How a Political Science Student Won a Prestigious Fellowship, and Her Advice for Getting Grants

January 16, 2020

Alison Parks received a 2019-2020 American Association of University Women American fellowship. She spoke about how she plans to use the award and shared tips for fellow students.

Alison Parks (Credit: The Graudate Center/Coralie Carlson)
Alison Parks (Credit: The Graudate Center/Coralie Carlson)

Ph.D. student Alison Parks (Political Science) received a 2019–2020 American Association of University Women (AAUW) American fellowship, aimed at helping women scholars complete their dissertations. Parks’ research examines queer suicidality through the lens of political theory.
She recently spoke to The Graduate Center about how she plans to use the award, and gave advice for fellow students who will be applying for grants in the new year.
The Graduate Center: What is your dissertation project?
This project explores the psychic effects of a life haunted by proximity to suicide. It begins by tracing how the queer subject came to be something pathologically distinct — from the construction of the homosexual in the 19th century to the so-called epidemic of queer youth suicide in the 21st century — and the violences that have been inflicted upon the community as a result. Through a mixed, interdisciplinary methodology that ranges from archives to the theater, my dissertation seeks to offer a new critical approach to suicide that resists pathology and focuses, instead, on the contributions of structural oppression and points of resistance.
GC: How did you become interested in this topic?
The questions that drive my project were motivated by my own personal experiences with the queer community as well as mental illness.
GC: What do you hope will be the impact of your research?
I want my work to be accessible to those outside of the academy, and I hope to contribute to a transformation to the conversations that are had about suicide and create a sense of normalcy around the issue. 
GC: How much funding comes with the fellowship, and how will you use it?
The AAUW fellowship provided me with $20,000 to devote full-time energies to the completion of my dissertation during the 2019–2020 academic year. I have been using it to fund my living expenses this year.
GC: How has your experience at The Graduate Center helped prepare you for a career in academia?
I was fortunate to be funded for my first five years at The Graduate Center, which was crucial in enabling to pursue the research and topics that interested me. My committee members have all been extremely supportive in encouraging me to be creative in how I pursue my work and in being interdisciplinary. I have also appreciated the intellectual community that has come from my fellow students. The support from the peer networks I have fostered throughout my years at The Graduate Center, especially through my time with the DSC (Doctoral and Graduate Students’ Council), has been especially beneficial.
In addition to my research, I think that the teaching I have done through CUNY as well as the active roles I was encouraged to take within my department’s committees and in student governance have prepared me well to handle a career in academia, not only in terms of conducting research, but also in terms of managing the professional expectations of being a faculty member.
GC: What is your advice for students who are seeking fellowships?
My advice would be to follow the advice that was provided to me by adviser: Start small! Before you need funding, apply for smaller, low-stakes grants. I was awarded two grants to conduct archival research in the summer of 2018 and being able to have those on my CV when I applied for the larger, dissertation-completion grants made me a more successful candidate. In addition to being awarded the AAUW award, I was also awarded a Graduate Center dissertation completion award in the full amount, which I had to decline. I would also say don’t burn yourself out on applying. Many dissertation completion awards only let you apply once, and spending all your efforts before you’re truly ready means you’ll put in a lot of effort for potentially little result. Definitely strategize the timing of your applications.