With fellowship, grad students collect artifacts, stories, research
To study the early trade patterns of Asian porcelain, Rory Dennison had to travel abroad to collect samples more than 1,000 years old.
Dennison visited sites in China and the Philippines to dig up 360 samples — all with help from the Chancellor’s Graduate Research Fellowship program.
“The funding was a huge help and the primary source of funding to go overseas,” said Dennison, a doctoral student in anthropology.
Dennison received the fellowship in 2012 and 2013 for his research on trade and exchange mechanisms in Asia from the 10th through the 15th centuries. He’s using chemical analysis to determine the originating kiln site of the porcelain samples he collected.
“There was Chinese trade reaching Africa 600 years ago,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize how integrated the world has been for a long time. We’re seeing the forerunners to the modern global world.”
The fellowship program provides up to $8,000 in funding over two years to graduate and professional students working on multidisciplinary projects. More than 150 students have received funding in the program’s first five years, including 42 students in the last academic year.
“The fellowship allows students to move forward with their dissertation and make great progress toward finishing their degree,” said Laura Junker, associate dean of the Graduate College and associate professor of anthropology.
“This award has impacted a significant number of departments and a lot of students.”
About 25 percent of students who received fellowships were later awarded major external fellowships or grants, such as Fulbright fellowships or funding from the National Science Foundation or National Institutes of Health, Junker said, “considerably higher than the general rate.”
Fellowship recipients must have a multidisciplinary aspect to their research, which helps their job prospects once they’ve completed their degree, Junker said.
“It benefits graduate students in terms of making the really strong connections with scholars in different disciplines across campus,” Junker said. “Employers are looking for doctoral and graduate students who can develop projects across disciplines.”
UIC grad Anne Parsons thinks the fellowship helped land her current job, assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Parsons received the fellowship in 2010 and 2011 for research on the politics of mental health and incarceration from 1945 to 1985. She traveled to Pennsylvania to review archives and work on an oral history project, interviewing former psychiatric patients, mental health advocates and others involved in mental health and correctional reform.
“There’s a lot of value right now in history in doing multidisciplinary work,” she said. “My work connects to disability studies and speaks to political science, sociology. I think it really strengthened my work — and that is valued on the job market.”
Marines de la Peña, a doctoral student in biological sciences, is strengthening conservation efforts on a biological reserve in Los Tuxtlas, Mexico. She’s introducing new plants there and collaborating with mathematicians to measure the dispersal of the plants, as well as conduct a census of birds and bats in the rainforest.
“The area has been highly fragmented by cattle ranchers,” said de la Peña. “These are stepping stones with the plantings, which can attract animals that bring seeds and connect the landscape.”
She used the fellowship for several trips to the rainforest. She will seek a postdoctoral position in Mexico after she finishes her studies at UIC in October.
“The fellowship was really helpful to get through the first years,” she said. “We have plans to continue the project much longer.”
Letters of intent for this year’s fellowship program are due Sept. 15; applications are due Oct. 6.