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Bilinski Educational Foundation stipends help doctoral students focus on the finish line

After a year and a half of work, Carolina graduate student Derek Bedenbaugh is a chapter away from finishing his dissertation examining disability and gender roles in 19th century British literature. 

Bedenbaugh’s journey to that momentous occasion has been made smoother thanks to the Bilinski Educational Foundation. Bedenbaugh, a Ph.D. candidate in the English department, is a 2016-17 Bilinski Fellow. Beginning in fall 2013, the California-based foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Carolina to support qualified doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences as they research and write their dissertations. 

“It’s helped me tremendously,” Bedenbaugh says. “It’s a great privilege just to be able to wake up every morning and the only thing I have to worry about is finishing this dissertation and making it as good as I possibly can. That’s something, with teaching and the ordinary stresses of the semester, I wouldn’t be able to do.”

For the upcoming 2017-18 academic year, 12 Carolina students will each receive a $30,000 Bilinksi Fellowship. The award allows them to focus solely on research and writing without having to worry about either teaching classes at the same time or finding additional sources of income during the fellowship year, says Cynthia Davis, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

“The Bilinski Foundation is especially interested in supporting humanistic research conducted by students of exceptional ability and potential who have reached the final stages of doctoral study, can clearly demonstrate financial need and have not already substantially completed their dissertations,” Davis says.

The Bilinski Educational Foundation was established by Russell and Dorothy Bilinksi, intellectuals and adventurers who valued independence and education. The foundation has selected a few American universities as recipients of grants that annually fund generous dissertation stipends for Ph.D. students. 

“It’s been a real boon for our students,” says Davis, who oversees an application process that includes rigorous rounds of selection internal to both eligible departments and the College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s also great to see this level of sustained investment in research conducted in both the humanities and social sciences.”

It’s helped me tremendously. It’s a great privilege just to be able to wake up every morning and the only thing I have to worry about is finishing this dissertation and making it as good as I possibly can.

Derek Bedenbaugh, doctoral candidate in the English department

Another 2016-17 Bilinski recipient is Erin Holmes, a doctoral candidate in the history department. She’s putting the finishing touches on a dissertation examining how slavery shaped the inhabitants and landscapes of South Carolina, Virginia and Barbados from 1670 to 1820. 

“It’s definitely given me a lot more time and space to think about what the point of the dissertation is, how to make it stronger, how to make the writing better,” Holmes says. 

Bedenbaugh hopes to secure a tenure-track position in literary studies, while Holmes envisions a career in academic history, perhaps as a museum curator. The Bilinski Fellowship, she says, has brought her closer to that goal.

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