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Home » Discover Rackham » Rackham Predoctoral Fellowships: Impacting Graduate Education for 80 Years

In the spring of 1935, in the depths of the Depression, U-M President Alexander Ruthven met with Mary Rackham to present his vision for endowing the Graduate School. Horace Rackham had passed away two years earlier and left his fortune to the newly-established Horace and Mary Rackham Fund. In September of 1935, after several months of negotiations, the Rackham Fund, led by the widowed Mary, granted $4 million to U-M in order to endow the Graduate School and name it in honor of Horace Rackham.

Since the mid-1930s the Graduate School has awarded the Predoctoral Fellowship, one of the most prestigious awards given to graduate students at U-M. In its early days, only 10 students received a stipend of $1,000. Now, nearly 80 years later, the Rackham Endowment funds more than 70 outstanding candidates annually.

Those selected for this twelve month fellowship have advanced to candidacy and are anticipating finishing their Ph.D. in the year in which they hold the fellowship. On average, 240 students are nominated by their departments for the award, which covers a full year’s tuition and a generous stipend.

This flagship program is a hallmark for Rackham and an honor for students to receive. Predoctoral Fellowships have been awarded to accomplished alumni like Chwen-Ting Wang, Asia Product Safety and Toxicology Leader at Dow Corning Taiwan, who comments, “Receiving the Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship was one of the most honorable moments in my life. Although I have been awarded scholarships and fellowships of various kinds throughout my academic pursuit, not until I was awarded the Predoctoral Fellowship did I realize that I really should aim high to achieve the best possible. The sense of responsibility instilled in me in the award ceremony stays as a constant reminder to me to never waste a day without making a contribution.”

David Skelly, Director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University, says, “The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship came at a critical time in my doctoral research. I was in the middle of planning and then carrying out some really challenging field experiments that pulled me off campus for extended periods. Without this support from Rackham, I am not sure I would have been able to pull off that work which ended up being the lynchpin for my dissertation.”

Sarah Gollust, Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, found the fellowship inspiring in another way: “The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship gave me the time to focus on my dissertation completely and thoroughly. The honor and recognition also inspired confidence at a time I needed it most, when trying to make progress toward completing the most difficult and independent project I had ever undertaken. I draw on that confidence even now, 6 years after completing my Ph.D.”

Some of this year’s exceptional Predoctoral Fellows include:

Each spring, Rackham hosts a Predoctoral Fellowship Award ceremony to announce new recipients and welcome them to this prestigious group. If you’d like more information about this event, please e-mail rackham.alums@umich.edu.

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