from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (most advice is generalizable across broad fields). 
    • Particularly note pp. 10-11 and 15-19 for examples of how many small word choice differences (often unconsciously done when describing female vs. male applicants) can add up to a substantially stronger or weaker impression of an applicant.
  • A Nature article by Dutt et al. (2016) found that letter writers from the Americas tend to write longer letters than writers from other geographic regions (Table 3).  Be aware of the potential impact of cultural differences in how lengthy or superlative a letter is expected to be—especially if most reviewers will be used to letter norms in the Americas.
    • Also see Table 2 and “Methods” section for a summary of letter qualities that surveyed senior faculty interpreted as “excellent,” “good,” or “doubtful.”

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Community Contacts

Fellowships Advisors:

  • The UI Graduate Success Office ( can give feedback on written drafts of your application materials.  We strongly recommend booking appointments well in advance, as Fall semester is the busiest season for fellowships.  If you are applying for a Mellon/ACLS fellowship and none of the available online options work with your schedule, please contact us—we will do our best to find additional scheduling options.

Faculty, staff, and students willing to work with graduate student Mellon/ACLS applicants:

  • Claire Fox (Faculty, English) – Luce/ACLS fellow, mentor
    • Student Q&A - email
    • Student Q&A - phone
    • Student Q&A - meetings

For specific eligibility and submission questions, please contact Mellon/ACLS through the official Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship homepage.

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Media Coverage

Read about previous University of Iowa graduate student winners of the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship:

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  • What’s that fine print about not being able to receive any additional funding from my university after the fellowship period is done?
    • One of the required documents is a statement from the chair of your department, DGS, or dean verifying that “if an ACLS award is made, the university will not provide the applicant with any subsequent aid” (Mellon/ACLS).  This is in conjunction with the requirement that “Applicants must be prepared to complete their dissertations within the period of their fellowship tenure and no later than August 31, 2022” for the Fall 2020 deadline (Mellon/ACLS).  This means that you would not be able to receive subsequent TA positions or fellowships through UI after the Mellon/ACLS funding period.
    • If you have just completed all other program requirements to be ABD (“all but dissertation”) but are not sure how many years your dissertation research and writing will take, you will need to carefully consult with faculty and peers in your discipline to determine how many years are typical for your field and your specific planned project.  The Mellon/ACLS fellowship is a great resource for being able to focus on finishing your dissertation without concurrent TAing, teaching, or work; however, this fine print requirement means that you should be careful to not apply too soon in your program if you would realistically need more than 2 years to complete your project (the year in which you submit the application + the year of the fellowship’s funding).
  • How much will my reviewers know about my research topic?
    • Your application will be reviewed both by readers from your discipline (who may or may not be experts in your subfield) and by readers from a range of humanities and humanistic social sciences disciplines (Mellon/ACLS FAQ).  Therefore, your application should withstand an expert’s scrutiny yet still be understandable to a non-specialist reader from the humanities or a related discipline.  This guide from a previous Mellon/ACLS program officer provides useful advice about writing for a non-specialist yet scholarly audience.
      • A good guideline is to examine the list of eligible fields (first link in the Mellon/ACLS "Summary" section), find the discipline in scope that is most different from yours, and treat that "most different" field as the baseline for what is or is not common knowledge. 
      • For another example of the range, the fields of the 2016-2017 awardees included: anthropology, art history, East Asian languages and cultures, English, ethnic studies, feminist studies, film studies, geography, history, linguistics, music, Native American Studies, philosophy, religious studies, sociology
  • How is the project proposal different from my overall dissertation?
    • Your overall dissertation is being evaluated by your committee—scholars you picked specifically because they have expertise closely related to your research.  As noted above, the Mellon/ACLS proposal must be understandable and compelling to both readers from your own discipline and from readers across the humanities and humanistic social sciences.
    • The proposal also needs to be self-contained in the sense that it must include relevant background, your work’s premise, methodology, theoretical framework, significance within your field, significance across the humanities more broadly, context on how and work plan—not only the central argument itself.  These topics must be described very concisely due to the page limit, but the core content needs to clearly convey what the project is, how you’ll do the project, and why the project matters.
  • What is routing, and do I have to do routing for this application?
    • Routing with the Division of Sponsored Programs (DSP) requires the final versions of your materials to be submitted to DSP on their website 5 business days before the deadline on the funding organization’s website (see the DSP website for more information).  Routing is mandatory for awards that require a faculty member or the university itself to submit the application on your behalf (examples: NSF DDRIG, NIH F31/F30/R36). 
    • Because you submit the Mellon/ACLS fellowship application yourself, independently, as an individual, you do not have to complete routing to submit the applicationYou, the applicant, are solely responsible for submitting your materials to the funding agency by the deadline.
      • If you win a Mellon/ACLS fellowship, you will need to contact DSP as soon as possible to set up an award management account in the UI system.
  • Do I need to submit my fellowship application materials to the Graduate College before they are submitted to the funding agency?
    • No.  The Graduate College can give writing feedback on your application (content, clarity, style, accessibility to a non-specialist reader) that we strongly encourage you to utilize; getting feedback from a fellowships specialist is also part of the FIP eligibility requirements.  However, this feedback is not required to submit an application to ACLS.
  • Does the Graduate College submit my application materials for me?
    • No.  You, the applicant, are solely responsible for submitting your materials to the funding agency by the deadline. 
  • Is this opportunity Fellowship Incentive Program (FIP)-eligible?
    • Yes, you are eligible for a $400 application incentive award if you work with your faculty advisor and get feedback from a fellowships advisor before submitting the final materials to ACLS.   Read more about FIP here.
  • Who are the fellowships advisors I have to meet with to be FIP-eligible?
    • Of the example fellowships advisors listed on the FIP homepage,  the Grad Success Office most often works with Mellon/ACLS applicants. If you are working with another fellowships advisor on campus who fills a similar role, please have them contact us in advance at to ensure coordination with the Fellowship Incentive Program. 
    • DSP reviews grant applications only for completion and formatting, not content or clarity of writing style; therefore, DSP routing is not a substitute for feedback from a fellowships advisor.
  • I’m a previous winner, reviewer, or mentor who would like to be a Community Contact.  How can I have my name added to the list?
    • Filling out this Qualtrics form will let you send us your contact information and the ways in which you would like to be involved. If you have additional questions, please contact Thank you for your willingness to share your expertise!
  • How much time does it take to write an application for this fellowship?
    • Longer than you may think!  Even though the main project proposal is only 5 pages double-spaced, condensing multiple years of dissertation research into that small of space while also establishing background context and significance for a scholarly yet non-specialist audience is a challenging task.
    • The specific amount of time varies, but you should allow ample time for:
      • Brainstorming on your own and with others
      • Contacting prospective reference writers to see if they’re willing to write a strong, positive letter for you
      • Drafting an outline
      • Writing the first draft
      • Revising the draft to where you are comfortable having others read it
      • Getting feedback from specialist readers (e.g., your advisor, other people in your research group) and non-specialist readers (e.g., fellowships advisors, other trusted friends/family/mentors)
      • Making revisions, final editing
      • Sending final or near-final versions of your materials to your reference writers
      • Submitting to the funding agency (NOT at the last minute)
  • How can I find other fellowship opportunities?

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