Finding Energy, Enthusiasm, and Connection at the 2022 Dissertation Writing Retreat

Cassandra Book, Acting Director

Along with the rest of the world, the University Writing Center is still emerging from and living with the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes our signature programming, such as the week long Dissertation Writing Retreat each May. While we’ve still held the retreat for the past two years, it has been 100% online. This year we opted to go back in-person. And we are so glad we did.

Maybe it was being back in person after two years of being isolated graduate students. Maybe it was the donut shop coffee from the UofL Stockroom. Maybe it was having four PhD participants from Urban and Public Affairs. Maybe it was the specific small group discussion topics such as Building Strong Writing Habits or Sentence-Level Editing. Maybe it was the spice blend on the chicken from Mi Sueño for Wednesday’s lunch. Maybe it was the perfect daily balance of writing time, small group discussions, and individual consultations. We aren’t sure what it was, but last week the thirteen participants, five administrators, and four consultants felt something magical happen when we all came together with a shared focus on dissertation writing and developing confidence in one’s self as a scholar. I’ll let the participants, administrators, and writers say more…

Top row (from left): Cassie Book, Maryam Entezam, Lindsey Connors, Jeanne Ward, TJ Brandt, Nicholas Allen, Bob Jones, Brenton Hereford, Hallie Decker, Sahal Alzahrani (back), Yohimar Sivira Gonzalez. Bottom row: Sadek Showkat, Juliana Binhote, Aneri Taskar

Retreat Participants

Maryam Entezam, PhD Candidate in Urban and Public Affairs: The outcomes of the Dissertation Writing Retreat were beyond my expectation. It helped me realize that writing a dissertation is or can be very difficult and tedious, but what matters is the incremental steps that I take to accomplish my goal. Every strategy that was offered during the Retreat (whether is was from the experts at the retreat or other students) was really helpful. Building strong writing habits, setting daily/weekly goals, figuring out the habits, tools, and processes that help me construct a good writing habit, having journals, saving drafts of the writings that may not seem needed at the time, setting deadlines for myself, time management, getting help, not overcriticizing myself and underestimating my abilities, avoiding perfectionism, and remembering that I am not alone are some of many things that the Dissertation Writing Retreat helped me learn…

The individual writing consultation was a great source of motivation for me. Liz’s support and passion assisted my to gain confidence in myself. She helped me believe in myself as a writer.

Maryam Entezam

Brenton Hereford, PhD Candidate in Urban and Public Affairs: I found the retreat to be quite useful in both motivating the writing process, and at the same time it helped to envision the finish line of the dissertation process, both of which are daunting to approach and difficult to visualize. The Writing Retreat certainly was a critical part in the completion of my dissertation.

Participants who wish to remain anonymous: “The retreat helped a great deal about writing the dissertation. I had attended the retreat three or four years ago, but at that time, I only had general ideas about chapter contents and overall approach to my goal. I had not yet written by Prospectus Brief or Prospectus Long, or taken my Comprehensive Exam. Having finished those, I had a much better overall strategy as to where I was going with the dissertation. The retreat helped me to implement much of that and also to consider how to organize it and express my intent.”

“In academia, I usually receive comments on my field skill and knowledge, but not on my writing. Thus, I asked my consultant at first day to evaluate my writing and give me general feedback to improve my writing, which I found it so helpful.”

Consultants and Assistant Directors

Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director: This year’s dissertation retreat was an incredible experience both for me and the writers I worked with. Prior to this year’s retreat, I had only participated in virtual dissertation writing retreats. However, working with dissertation writers in-person this year made me better appreciate the dedication writers put into their research endeavors regardless of other stressors they constantly have to navigate, some with full time jobs and others with extenuating family responsibilities. Nevertheless, in keeping with the idea of making the dissertating process work, these writers were grateful for the opportunity to work alongside dissertating colleagues in the same space, feeding off each other’s energy, strategies, and stories. One of the writers I worked with was especially impressed by how the retreat was tailored to not only help them achieve their immediate writing goals but also afford them strategies/avenues to keep the momentum beyond the retreat.

Liz Soule, Assistant Director: I’m so grateful to have been able to take part in this year’s Dissertation Writing Retreat. This is my third DWR, however, it is my first in-person retreat. Being able to witness the hard work of our dissertation writers live and in-person this week was a phenomenal experience. From their conscientious efforts during our morning writing time, to the way they built community and shared their experiences in our workshops, to how they grew through their consultations, our dissertation writers worked tirelessly to develop both their writing and their own habits and processes as writers. As someone who is just embarking on their own dissertation, I’m so glad I was able to take part in this, and I intend to take the lessons of the DWR with me in my own writing journey.

Todd Richardson, Assistant Director: This week has been such an illuminative process, one that I’m grateful to have had the chance to participate in. These dissertating writers are focused, driven, creative, and committed to learning how to write. It’s been eye-opening to work with so many writers on such varied topics—from horse riding in ancient China, to bio/nano technologies that help treat brain cancer, to microbiological explanation for why proteins stick to certain surfaces… To see these dissertating writers’ enthusiasm and joy as they progress through the week has served as an affirmation that what we do at the WC matters to the UofL community. It has been humbling and awe inspiring to work.

Kendyl Harmeling, consultant: This was my first year working the University Writing Center’s Dissertation Writing Retreat, and as well my first time seeing it in full swing in-person since I’ve been at UofL. In Writing Studies, we read and write a lot about the energy in rooms full of writers writing, and this was my first time getting to feel and witness that energy in such an interdisciplinary community of scholars. Being in a room with writers writing is one of the great joys of working at the DWR, as well getting to focus some of that energy for an hour every day with the two writers I had the privilege of working with this week. In our sessions, we not only found paths forward through the messy process of dissertating, but, as well, found community between and amidst our unique fields of study and the issues we care about as scholars. We, too, found friendships and possibilities for future scholarly collaboration. This DWR was a week of communal writing and individual reflection, personal growth and disciplinary boundary pushing, and was a meaningful display of the powerful energy which can result from a room of writers writing. 

Brice Montgomery, consultant: The Dissertation Writing Retreat was nothing short of an absolute pleasure! At the start of the week, I’m sure many writers wondered the same thing I did—“What are we going to do with so much yet so little time?” The consultations birthed out of that question offered a unique space to work, and the recurring, extended sessions took on a rhythm found only in the retreat. Daily conversations were expansive and fruitful, and I think they helped make the “big picture” seem less big. Ultimately, the retreat created an opportunity to step back, consider the dissertation as a whole, and take meaningful steps forward without getting lost in the sheer scope of such a large work.

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