A fresh take on the collaborative training grant: Preparing artists and scholars for the 21st Century

By Alissa Ewer


We typically associate collaborative training grants with the biological sciences – but that may soon change. The University of Wisconsin–Madison Graduate School is using the training grant model to pilot an innovative fellowship program in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

The initiative, spearheaded by Graduate School Senior Associate Dean Daniel Kleinman, sought proposals from faculty across multiple fields sharing interdisciplinary, collaborative research agendas, in which graduate student training and mentoring plans were explicitly outlined and systematic.

“Scholarly knowledge production is increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary,” states Senior Associate Dean Kleinman. “We are also realizing that there are multiple professional paths for people with PhDs. This seemed the perfect time to promote a training model aimed to prepare students for a changing world.”

The program, which funds students for up to five years through a combination of Graduate School, departmental, and other sources, encourages use of an apprenticeship and cohort model for cross-disciplinary training.

“The goal is to expose PhD candidates to research early, provide team mentoring opportunities and bring students’ work to publication and dissemination, thus enhancing their competitiveness for a broad spectrum of career outcomes,” according to Graduate School Dean William J. Karpus.

All submitted proposals were reviewed by a faculty committee. Two were selected for funding, one focused on youth development and social media, and the other on training methods for scholars studying pre-modern China.


Amy Bellmore and B. Bradford Brown of Educational Psychology, together with Marie-Louise Mares and Catalina Toma of Communications Arts, will lead a training program aimed at equipping emerging scholars with the expertise to study how young people shape and are shaped by social media.

“Our students in communication typically do get training in other disciplines as a way of informing their work – that’s part of the beauty of this multidisciplinary field,” states Professor Mares.  “However, this project really extends that tradition in a major way, to help our students develop a deep, sophisticated understanding of an area.”

Admitted graduate students will meet degree requirements in their home program – Education Psychology or Communications Arts – complete a minor in the other, and collaborate across disciplines during bi-weekly seminars. Ultimately they will derive a research program focused on the relationship between media use and child or adolescent learning or development.

Graduate student mentoring will be achieved at three levels: one-on-one with faculty, collaboratively through research projects, and group-level mentoring during seminar interactions.


William Nienhauser, Rania Huntington, and Mark Meulenbeld of Asian Languages and Cultures have teamed up with Joseph Dennis and Judd Kinzley of History and Yuhang Li of Art History for this training grant.

Interdisciplinarity is essential to researching pre-modern China, and according to the group’s proposal, “[our] three departments have a long history of collaborative cross-departmental graduate education.” This training grant will further formalize collaboration between the Departments of Art History, Asian Languages and Cultures, and History.

The involved faculty will employ two main methods for building multidisciplinary expertise among students: graduate student rotations and seminars outside students’ home departments. Graduate students will gain core skill sets that includes translation, field work, source interpretation, archival and library research, and digital humanities.

Chazen MuseumGraduate students will benefit from close faculty mentoring. This grant also enables them to add a new professional development seminar for Chinese studies.

“There will be a change in emphasis from coursework in one discipline to professional apprentice-style work in multiple disciplines… [The grant] will result in a more rigorous program, which when combined with pre-graduation publishing opportunities and the enhanced ability to talk to scholars outside their own narrow disciplines, will make the students more competitive on the job market,” says Associate Professor Dennis.

The new grant program meets an important need, as summarized by Professor Brown, “The generous funding from the Graduate School crystallizes our efforts to develop a comprehensive, interdisciplinary training program.” It will have a lasting impact on graduate students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, both academically and professionally.