Awards & Honors: National Academy of Education (NAEd) Spencer Dissertation Fellowship Program

The National Academy of Education (NAEd) will soon be accepting applications for its prestigious Spencer Dissertation Fellowship Program.

The Dissertation Fellowship Program seeks to encourage a new generation of scholars from a wide range of disciplines and professional fields to undertake research relevant to the improvement of education. These $27,500 fellowships support individuals whose dissertations show potential for bringing fresh and constructive perspectives to the history, theory, analysis, or practice of formal or informal education anywhere in the world.

This highly competitive program aims to identify the most talented researchers conducting dissertation research related to education. The Dissertation Fellowship program receives many more applications than it can fund. This year, up to 35 fellowships will be awarded.

This program is considered Prestigious by the National Research Council (NRC).

Deadline: October 5, 2017 at 5pm ET


  • Through the dissertation fellowship, the National Academy of Education (NAEd) and Spencer seek to encourage a new generation of scholars from a variety of fields to undertake research relevant to the improvement of education.
  • The NAEd and Spencer believe scholarly insight from many different disciplines can contribute to an understanding of education as a fundamental human endeavor and advance our ability to address significant current issues in education.
  • Therefore, the NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship supports individuals whose dissertations show potential for bringing fresh and constructive perspectives to the history, theory, or practice of formal or informal education anywhere in the world.


  • Applicants need not be citizens of the United States; however, they must be candidates for a doctoral degree at a graduate institution within the U.S.
  • The fellowship is not intended to finance data collection or the completion of doctoral coursework but rather to support the final analysis of the research topic and the writing of the dissertation.
  • For this reason, all applicants must confirm via the online application that they will have completed all pre-dissertation requirements by June 1, 2018 and must provide a clear and specific plan for completing the dissertation within a one or two-year time frame.

Funding Priorities

  • Although the dissertation topic must centrally concern education, graduate study may be in any academic discipline or professional field.
  • Fellowships have been awarded to candidates in anthropology, architecture, art history, communications, economics, education, history, linguistics, literature, philosophy, political science, psychology, public health, religion, and sociology.
  • Eligibility is not restricted to these academic areas. Candidates should be interested in pursuing research on education once the doctorate is attained.

Awards and Conditions

  • Up to 35 non-renewable fellowships will be awarded. Recipients of the fellowships will receive $27,500 to support completion of the dissertation. This amount must be expended within a time limit of up to two years and in accordance with the work plan provided by the candidate.
  • The fellowship is designed to provide fellows with support for the writing phase of the dissertation and to alleviate the need for significant other employment. However, the NAEd recognizes that individuals have unique needs and circumstances, and fellows may have “reasonable” outside employment during the fellowship year. The NAEd suggests no more than 10 hours/week but will work with fellows if more is required. If an applicant intends to work during the fellowship, they must seek approval from the Academy. Additionally, the selection committee must have ample evidence to demonstrate that a candidate will be able to finish the dissertation within the timeframe specified.
  • Applicants must also notify the NAEd if they are offered another fellowship to discuss the nature and terms of the award. As a ground rule, if an applicant is offered another fellowship in addition to the NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship, they may only accept one of the awards if they are both supporting the same aspect of the research project (i.e., the writing phase). Please contact the NAEd with any questions about this policy.

Preparing the Application

Full and complete applications must be submitted electronically to the NAEd Application Portal by 5pm Eastern Time on Thursday, October 5, 2017; this includes both letters of recommendation. Notification of awards will occur by May 2018. Fellowships may begin no earlier than June 1, 2018.

Basic selection criteria are the following:

  1. Importance of the research question to education
  2. Quality of the research approach and feasibility of the work plan
  3. Applicant’s future potential as a researcher and interest in education research

However, the selection committee will consider these specific questions in deliberations:

  • To what extent does the narrative discussion of the dissertation show knowledge of relevant research in the field? To what extent is it grounded in pertinent theory?
  • To what extent is the study’s argued relevance to education convincing? To what extent is the study likely to yield new knowledge about an important educational issue?
  • To what extent does the proposal explicate the following (as relevant to the project): design and logic of the study; sources of evidence; measurement and classification; and nature of analysis and interpretation? To what extent are the methodology and analysis plans described in sufficient detail to evaluate their appropriateness for this specific study?
  • To what extent does the proposal (whether by rationale for data analysis or by a discussion of preliminary results) make a case that the dissertation is likely compelling and important to the broader field of education research?
  • To what extent does the narrative discussion display strong authorship skills, with clear organization and structure?
  • Is the applicant likely to complete his/her doctoral studies within the time-frame the fellowship allows (one year full-time or two years half-time), or soon thereafter?
  • What is the likelihood that the applicant will continue to conduct research and scholarly activities in the field of education?

The NAEd also recommends reading “The Art of Writing Proposals”, an article published by the Social Science Research Council, for guidance on writing a strong proposal.


For questions or more information, contact the NAEd at