Community of Scholars Program Alumni Survey Reveals Transformative Impact


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photo collage of different COS symposia and groups, IRWG/Rackham Community of Scholars Program
photo collage of different COS symposia and groups, IRWG/Rackham Community of Scholars Program

The IRWG/Rackham Community of Scholars Program (COS) is a collaboration that was established in 1996 between the Rackham Graduate School and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and remains the only feminist dissertation writing workshop at the University of Michigan.

The main goal of the fellowship is to support graduate students from any Rackham program at the U-M Ann Arbor campus who are conducting research or creative endeavors in the aforementioned areas. Since its inception, the program has welcomed over 300 graduate students who participate in a weekly seminar during the spring, and later present their work at a public symposium in the fall semester.

Last summer, IRWG staff conducted a survey of COS alumni who were part of the 1997-2022 cohorts. Their responses indicate a resounding affirmation of the program's impact on both their academic and professional paths.

COS alumni cited the following as unique components of the program:

Intellectual Community

A significant 75% of respondents cherished the intellectual community fostered by the program, emphasizing the importance of discussing their research and refining their writing among peers.

“COS offered a well-organized, well-resourced structure through which scholars working in a variety of fields could come together to explore intersections--primarily but not exclusively centered the study of women, gender, and sexuality in different historical and cultural contexts--that conjoined otherwise disparate projects and methodologies. It was, without question, the best example of interdisciplinary scholarship that I have seen in my now twenty-year career in higher education” 

- 2010 participant

Exposure to New Perspectives

More than half of survey respondents highlighted exposure to new perspectives as a key benefit of the program, valuing the diverse feedback from a range of academic disciplines.

“The Community of Scholars program was beyond a doubt the most formative peer collaboration experience I had in graduate school. Being surrounded by scholars with diverse approaches to shared intellectual commitments helped me clarify my writing and prepare it for a readership beyond my own discipline. I also learned how to ask meaningful questions and offer constructive feedback to WGSS scholars in other fields.”

 – 2021 participant

Dissertation Progress

As much as 41% of the survey respondents attribute their dissertation progress—or completion—to the support and encouragement received while in COS.

“The Community of Scholars program was one of the most significant experiences I had in graduate school. The fellowship gave me the time to complete multiple chapters of my dissertation in community with other writers from beyond my immediate field and department. I was inspired by everyone else's work. And the structure of the program gave me the accountability and discipline I needed to maximize my summer.”

– 2014 participant

The fellowship's influence does not end there, with one-third of the respondents mentioning that their time in COS played a vital role in shaping their future projects and career choices. Moreover, the practical outcomes of such collaboration are evident as 72% of respondents reported at least one publication resulting from their work in the Community of Scholars program.

Overall, the COS alumni survey underscores the transformative experience the program has provided for graduate students at the University of Michigan, helping launch careers and expand academic horizons through interdisciplinary engagement and a supportive scholarly network.

IRWG is now accepting applications for the 2024 Community of Scholars program.

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