NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship Program


The application portal will open in Summer 2023.


Dear Applicant,

Thank you for your interest in the National Academy of Education (NAEd)/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship Program. The dissertation fellowship aims to strengthen research on education and learning by supporting early career scholars from a wide range of fields. Each year, the program funds a small group of outstanding advanced doctoral candidates so that they can devote themselves full-time to the completion of their dissertation. In addition to the $27,500 stipend, fellows participate in two professional development retreats. While these meetings offer dissertation writing support, they also provide opportunities designed to expand fellows’ networks, build research and career skills, and support their transition into professional roles.

NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellows are selected through a highly competitive process. Please review the eligibility and procedural requirements carefully before beginning an application. This year 35 fellowships will be awarded.

A selection committee of NAEd members and other senior scholars from diverse fields is responsible for selecting the award recipients. The following are basic criteria for selection: the importance of the research question to education, the quality of the research approach and feasibility of the work plan, and the applicant’s future potential in educational research. Please note that the dissertation fellowship is intended to support the writing of the dissertation during the last year(s) of doctoral work and cannot be used during the data collection phase of the dissertation.

Please read all of the following materials and instructions carefully to determine your eligibility and to ensure the best presentation of your candidacy to those who will review your application. Completed applications must be submitted electronically no later than  5pm Eastern Time on Thursday, October 5, 2023.

Answers to commonly asked questions about the dissertation fellowship are available on our FAQs page. If you have any other questions, please contact the NAEd by email at On behalf of the National Academy of Education, I wish you well as you move toward completion of your doctoral work.


Gregory White
Executive Director


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, 2024 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

The NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellows will award 35 non-renewable fellowships for the 2024 program. 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). Concurrent funding from a fellow’s institution may be allowable depending on the parameters of that funding, but this is reviewed by NAEd on a case-by-case basis. Please contact the NAEd with any questions about this policy.

Preparing the Application

Full and complete applications must be submitted electronically by 5pm Eastern Time on Thursday, October 5, 2023; this includes both letters of recommendation. Notification of awards will occur by May 2024. Fellowships may begin no earlier than June 1, 2024.

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 final selection committee is comprised of scholars with varying backgrounds. Because the proposal is reviewed by a multidisciplinary committee, it must be compelling to scholars who do not have expertise in the given area. Getting feedback from colleagues and others who can provide constructive criticism is strongly encouraged. It may be especially helpful to enlist the help of a colleague with a different focus to ensure that the proposal is easily understood by the selection committee members with different disciplinary backgrounds. 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.

Once candidates create an online account, they can manage the entire application online. It is not necessary to complete the application in one session. Applicants will be able to save their work and come back to the submission at any time before the deadline.

Once the application is submitted, please do not contact the NAEd or Spencer to inquire about receipt of materials. Candidates will receive a confirmation e-mail when their application has been submitted, as well as when a letter of reference has been submitted to their application. They will also receive an e-mail notification if the two letters of recommendation have not been submitted by the deadline. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that these letters are submitted.


Only applications from individuals will be accepted. Candidates must use the online application available on the NAEd website.

In a single-spaced paragraph, summarize the substantive focus and research design of the dissertation and its contribution to education. Please include the purpose, methods, and scope of the dissertation. A text box is provided within the online application; please refer to length restrictions on the application form.

Applicants will be asked to provide the following information:

  • Demographic data
  • Educational history
  • Employment history
  • A list of scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships that have been received or for which the applicant has applied
  • A list of honors and awards
  • A list of publications and presentations
  • Information about the completion of pre-dissertation requirements
  • Language(s) proficiency
  • Information about the two letter writers

Applicants are asked to describe:

  1. How their educational work and experiences have prepared them for doing research on this dissertation topic
  2. What career path they hope to pursue after completing the dissertation, including any plans to remain focused on education research in the future.

The bulk of the personal statement should be dedicated to describing previous experiences. A text box is provided within the online application; please refer to length restrictions on the application form.

The NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship is intended to support the writing of the dissertation rather than data collection or course work. It is the expectation of the NAEd and Spencer that fellows will have a completed dissertation at the end of the fellowship period or soon thereafter. Ordinarily, the fellowship of $27,500 supports one year of full-time work on the dissertation, and the work plan specifies when this year begins and ends. Applicants who cannot work full-time on their dissertation may specify a work plan of up to two years that allows for part-time work for the duration of the fellowship or for alternating periods of dissertation work and income-producing work. The fellowship can begin as early as June 1, 2024 and end as late at May 31, 2026. Applicants will be asked to provide a start and end date as well as dates when they expect to complete each phase of the dissertation (e.g. completion of data analysis, completion of individual chapters, and dissertation to committee) within the online application. Applicants should clearly indicate when they want the fellowship period to begin. They can include goals and activities that will precede the fellowship start date on the timeline, but the timeline should still include the fellowship start date.

Two letters of recommendation, one from the dissertation director/chair and one from another faculty member, are required. All recommenders must submit their letters online. Only two letters will be accepted per application. The NAEd strongly encourages applicants to discuss the principal issues the letter should address with their recommenders. These issues are outlined in the “Dear Colleague” letter at the end of this page. Please request the letters early to allow sufficient time to ensure they are submitted prior to the application deadline. The online application sends an automated request to these individuals once their information is entered, so please ensure that their e-mail addresses are entered correctly. Applicants should notify reviewers once they submit their e-mail addresses. Please have reviewers check spam filters for the automated email before contacting the NAEd with questions.

In no more than 10 double-spaced pages with one-inch margins, and at least 11-point Times New Roman font, describe the dissertation. This narrative document should have page numbers and the applicant’s full name and registered email address as a running header.

Include the goals of the project, its contribution to the field, and the significance of the work, especially as it relates to education. Place the project in context, and outline the theoretical grounding and the relevant literature. Describe the research questions and research design, the methods of gathering and analyzing data, and interpretation techniques. If preliminary findings or pilot data are available, these should be described briefly – especially if they illustrate how the applicant will be conducting thematic analyses or applying coding systems to the data. Lack of clarity in treatment of data with respect to the research question(s) is often a problem area in applications.

Please keep in mind that each proposal will be reviewed by some senior scholars familiar with the field and by others less familiar; thus, language specific to a field should be situated within an argument persuasive to a generalist audience.

The narrative discussion cannot exceed 10 double-spaced typed pages. An additional single-spaced bibliography (no more than two pages) of the sources most important to the project should be appended (works cited in the narrative discussion should be included).

The narrative discussion and bibliography should be uploaded as one document (12 pages total) within the online system. Technical and supplemental appendices (charts, graphs, tables, questionnaires, etc.) may be included and do not count towards the limit; however, please be judicious in the quantity included, as reviewers are not required to review material in the appendices. Information essential to understanding the project should be included in the 10 page narrative (including any coding systems). Applicants should make the case for their research in the narrative.

Applicants must upload a graduate transcript in the online application. An unofficial copy is sufficient.


Request for Reference Letter

For your information, this is a version of the letter emailed to your reference writers.

Dear Colleague,

You have been asked to serve as a reference for a National Academy of Education (NAEd)/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship program applicant. Each applicant is required to submit two letters of recommendation: one from the dissertation director/chair and one from another faculty member who knows the candidate’s work well. The application deadline is 5pm Eastern Time on Thursday, October 5, 2023. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that all materials, including references, are submitted prior to the deadline.

The NAEd/Spencer 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, or practice of formal or informal education anywhere in the world.

In a letter of no more than two pages, we would appreciate your evaluation of the individual as a candidate for the National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship. Please include the applicant’s full name in your letter. In addition, we ask that you please provide your full name, title, department, institutional affiliation, telephone number, and e-mail address. We would like you to comment directly on the following six topics:

  1. Your relationship to the student;
  2. Your evaluation of the student relative to other students you have worked with;
  3. The strength of the proposed dissertation research and its relevance to educational improvement;
  4. The project’s connection to existing research on the topic, and the potential contribution of that dissertation to that literature;
  5. The student’s future potential as a scholar and likelihood that their research will continue to address education;
  6. The student’s apparent long-term contributions to research in education.

The NAEd website,, provides a complete list of application guidelines and eligibility requirements. Thank you for your time and contribution to this process. If you have any questions, please e-mail


Gregory White
Executive Director

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