In 2020, the Dissertation Proposal Development (DPD) Program came to a close. Since its inception in 2007, the DPD Program has served over 700 students and existed in two iterations, a national fellowship and a university initiative—applying the DPD graduate student training model on five university campuses. The goal of the DPD Program was to help graduate students in the social sciences and humanities develop cogent, successful dissertation funding proposals that speak to a wide range of disciplines, through two workshops bookending funded summer research. The hallmark of the DPD Program was its emphasis on interdisciplinary peer critique—requiring students to give and receive critique across disciplines in a collegial, productive manner. In the University Initiative phase of the DPD Program (2016–2020), the SSRC supported five universities—Cornell, Northwestern, University of California, Santa Cruz, UMass Boston, and University of Minnesota—in their attempts to institute similar trainings, providing hands-on guidance, expertise, and financial support.

Each university was different—some private, others public, some with robust graduate student infrastructure and others with fledgling graduate programs. Each adapted the “SSRC model” and experimented with different pedagogies and structures of the course of the three-year grant with the SSRC. As the Mellon Foundation and SSRC hand over the funding and organization of these programs to their universities, it is a natural moment to reflect on questions of how to measure the impact of a program, especially one that occurred concurrently at fived universities. What makes a program meaningful? How does a program gain enough momentum to become institutionalized at a university? There are many different responses to this—from the DPD Program intervening at a vulnerable moment in graduate student training to its role as professional development for the faculty involved.

As we glean the lessons from this experiment in graduate training, we have collected reflections from students who participated in the university trainings, administrators who organized and supported the trainings, and our advisory board members—senior faculty who facilitated DPD workshops during the national competition and offered crucial guidance to our five university partners. Through their varied reflections we hope to better understand the different components of the DPD Program—from the impact of student scholarship, the ways universities evolved the trainings to be responsive to the changing needs of their constituencies, and what convinced the advisory committee to buy-in to this program and its impact on them as teachers and mentors. As the DPD Program comes to a close, join us as we reflect on the challenges and successes of implementing interdisciplinary proposal development trainings on five universities.