Mellon Foundation and anonymous donor endow Graduate Research Seminar series

Series has become a national model for innovative graduate education

Graduate students and faculty in the humanities and interpretive social sciences at Rice received a tremendous boost from an anonymous friend this spring. Shortly after Rice’s Humanities Research Center (HRC) was awarded a $1 million competitive grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to permanently endow its Mellon Graduate Research Seminar series, an anonymous donor stepped forward with a $1 million gift to match the foundation’s funds.

Nicolas Shumway

“I’m extremely grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for recognizing the excellence of the Mellon Graduate Research Series and for the opportunity to pursue a matching gift,” said Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway. “This gift speaks to the remarkable generosity of those who support Rice.”

Begun in 2005 as a pilot program, these yearlong seminars encourage cross-disciplinary conversation among doctoral students, faculty and visiting lecturers by providing feedback, structure and financial support to produce innovative research. They reach beyond the objectives of a typical graduate seminar and offer a new model for graduate education not only at Rice but also at other research universities and among humanities scholars generally, said Melissa Bailar, professor in the practice of humanities and HRC associate director.

“The series supports inventive approaches and close collaboration among participants, allowing them to both broaden and refine their scholarship,” Bailar said. “Past participants repeatedly tell us that the seminars gave them a real leg up in their careers.”

Every year five graduate students from various departments who are in their third or fourth year of study are selected competitively for participation in a seminar. To ensure as many students as possible can enjoy this opportunity, the HRC offers two seminars per year every other year. Students and faculty from every School of Humanities department with a doctoral program at Rice, as well as several from the School of Social Sciences, have now taken part in the program. To date, the center has offered 14 Mellon Graduate Research Seminars, and two more are set for next year.

Seminar projects span the disciplines; past topics have delved into literature, art, anthropology, philosophy and religious studies, to name a few. Over two semesters, the students are invited to become fellow researchers and challenge and redefine the core project by posing new questions from their own disciplinary perspectives and expand the project’s horizon into unexplored areas.

The seminars provide graduate students stipends, competitive summer funding and conference travel funding.

For more information about the series, including application guidelines for students and faculty and past seminar topics, visit


About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.