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Presidential Completion Awards Help Doctoral Students Finish Degrees

Doctor grads may 21 commencement

Doctor grads may 21 commencementSince arriving last summer, Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis has shown her commitment to supporting doctoral students through several critical investments. The latest are the Presidential Completion Awards, which have provided crucial stipend support and research funds for 47 SBU doctoral students who have found their ability to finish their degrees impeded by circumstances beyond their control.

Over the past year, graduate students have experienced myriad delays in their dissertation progress due to the COVID-19 pandemic — such as lab and archive closures, the sudden transition to online teaching, and travel restrictions — and faced broader challenges, such as financial insecurity and family or personal health issues. In some graduate programs, half of their doctoral students are beyond year six in their degree progress, and the pandemic has simply compounded these issues, delaying an estimated 40 percent of doctoral students at Stony Brook.

Following up on last year’s new doctoral fee scholarships, President McInnis has made available $1 million to help students in the last stages of their doctoral degree overcome their delays and graduate.

“Our doctoral students have worked tremendously hard to achieve the highest level of scholarship, pursuing rigorous academic programs and performing the critical, creative research that will build a brighter future for us all,” President McInnis said. “The Completion Awards ensure that these scholars complete their degrees and overcome the challenges that stand in their way, especially after this difficult academic year. Clearing a path for these students is something I am glad to help facilitate, and I could not be prouder.”

This student-centered approach to graduate education aims to improve the lived experience and career prospects of these students. “Under President McInnis’s leadership, Stony Brook is quickly establishing itself as a destination for graduate study that is both cutting edge and supportive,” said Eric Wertheimer, dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for Graduate and Professional Education.

The new Presidential Completion Awards come in three types. Presidential Dissertation Completion Fellowships provide one to two semesters of stipend, tuition and fee support for doctoral students without another source of funding for these costs. Presidential Critical Research Funds provide up to $5,000 in dissertation research expenses for students whose progress delays have created additional unfunded costs. Presidential Postdoctoral Extension Awards, which have yet to open for applications, will offer six-month postdoctoral fellowships for top doctoral students who finish within the expected time to degree completion for their discipline. 

Unsurprisingly, these awards have garnered the attention of students, and nearly 70 applications were submitted in the first competition in April 2021. A committee of 16 faculty were recruited to review these applications — a challenging but rewarding process when so many applicants had compelling stories to tell. 

“Serving on the committee to select awardees for Presidential Fellowships was a privilege and a pleasure,” committee member August Sheehy, assistant professor in the music department. “Indeed, both the purpose of the award and the process were immensely rewarding. Not only did I learn a lot about the wide range of extraordinary research being done by Stony Brook graduate students in both the sciences and humanities, I was also able to work with my wonderful colleagues to help those students complete that work and move into the next phase of their careers.”

Committee member Wei Yin, associate dean in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and associate professor of Biomedical Engineering, agreed. “I am very proud to be a part of a University that cares and finds innovative ways to help and support our students in need,” she said.

The selection process ultimately awarded 37 students with Presidential Completion Fellowships and 10 students with Presidential Critical Research Funds (see complete list below). Awardees hailed primarily from the College of Arts and Sciences, but also the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and the Renaissance School of Medicine. 

With these awards, students should be able to focus on finishing their dissertation work without additional teaching or service or worrying about securing additional funding. Overall, the biggest outcome from these awards, however, may be a feeling of profound relief for our student awardees. 

“This is great news and a big relief for me,” said Luis Medina, PhD candidate in marine and atmospheric sciences and a Presidential Dissertation Completion Fellowship awardee. “Now I can really focus a hundred percent on finishing my dissertation and completing my degree.” 

Alecia Nepaul, a Presidential Critical Research Funds awardee from political science, was similarly heartened. “This means a lot to me,” she said, “and will make a huge difference in my research.”

The Presidential Completion Award process was also an opportunity for Stony Brook to better understand the unique needs and concerns of our graduate students. This sentiment was articulated well by art history PhD student and Presidential Dissertation Completion Fellowship awardee Eli Zadeh, who said, “It is so reassuring to see that my community at the University is acutely aware of and responsive to the students’ needs and priorities.”

The next award competition will take place this summer and offer another round of Dissertation Completion Fellowships for Spring and Summer 2021, as well as the Postdoctoral Extension Awards. Watch for details to be posted at:

Dissertation Completion Fellowships:

Ahmad Al-Sholi, Sociology
Ernesto Blanes-Martinez, Philosophy
Sophia Boutilier, Sociology
Matt Brounley, Music
Sunghun Cho, Economics
Lori Clark, Technology, Policy, and Innovation
Rachel Dushkewich, English
Andrew Eicher, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Firman Firmansyah, Technology, Policy, and Innovation
Ford Fourqurean, Music Performance
Bento Gonçalves, Ecology and Evolution
Donald  Hendrix, Geosciences
Ji Yea Kim, Linguistics
Corinna Kirsch, Art History and Criticism
Bernard Krumm, English
Evan Lammertse, Biomedical Engineering
Gregory Lella, History
Eric Lemmon, Music
Lei Liu, Linguistics
Luis Medina, Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
Anna Melnikova, Linguistics
Kristjan Mets, Ecology and Evolution
Vamiq Mustahsan, Mechanical Engineering
Alexandra Nicolaides, Art History and Criticism
Alexandra Novitskaya, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Stephen Pallas, English
Emmanuel Pardo, History
Anna Reguero, Music History and Theory
Anay Rodriguez, Hispanic Languages and Literature
Alberto Sánchez Medina, Hispanic Languages and Literature
Anthony Stapon, Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology
Mihir Umarani, Ecology and Evolution
Melis Umut, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Carolina Vittor Medina, Hispanic Languages and Literature
Alex Yeung, Linguistics
Eli Zadeh, Art History and Criticism
Luca Zanchi, Cultural Analysis and Theory

Critical Research Funds:

Jenna Anderson, IDPAS
Emilie Bouda, Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology
Caitlyn Cardetti, Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology
Aishani Gupta, History
Erin Kimmel, Art History and Criticism
Taylor Medwig-Kinney, Genetics
Valerie Moyer, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Alecia Nepaul, Political Science
Nicholas Pepe, Psychology
Nicolás Wiggenhauser, IDPAS

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