Tag: dissertation writing retreat

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.

A Week of Community and Hospitality at the Dissertation Writing Retreat

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

This May, for the tenth time, we held our annual Dissertation Writing Retreat. Over the ten years we have held these Retreats, we have worked with doctoral student writers from every college in the University – more than 150 writers during that decade. The Retreat offers writers time and structure to focus on writing their dissertations and daily writing consultations to get feedback on their writing. In addition, each day there are morning and afternoon check-in meetings to set goals for the day and talk about accomplishments and daily small group discussions at lunchtime about writing issues such as structuring a dissertation, time management, and editing and citation issues. Again, this year, the Retreat took place online. (If you want a blast from the past, here is a blog post from that first Retreat in 2012).

The Dissertation Writing Retreat is a busy time – and a lot of work – on our end, but it is also reliably one of the highlights of our year. It’s always exciting to see the writers who attend both make progress on their writing. Yet, just as important, is the ways in which writers develop and refine their writing processes and their approaches to navigating the complexities of audience, genre, and authorial position necessary to write an effective dissertation. At the same time, our writing consultants, who are all doctoral students themselves, always talk about the things they learn during the Retreat about writing and new approaches to teaching writing. In this way, the Dissertation Writing Retreat is a vivid example of the ethic and theory of “hospitality” that we work from in the University Writing Center. Based on the work by Richard and Janis Haswell, hospitality as an approach to education draws from traditional conceptions of hospitality in which a guest and host are both understood to bring value to an encounter and in which reciprocity is a cultural norm. During the Retreat, we always hear how both the writers and consultants learn from each other and, even in just a week, for a supportive community of writers.

Here, in their own words, is a sense of how some of the writers and consultants benefited from the Retreat

First the writers:

Charlotte Asmuth, English. I got so much out of the Dissertation Writing Retreat! I was surprised at how much work I could accomplish in just one week. I came into the week with some writing anxiety and concerns about how to organize particular sections of two chapters. As I worked on my writing and talked with my consultant and other participants in small groups, I learned that I wasn’t alone and I also picked up some strategies for managing my writing time that really helped. In one week, I learned more about my writing process and what will help me write than I’ve learned in several years. For example, outlining and then writing in chunks helps me––as does closing my email, turning my phone off, and writing down concerns as they arise so that I can come back to them later (instead of trying to solve them right away). I’m leaving the week with a great set of strategies to maintain momentum on my dissertation and I’m going to stay in touch with several participants, too.

Doroty Sato, Social Work. The Dissertation Writing Retreat 2021 gave me the resources to continue improving my writing skills. Beyond that, it gave me confidence that I am on the right track. There are so many factors playing a role in this process, so struggling with academic writing is okay. It is not a shame. The Writing Center Team and my colleagues in the group did such an excellent job offering advice and listening to our concerns without judgment. I felt comfortable and included. At the end of the week, my takeaway is that academic writing could be painful sometimes (or most of the time 🙂), but it doesn’t have to be unpleasant.

Eric Shoemaker, Humanities. At the beginning stages of my dissertation writing process, it was important to me to sit down and strategize my own writing processes and procedures. The dissertation writing retreat and my consultant helped me figure out what works for me and what doesn’t and helped me to value all of the work that I do for my project, not just the page count. This was a very valuable and enjoyable experience!

And our consultants:

Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing: The 2021 dissertation writing retreat was, among many things, a period of reflection, especially for the writers I had the opportunity to work with. The writers’ reflection during the week-long writing retreat encouraged them, both of whom have been stuck at some point in their writing due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, to feel more motivated to get back into their dissertation work. Through their reflective efforts as well as conversations during the retreat, these writers could identify what they have done well so far and where/what seems not to be going right. Likewise, as shared by both writers, the retreat has inculcated in them a habit of the mind necessary to create and stay committed to a consistent writing schedule as they continue to write from home

Megen Boyett: This is the third time I’ve worked the Dissertation Writing Retreat. Every year, I find it so rewarding to help a dissertation take shape even just for a week. The deep, sustained focus on the individual writer’s project and process seems to be such an effective way to start the summer writing “semester.” Just like last year, I started the week unsure whether I had useful advice for bio-engineers. Once again, I quickly found that while disciplinary differences are real, the principles for shaping long-term projects and organizing clear writing are consistent.

Nicole Dugan, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center. I completed my first year at the UWC by working as a consultant during the 2018 DWR, and now I’ve come full circle, ending my time at the UWC with this year’s retreat. Working with writers is always so rewarding, and dissertation writers are no different. They bring such passion and excitement to their work, and it’s easy to quickly immerse yourself in the environment of camaraderie and growth built by the leadership and participants of this retreat. The last two years I have been focused on my work with writers in my courses and writing centers, and I haven’t found much inspiration or time for my own writing. After this week, I feel recharged and ready to revisit research projects and creative writing with new momentum and vision. I’m grateful for the community of this retreat, and I am particularly thankful to my two writers whose projects are such intriguing and necessary works that offer new insights and avenues for change in their fields. It was a privilege working with them both, and I can’t wait to see where they take their work moving forward.  

THANKS FOR ALL WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLE

It is important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat – Cassie Book, our Associate Director, organized and oversaw the Retreat this year. Also central to carrying out the Retreat were Amber Yocum, our Administrative Associate, and Assistant Directors Edward English, Olalekan Adepoju, and Nicole Dugan. Our other consultants were Megan Boyett, Aubrie Cox, Cooper Day, and Liz Soule. And thanks to Dean Paul DeMarco, of the Graduate School, for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.

Building a Community of Writers – Wherever They May Be: Dissertation Writing Retreat 2020

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Every  May since 2012 the University Writing Center has held a Dissertation Writing Retreat  during which we have welcomed a group of doctoral scholars into the Writing Center for a week focused on writing and talking about writing. It is one of the highlights of our spring and one of the great pleasures every year is the way a group of individual scholars who have never met before coalesce into a community of writers. I had always thought that part of the recipe that helped that happen was the physical presence of the writers in the University Writing Center space. Talking with other writers, sharing lunch, and even just being in the same room writing together, created an environment in which a supportive community of writers developed, and often carried on well after the Retreat.

When we knew six weeks ago that in-person events would no longer be allowed on campus this spring and summer, we decided that we would go ahead with the Dissertation Writing Retreat as a virtual, online event. While there was much to work out

DWR Day 1 2020
Our morning check-in meeting with all the writers.

about logistics and planning to make this change, one of our concerns was also whether we would be able to foster a sense of connection and community in a virtual retreat.

Still, we planned the Retreat to have essentially the same elements as before. The Retreat offers writers working on their dissertations time to focus on their writing and the chance to get feedback on their writing and to talk about issues connected to dissertation writing. In this year’s Retreat, as before, we provided daily, individual writing consultations for each writer. In addition, each day had morning and afternoon check-in meetings to set goals for the day and talk about accomplishments. We also had daily small group discussions at lunchtime about writing issues such as structuring a dissertation, staying motivated, responding to committee feedback, and writing during a pandemic. While the elements were the same as in previous years, there is no doubt that the dynamic was not always the same. Even so, what did not change is that people were still engaged and excited about working and talking about their projects and had productive weeks, both in terms of what they wrote and in terms of refining their writing processes and strategies. By the week, everyone was tired, but part of a community of writers. This year’s Retreat illustrated that it is the commitment and openness of the people involved that determines how a community will grow, more than their physical proximity. It was heartening and exciting to see.

The credit for the success of the Retreat, as always, goes to the hard work of the writers – 14 doctoral students from nine different disciplines – as well as the hard work Cassie Book, our Associate Director, and all of the University Writing Center staff who planned and took part in the week. In addition, our thanks go to The Graduate School for once again providing funding for the Retreat. My thanks to them all.

It’s always best, though, to hear from the people involved about how the Retreat went for them. Here are a few thoughts from writers and consultants about the week.

First, the writers:

Aubrey Mojesky, Biology: During the dissertation writing retreat, I learned to be more intentional with my writing by looking at the function of a piece of writing, not just the content. The retreat also connected me to a community of writers with similar goals and an understanding of this unique and challenging project. The retreat allowed me to feel more supported in writing my dissertation, particularly during a very difficult and isolating time.

Diane Zero, Public Health: Thank you very much for this experience. I learned so much from my consultant; on how to improve the technical   aspects of the writing process, and to see the big picture of my dissertation. Working with Liz helped me visualize the ‘so what’ part of the dissertation. It helped me articulate need for my proposed research and possible important changes in practice stemming from my work. Because of this, my dissertation is much improved. Since social distancing began, I have struggled as a student and as a member of the University of Louisville community. By the end of this week, both are back- I am excited to move forward!

Sunita Khanal, Biology: Dissertation Writing Retreat 2020 was very helpful to me. I participated in this retreat during my final semester. That’s why, I was a bit worried when I joined thinking if this will be supportive for me or will it just chew away my dissertation writing time. However, this retreat ultimately proved beneficial to me. So, I can say that you can participate in this retreat, irrespective of the phase of dissertation writing you are in. Even though the retreat was held virtually this time, writing center staff worked around the clock to make this a beneficial experience. Their dedication is not only seen in technical arrangements, but also through their eagerness to address any questions/concerns. Workshops held at noon as well as one-on-one consultation were very helpful and interactive. Overall, I had very productive week. Big thanks to writing center faculty, consultants, staff and all the team for the opportunity.

Greg Clark, Comparative Humanities: The Dissertation Writing Retreat was very helpful to me.  The overall structure for the week and daily tasks allowed me accomplish important work.  I will also be able to take skills I gained from the workshop and apply them to the remainder of my work on my dissertation.

From the consultants:

Megen Boyett, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing: I came into the week a little nervous about a virtual set-up. I love working with writers face-to-face and seeing the community that forms during the week. I knew that this week wouldn’t be that, and even though I said to other people “this will just be different; it’ll have different strengths,” what I meant was “this will be better than nothing.”  In fact, a virtual retreat does have different strengths. Where the joy of an in-person retreat is the in-person community and solidarity, during the virtual retreat, I had a chance to connect deeply with writers as individuals. I saw their workspaces and discussed literature reviews as they fixed lunch for kids. Our talk about writing processes felt placed: rather than being in the writing center, which can feel like a “break” from the outside world, writers were in their homes, and so our discussions included the material things in their day-to-day lives, like mealtimes, toddler and spouse schedules, and nap breaks. Each person took the writing work of the week seriously, accomplishing astounding amounts of work in a five-day span. I wonder if, as they move out of “retreat” mode, it won’t actually be easier to implement the practices they started in this virtual space, having already done the work of integrating “real life” and intensive writing.

Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center: This year’s retreat, my third working as a consultant, was unique to say the least. In some ways, the retreat looked nothing like my previous ones, but in other ways, it felt like returning once more to a fitting conclusion to another academic year. Much of this year’s retreat was unprecedented, on both a global and a personal level. My writers were dealing with unexpected changes to their research plans and writing timelines because of COVID-19, and I never anticipated that as a consultant I’d one day help writers figure out how to discuss a global pandemic in the methods section of their dissertations. This year we were also working from home, which meant glimpses into the chaos of our quarantining lives. For me, this looked (and sounded, sometimes noisily) like the presence of small children, significant others, and even maintenance workers. Still, in the end, tutoring with a three month old baby in my arms to the staccato banging of construction workers re-roofing my writer’s apartment building resulted not in frustration or anger, but in patience, grace, and empathy. No matter the circumstances, these emotions always resonate in each dissertation writing retreat: writers learn the balance between endurance and self-care, and a community of emerging scholars both commiserates and lifts each other up. How wonderful that a retreat without a space or even the physical presence of others can still create that magic.

Olalekan Adepoju, incoming Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing: The Dissertation Writing Retreat was a satisfying experience for me (and my assigned writers) as it practically connected me to the varieties of struggles encountered during the dissertation writing phase of doctoral program. One of the many concerns that came up during consultations was the need to establish authorial identity in writing, which most graduate students struggles with because of the student-scholar identity crisis. Discussions between me and my assigned writers highlight that one of the possible strategies to resolving this is to consciously produce drafts that are written in active voice (even if such draft has to go through multiple revisions). We concluded that it is imperative to approach dissertation writing from this perspective as it will help to cultivate writerly confidence and establish authorial stance.

Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director of the Virtual Writing Center: For the virtual version of the dissertation writing retreat, writers were asked to write and post their daily goals and a recap each day. Any other year, this would be a verbal sharing, which created a sense of immediacy; however, as the week went on, it was powerful to scroll through and see the accumulation of everyone’s goals and accomplishments. They had created an archive and record of their work and experience throughout the week. Having worked with writers in-person during last year’s dissertation writing retreat, I saw the way lunch hour and breaks helped people to form bonds and connect. It was something I had worried would be lost this year–it’s hard to form fast bonds in virtual spaces–but every writer I interacted this week with commented on the sense of community and working together helped them to focus. I think it speaks to an innate part of what the dissertation writing retreat is–it creates a sense of solidarity, both among their UofL peers and in the writing dissertation process.

 

 

 

 

 

New Ideas, New Progress, and New Friends: Reflections on our 2019 Dissertation Writing Retreat

By Edward English, Assistant Director

Last week we once again hosted fourteen Ph.D. students who participated in our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat. This is the ninth year we have held a week-long writing retreat in May during which the participants spend their days writing and having daily individual writing consultations with members of the Writing Center staff.
Every day we also have small-group discussions about various issues of dissertation writing (Ways to Structure Chapters, Strategies for Self-Editing, How to Revise Work for Other Purposes, and How to Approach Literature Reviews). We also keep everyone well-fed throughout the week with snacks and lunches.IMG_6628

The writers who participated in this year’s retreat represented ten different disciplines at the University: Biochemistry, Biology, Early Childhood and Elementary Ed., Education, Microbiology, Nursing,  Public Health, Rhetoric and Composition, Psychology, and Social Work. The best way to get a sense of the experience of the retreat and its impact on the writers who took part, however, is to hear from the participants and consultants themselves.

Jessica Newman, Consultant (PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition)

This is the third UofL Dissertation Writing Retreat that I’ve helped out with, while working on my own dissertation. For the first two, I was an assistant director at the University Writing Center and so took part in the retreat introduction, breakout groups, etc. This year, though, I participated as consultant only, coming in after lunch and leaving two and a half hours later.

The determination and productivity of the grad students who take part in the retreats were more salient to me than ever this year: rather than arriving each morning as things were getting started, I would instead step from the afternoon heat into a room quiet with reading, typing, scribbling and highlighting, and I would leave before the Writing Center closed for the day, the writers just as focused as when I arrived. I really appreciated working with my two writers as they shared their projects, obstacles and strengths. Talking with them reminded me, as I hope that I and the retreat reminded them, that we are not alone in this.

Rachel Rodriguez, Consultant (PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition)

rachel.jpgThe Dissertation Writing Retreat serves as a designated space and time for individual drafting and revising, but this year I reflected on the myriad of unexpected benefits of the retreat. There is something magical about working in the presence of others (don’t mind my shameless plug for the Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group). Many writers flock to libraries or coffee shops to work within that buzz of human activity, but even if silence reins during the retreat, the gravitational force of a group of individuals all working together on different iterations of the same massive, complex task is undeniable. One writer mentioned that when they felt like they couldn’t focus, they’d look around the room at everyone who was still intently writing and say to themselves, “if they can, I can!” before diving back in.

This week, several of us consultants would even arrive early to work on our own writing projects in the staff room, hoping to ride that productivity wave. When the writers surface for breakout workshops and sessions with their consultants, we’re all given the rare opportunity to act as representatives of our disciplines, verbalizing what we know tacitly about how knowledge is made and shared in our fields.

It’s a strange realization that “dissertating” doesn’t look the same in every discipline, and that a dissertation serves different roles and materializes into different products depending on your field. This exposure to interdisciplinarity crafts us all into better and more reflective scholars. As this year’s group of writers look ahead at seemingly disparate careers in university departments, science research labs, hospitals, K-12 classrooms, and even tropical rainforests, the dissertation writing retreat is one avenue through which we all learn about how writing is contextual, adaptive, and always evolving.

Melissa Amraotkar, Writer (PhD Candidate in the School of Nursing)

The social accountability of being in an atmosphere surrounded by other graduate students working on their dissertations kept me on track. Daily one on one meetings with the same writing consultant gave me more confidence in my writing plan, helped me to be more creative in writing, and provided a space outside of my committee to discuss my dissertation topic. Small group discussions with Writing Center staff members were beneficial in exploring aspects of writing that I hadn’t considered. I would recommend this retreat to any graduate student writing a thesis/dissertation.

THANKS FOR ALL WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLEcassie.jpg

It is important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat, including Bronwyn Williams, our Director; Cassie Book, our Associate Director; and Amber Yocum, our Administrative Assistant. In addition, Assistant Directors Aubrie Cox, Edward English, Rachel Rodriguez , and Christopher Stuck were instrumental in the planning and execution. Finally, the fantastic consultants, themselves Ph.D. students in English, Megen Boyett, Layne Gordan, Jessie Newman, and Christopher Schiedler helped our writers make progress each day. And thanks to Paul DeMarco, Acting Dean of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.

“Camaraderie and Great Ideas”: Reflections on the 2018 Dissertation Writing Retreat

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Last week I attended the University of Louisville’s commencement ceremony for doctoral students. As I looked through the program I noted the names of eleven of the graduates who had previously attended one of our University Writing Center Dissertation Writing Retreats. Several of them came up to me afterward to tell me again how valuable they found the experience of the writing retreat and the significant difference it made to them in their progress toward their degrees. As we talked about the jobs they were moving on to and their plans for future scholarship, it was gratifying to think that we had played some useful role in their graduate education.

This past week we once again were host to 14 Ph.D. students who participated in our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat. This is the seventh year we have held a week-long writing retreat in May during which the participants spending their days writing and having daily individual writing consultations with members of the Writing Center staff. Writing at the 2018 Dissertation Writing RetreatEvery day we also have small-group discussions about various issues of dissertation writing (Ways to Structure Chapters, Strategies for Self-Editing, How to Revise Work for Other Purposes, and How to Approach Literature Reviews). We also keep everyone well-fed throughout the week with snacks and lunch.

The writers who participated in this year’s retreat represented eight different disciplines at the University: Education, Engineering, Nursing, Rhetoric and Composition, Pan-African Studies, Pharmacology, Psychology, and Social Work. The best way to get a sense of the experience of the retreat and its impact on the writers who took part, however, is to hear from the participants and consultants themselves.

WRITERS

2018 Dissertation Writing Retreat: LunchTammi Alvey Thomas, Social Work. By far a fantastic experience! I would recommend this for anyone writing their dissertation. The staff at the Writing Center are extremely helpful and great to work with. Don’t miss out on this opportunity!  I left the retreat much more organized, focused and energized.

Imelda Wright, Nursing. I had the privilege of attending the Dissertation Writing Retreat in May 2018. It was well structured with plenty of space for the occupants to write at their own pace without interruption. There was adequate support and structure throughout the day to help with specific questions. In addition, a personal writing consultant was assigned to each participant daily to assist with content, technique, and overall structure of writing.

Overall, the retreat was terrific. It was enriching and productive to be in a space surrounded by like-minded people with similar goals to each other. There was a cohesive sense of camaraderie and great ideas were shared. In addition, I loved that lunch and snacks were provided; this allowed and encouraged participants to remain in the general vicinity during the day.

CONSULTANTS

Edward English, Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition and Incoming Assistant Director of the University Writing Center. This year’s dissertation writing retreat was energizing and helpful for me on a number of levels. I’ve just finished the first year of my PhD in English Composition and Rhetoric and when the Spring semester ended, my mind and body craved anything unrelated to school. I immediately took solace in long naps and hours of Netflix, in addition to enjoying trips like visiting the Red River Gorge and having one too many mint juleps at a very odd rainy Derby.

After a couple weeks of this leisure, however, I needed something manageable to get me back into the momentum of productivity. The dissertation writing retreat ended up being a wonderful balance of summer fun meets academic growth.

Interestingly, though I was the consultant, offering assistance to two awesome Experimental Psych. PhDs, I felt like I was the one who learned so much. Not having even started my own dissertation, reading through others’ work helped familiarize me with the types of challenges and rewards I can likely expect when I start running this academic marathon. What’s more, my two consultees were eager to absorb whatever questions or constructive criticism I had to offer—giving this Comp. 1 & 2 writing instructor a powerful (and much needed) inflation to his teacher ego and the satisfaction of feeling like he was truly helpful. I’m looking forward to being a consultant again next year, and am thankful that I’ll have this dissertation writing retreat available to me when I’ll need guidance and instruction on how to work through my own piece.

Dissertation Writing Retreat 2018 - Consultation 2018 Dissertation Writing Retreat - Consultation

Layne Gordon, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center and Ph.D. Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. Having helped facilitate the Dissertation Writing Retreat in 2016 and 2017, I came into this week knowing that I could look forward to the excitement and energy that’s created when a group of writers come together. Each year, it’s so motivating to see people enjoy the shared experience of using writing to work through their ideas and scholarly identities. What starts on Monday as a gathering of individuals, each immersed in their own projects and challenges, ends on Friday as an interdisciplinary community of writers. What I noticed this time around, though, was how productive this interdisciplinarity can be–and, selfishly, how helpful it was for me as someone who is also working on my dissertation. Both of the writers I worked with this week were genuinely interested in hearing about my dissertation progress and offered feedback and resources that were so helpful. I walked away from each consultation feeling supported and valued by the writers I was working with, even though we were in different disciplines with different methods, theories, and goals. I was really reminded this week of what reciprocity looks and feels like, and how much we (writers) all have in common when we are approaching challenging–and rewarding–writing projects.

Jessica Newman, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center and Ph.D. Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. I’ve had the pleasure of helping to facilitate the Dissertation Writing Retreat both this year and last year. This year, as before, I was impressed with the writers as individuals (their commitment to sit down at 8 am each morning and write, and then continue to write) and as a community (supporting and learning from each other). But now that I am further in my own dissertation, the Retreat took on an even deeper resonance, and I appreciated the opportunity to myself take part—during group discussions, lunch and consultations—in the exchange of suggestions, ideas, commiseration and support. This sharing ranged from reviews of data analysis2018 Dissertation Writing Retreat - Consultation software to tips on how to use the vocabulary of your field to the often strong emotions evoked by writing those pesky lit reviews. I look forward to seeing the support, accountability and productivity from the Dissertation Writing Retreat continue in the Writing Center weekly Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Groups this summer and this fall.

Caitlin Ray, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing and Ph.D. Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. As a consultant for the Dissertation Writing Retreat, I found that, in addition to helping writers, I personally got a lot out of the week. I was reminded of the power of talking about writing, working as a community of writers, and the importance of sharing research in an interdisciplinary context. My favorite parts of the week were the moments at lunch, or during workshops, when we got to chat about our research. Even when we were tired (or hungry) I still saw our eyes light up when talking about our research, and how often we found commonalities between research interests or methodology questions even when our fields were quite different from one another. I think that sometimes the frustration and daily grind of dissertation writing makes us forget that our research projects are really cool, and have the potential to make real impact on the world.

Rachel Rodriguez, Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition and Incoming Assistant Director of the University Writing Center. This week I had the opportunity to work with two writers from my own program, and our shared base of disciplinary knowledge helped us fast-forward into conversations about how knowledge is made and who “counts” as knowledge producers in the contexts of their research. Since both writers were focusing on the organization of their data chapters, we spent time playing with various options, envisioning how each schema might impact their overall message. I found myself getting really absorbed in the work they are doing, and our collective excitement made for a fun atmosphere where ideas could build off of each other as the week progressed. Getting a glimpse into both of their writing processes as well as strategies for goal-setting was personally rewarding, reminding me how attuned we are to our own way of writing, but how much we can learn by talking about how we write with others.

THANKS FOR ALL WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLE

It is important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat – Cassie Book, our Associate Director, and Robin Blackett, our Administrative Assistant, and Assistant Directors Layne Gordon, Jessica Newman, Caitlin Ray, and Christopher Stuck as well as the other fantastic consultants (themselves Ph.D. students) who worked with the writers: Edward English, Rachel Rodriguez, and Rick Wysocki. And thanks to Dean Beth Boehm, of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.

Writing Time, Feedback, and Momentum: The Dissertation Writing Retreat – 2016

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

The sound of people thinking. That’s what you would have heard had you come to the University Writing Center this past week. With fourteen UofL Ph.D. students focused on  writing their dissertations. I swear that, given the intensity with which they were working, you could hear them thinking. This year marks our fifth annual spring Dissertation Writing Retreat. During the week, the schedule was the same: Writing in the morning, a short workshop and discussion on some area of20160525_104409

Dissertation Writing Retreat writers hard at work

research writing at noon (How to Write and Effective Literature Review, How to Revise and Respond to Committee Members’ Comments, How to Turn Dissertations into Publications, How to Keep Writing) , and the individual appointments with University Writing Consultants in the afternoon (and more writing…). The writers who took part in this year’s Retreat worked with a dedication and commitment that was inspiring. They came from eight different disciplines at the University: Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology, Education, Engineering, Rhetoric and Composition, Humanities, Psychology, Public Health, and Sociology. The best way to get a sense of the experience of the Retreat and its impact on the writers who took part, however, is to hear from the participants and consultants themselves.

Participants

Amanda Pocratsky, Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology: It’s hard to synthesize in few words how much this retreat has transformed my dissertation writing experience. As a graduate student in the biomedical sciences, I was initially concerned about how effective this retreat would for me. These concerns proved unfounded. In the span of one short week, I’ve written my dissertation abstract and a complete first chapter. I will leave here with over half my dissertation completed, a well-defined outline of my discussion, and incredible momentum to push through the final stages. Moreover, the writing skills I’ve cultivated from this experience will effectively translate throughout my scholastic career. I strongly encourage students to apply and come prepared to succeed.

Yvette Szabo, Clinical Psychology: The Dissertation Writing Retreat has been invaluable to my dissertation progress! I am still collecting data for my dissertation, so I was able to

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Meghan, Rene, and Yvette hold a group consultation

use this protected time to write and edit large parts of my Introduction, Method and then outline my results and discussion. Overall, I doubled the length of my dissertation and received feedback on all sections.  Typically, I shift between many roles as a graduate student, so having the quiet space to work (relatively unplugged) was necessary and much appreciated. And working with the same consultant all week allowed me to talk through presenting ideas for my complex study as well as receive feedback on organization and parallel structure. Thank you for a wonderful experience!

René Bayley-Veloso, Clinical Psychology: I would highly recommend that any graduate student who is working on their dissertation attend the Dissertation Writing Retreat. I have made substantial progress on my dissertation in a very short amount of time. The retreat also helped me organize my thoughts and questions, which allowed me to have a necessary and productive meeting with one of my committee members.  I have learned quite a bit about my own personal writing process through this experience, and will be utilizing this knowledge to maintain momentum moving forward.

Jamila Kareem, Rhetoric and Composition: The 2016 Dissertation Writing Retreat has not only been the most productive time I’ve spent on my dissertation, but it has been the most valuable. The structure of the Retreat worked well, because it allowed me to prioritize my writing and get the most crucial aspects finished while I had guaranteed feedback. The Retreat helped me develop a more structured process to stay on track and to feel rewarded when I do. I’ve had a process that has worked pretty well, but the staff at the Retreat gave

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Dilan and Layne work together

me strategies to build upon it and work smarter. And it’s free! Just look for professional dissertation help around the Internet—prices are crazy! I would recommend the Dissertation Writing Retreat to every doctoral student whether they are having trouble getting started or almost done. The feedback, time, and structure you receive are invaluable.

Abby Burns, Epidemiology and Population Health: The Dissertation Writing Retreat provided an encouraging environment to work quietly alongside other students who all have the same ultimate goal – completing their dissertation and graduating.  It helped hold me accountable, but more importantly helped me build momentum that I hope I can run with in the following weeks/months.

Denise Watkins, Humanities: As someone who is married, a mother, and works full-time, the benefits of this retreat can’t be adequately explained. I was able to steal away from all other responsibilities and make significant progress. In one week’s time, my outlook towards my dissertation has changed from an insurmountable “where will I ever find the time?” project to a feasible, doable task.

Heidi Williams, Sociology: The Dissertation Writing Retreat provides supportive, focused writing time, as well as workshops and advice that help participants approach and manage their work. Working with a writing consultant helped me realize I was fixating on a problem, rather than making progress in an attainable way. I learned how to breakdown my writing into manageable, daily tasks that led to tangible results – an exercise that I could not put into motion myself.

Consultants:

Laura Tetreault, Assistant Director: In my conversations during the Dissertation Writing Retreat, either with the writers I was working with or the other consultants and writing center staff, we often circled back to one idea: writing is hard. (And interesting, and fun, and exciting, but also hard a lot of the time.) As a Rhetoric and Composition PhD candidate

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Laura Tetreault leads a workshop discussion on turning dissertations into publications

and Assistant Director of the Writing Center, people sometimes I expect that I have this whole writing thing figured out, but the reality is that I became interested in writing teaching and writing center work because I also find writing to be really difficult a lot of the time. But instead of finding this discouraging, I actually find it comforting that most writers express at some point how difficult writing can be for them. The common experience of struggling with writing helps to diminish the inner critic that many grad students have in our heads. I can tell that critic: hey, it’s not me; writing is just hard sometimes. And it gets a lot easier for me when I can find a sense of community in the struggle.

Amy McCleese Nichols, Assistant Director: Watching writers work on their dissertations this week has reminded me why I love one-on-one writing conferences. It’s been great to talk through ideas and text with writers who have differing processes. For some, it seemed like the chance to talk through small sections of writing/thinking gave them better language to describe their overall argument and intervention by the end of the week. For others, designing study frameworks and making targeted edits to various sections of text

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Rose and Amy discuss Rose’s dissertation

helped them accomplish larger goals. Working the retreat has also given me a better sense of what it might look like to write my own dissertation in the future; this is definitely an event I’d like to return to as a participant next year.

Layne Gordon: As a soon-to-be second year PhD student, I was so inspired this week by the progress of the writers I was working with! At the end of each meeting, we took a couple of minutes to set some writing goals for the next day. Although sometimes those goals had to shift or be adjusted (writing requires so much flexibility!), the writers always made progress and pushed themselves to get as much done as they could. While I got to learn a lot about their respective topics, I also learned a lot about the dissertation writing process itself and the importance of just not stopping.

Brittany Kelley: I learn so much when working with others on their dissertations, especially when it comes to the writing process. This year, I learned that it’s important to create a hierarchy of goals for your dissertation. The highest/most important goal is getting words on the page. The next highest/most important goal should be your well being. After you’ve got words on the page, remember to rest. See friends. Exercise. Eat well. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. You deserve it. Always.

Ashley Ludewig: I have always enjoyed working with students of all levels on their writing projects and this week’s retreat was no different.  But, even though I participated in the retreat as a tutor, this week was also really helpful for me as someone who is also writing my dissertation.  Talking with other writers as they thought through some of the most complicated parts of their projects and reflected on their writing processes reminded me to be more accepting of my own writing process and helped me see why I was feeling stuck in my own work.  Now, instead of beating myself up over a lack of progress, I feel prepared to re-think my priorities for the next few weeks and make a plan that will actually work!

Meghan Hancock: This year at the diss retreat I was reminded of the importance of setting aside concrete time to write in a space without distractions. It seemed like many students most valued the amount of quiet work time that the retreat provided them with, and in my last consultation, we talked about how to create those kinds of spaces after leaving the retreat as well as how to continue to block out time in schedules just for writing. Though I always encourage others to maximize their productivity in these ways, I don’t always practice what I preach. Being able to see the amazing work ethic that students at the diss retreat had this year has inspired me to try harder to follow my own writing advice and to set aside more routinely scheduled quiet times for me to work on my own dissertation.

Thanks…..

It’s also important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat – Cassie Book, our Associate Director, and Robin Blackett, our Administrative Assistant, and Assistant Directors Stephen Cohen, Amy Nichols, and Laura Tetreault. Thanks also to the fantastic consultants (themselves Ph.D. students) who do the most important work of the week in working with the writers: Layne Gordon, Meghan Hancock, Brittany Kelley, and Ashley Ludewig. And thanks to Dean Beth Boehm, of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.

See you next year!!!!!!

Reflecting on the 2015 Week-Long Dissertation Writing Retreat

We just finished our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat at the University Writing Center. Last week, May 18-22, several writers from various disciplines met every day to push their dissertation projects forward – and to learn some new things about writing practices and strategies at the same time. Some of the DWR participants were in the early stages of their projects, working on dissertation proposals or their first chapters. Others were nearly finished with their dissertations. The retreat provided them with the time and space to write as well as feedback on their writing in daily consultations. In addition, the DWR hosted daily workshops on topics such as organizing a large writing project, writing a literature review, and leveraging dissertations for future uses.

The consultants who work during the Dissertation Writing Retreat are experienced writing teachers who are also PhD students currently working on their dissertations. After the 2014 DWR, the consultants offered some insightful reflections, and here is what this year’s consultants had to say:

On being in the company of other writers:

The dissertation writing retreat this year reminded me of the power of surrounding yourself with other writers. I’m always so impressed by the camaraderie across the disciplines that happens during the retreat, but also by how much more work these writers are able to get done in this space simply by being around other writers who are all going through the same process. Some writers at the retreat used this opportunity to give each other feedback, comments, and share advice, but there were also times when sitting in silence together was just as productive. Whether you use the time around other writers as a chance to share ideas or as a quiet work time to be around others in order to keep focused, writing groups are valuable opportunities to grow as a writer as well as a great way to keep yourself accountable.

–Meghan Hancock

On goal-setting and rewards:

As always, this past week at the Dissertation Writing Retreat was a true joy. My fellow dissertating comrades and I talked deeply about how to stay on track with the book-length project that is “THE Dissertation.” We were really focused on how to negotiate and renegotiate the kinds of working routines necessary to get through this seeming behemoth. We talked about a few really important ideas:

Set a low goal that keeps you motivated but that is easy to reach, like – “Write 100 words per day,” or “Read1 article per day.”

Then, when you reach the goal, give yourself a gold star (or even a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sticker) – just something to acknowledge the success!

  • Periodically revisit what you see as the whole scope of the dissertation, but don’t worry if that scope changes dramatically.
  • Figure out how to work effectively with each individual committee member, and the committee as a whole. Make sure to develop a comfortable working relationship with your director, above all.
  • Remember, it’s your dissertation!
  • And, finally, always take some time off for self-care!

It was a wonderful week, and I’m feeling fully energized to get back to my dissertation, 100 words at a time.

–Brittany Kelley

On habit-building:

The Dissertation Writing Retreat espouses many of the principles that writing centers value, among them making writing a daily habit. This principle resonated with me while I talked to DWR participants last week, especially because I am writing my own dissertation and working on meeting word count goals every day. If writing is a habit – and by writing I mean sitting down, opening a new document or one in progress, and making words in a row happen – then it is like brushing my teeth, looking over my shoulder before I change lanes, or feeding my cat in the morning. I don’t even think about whether writing will happen if it’s a habit. This is one reason why the DWR is a valuable experience for those participating in it. The retreat can teach the habit of daily writing, such that participants go on to continue the practice of writing every day even after the retreat ends.

–Jessica Winck

On being a member of the graduate community:

Over the last week, I’ve been thinking about mentoring. I had the privilege of working with two students in the Biology program who were at very different stages of the process at this year’s Dissertation Writing Retreat. One student was working on drafting her introduction while the other had completed and revised all of her chapters, and was working on further revision to turn one chapter into an article. While I learned a great deal about the growth of invasive honeysuckle plants in our area and colonies of bacteria, I learned even more about the value of mentoring. Throughout our time together, I was able to help the student who was further along with revising her article about bacteria, and she in turn was able to provide insight into the expectations that faculty in the department would have for an introduction on invasive honeysuckle. In this way, we all spent the week learning from each other, and I was reminded what a great opportunity graduate school is to be in a community of scholars, and that valuable help and advice is available from my advisor and committee, yes, but also from others who are at different stages of the process.

–Stephen Cohen

On commitment to our projects:

It’s hard to believe this is the 4th time I’ve consulted for the week-long Dissertation Writing Retreat. I’m thrilled that the Writing Center has been able to consistently offer this resource thanks to the support of many offices and departments across campus. While I’ve always been impressed with the work the writers do during the retreat, this year, perhaps more than any other, I was lucky to work with two writers who blew me away with their commitment to producing good work every day. Each took advantage of the writing time, guest talks, consultations, and other resources so that they were able to walk away with tangible progress on their projects. Their commitment was inspiring and reminded me of how much can be accomplished with a bit of consistent focus. It is my hope that they recognize the hard work they did this week and that it inspires them to keep writing just as much as it inspired me to return my own projects.

–Ashly Bender

The Week-Long Dissertation Writing Retreat: Notes from the Consultants

We just finished our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat at the University Writing Center. During the week of May 19-23, 14 writers from nine different disciplines took part, meeting every day to write and talk about writing. While some writers were in the early stages of their project and others were close to finishing, they were all provided with time to write and feedback on their writing. Each day the participants had several hours set aside for writing and then time for a one-hour consultation about their writing with a member of the Writing Center staff. In addition there were daily writing workshops on topics such as organizing a large writing project, writing a literature review, and working with committee comments.

Writing Time
Writing Time

The consultants who work during the Dissertation Writing Retreat are experienced writing teachers who are also PhD students currently working on their dissertations. Here are some of their thoughts about the work that took place during the week.

On developing writing strategies, aside from just making time to write:

While the dedicated writing time is often the benefit participants say is most helpful, another important benefit that I think often goes unnoticed until after the retreat is the development of writing strategies. Aside from developing dedicated writing time, it is important to have a plan, and more often multiple plans, for approaching writing and approaching the different tasks of a dissertation. The writing consultants work with retreat participants to practice and develop different techniques and strategies and for thinking about others that might work. For example, this year I worked with one participant on creating outlines both before and after writing. Starting with an outline can help you identifying which pieces fit into a chapter, but sometimes when we’re writing we get stuck thinking about what fits or not and end up not writing anything. In that case, it’s a good idea to just write what you have and then see what needs to stay, what needs developed more, and what belongs in another chapter or maybe even a different publication. So, while the retreat’s immediate reward may be time and more words produced, we hope–or I hope, at least–that the more beneficial reward is the writing strategies that can be applied to the dissertation and future writing projects.  ~Ashly Bender

On remembering to take care of yourself while dissertation:

Last week, I worked as a consultant at the Dissertation Writing Retreat. We were all at different stages of dissertation, but, by and large, we all started to see that the biggest challenge we faced was to remember that we needed, first and foremost, to care for ourselves as we dissertated. That we needed to give ourselves moments of rest. We needed to acknowledge even small victories. We had to remember to ask for what we need.

In other words, we all realized that there could be no dissertation without self-care and self-advocacy.

It seems to me that this is true of all writing situations. s important to remember self-care actions, such as:

  • Set small goals (100 words per day), and then provide small rewards when you meet them (one episode of a favorite TV show; one hour to do absolutely nothing school-related, etc.).
  • Always schedule in time for real rest. Schedule at least one, free weekend day per week. Or one full week during the summer. Take time away from the project. Allow yourself to recharge and incubate ideas.
  • Take time to visit your notes, and “throw-away” pages. Show yourself how much work you really have done.

~Brittany Kelley

On how academics really manage to complete projects:

During a late morning workshop on Thursday, I talked with participants about ways to maintain the habit of writing after the retreat. What they said reminded me of several important principles around completing academic writing projects. Many of the participants appreciated how the DWR structured a set time and place for writing. Committing to this routine meant that writing would not be an irregular event, but rather a habit. Participants also mentioned how they appreciated the group dynamic of the retreat as a form of accountability. Surrounded by other academic writers who were similarly working toward a set of goals provided motivation to continue – and at least one small group in the retreat committed to maintaining regular writing together in the weeks to come. And finally, several participants noted the value of talking to others about their writing. In reference to the daily afternoon meetings with writing consultants, the participants said that talking one-to-one about their projects became an important strategy for addressing challenges and setting goals. This rewarding discussion reminded me that completing academic projects has much less to do with how “smart” we are as academics, and much more with committing to working on a regular basis, developing and using strategies when we get stuck, and making sure to build in time for regular discussions with others about our work.

~Jessica Winck

Consultants and Participants Talking about Writing
Jessica discussing writing with one of the retreat’s participants

On project planning and the early stages of dissertation work:

I worked with two math education dissertation writers. Both were working on their proposals, which are due in August. I liked working with them at this stage as they are still making their way through the literature and methodologies. This was different than past retreats which participation stipulated a defended proposal. I liked this earlier stage in the process because I could help talk them through the lit review as well as scheduling out short and long term goals. The proposal stage is all about getting your bearings and this is what they needed help with most. As someone who is in the same boat as them, the beginning stages of writing this document, I learned a lot just from talking with them about their writing fears and challenges. And I think that talking helped them get writing.

~Jennifer Marciniak

On writing in a collaborative atmosphere:

This past week at the Dissertation Writing Retreat has taught me a surprising amount about the collaborative side of dissertation writing—a concept which I think contradicts what many of us think about writing, and especially in this rather peculiar genre. As a consultant, I began the week with few assumptions about the work ahead of me, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself paired with two students who had remarkably clear ideas about what their projects entailed, and what thoughts would need to go into the writing to get their arguments across. These students, it seemed to me, didn’t need a lot of coaching to get the work written, or even a lot of effort to make their writing read easily. Both brought that to the table on the first day. What they did need was just someone to receive those ideas as an uninitiated reader (uninitiated, at least, to their specific fields and projects), who could then bounce back the most salient ideas to them. I’m fond of automobile analogies, and to me this process felt very much like taking these projects for a “test drive” every day—I would take up whatever new ideas they had presented for the day, do a spin around the block in them, and then report back to their authors what was working and what might need more tweaking.

As a student currently working on my own dissertation, this test drive process was both enjoyable and informative. I was always happy to take a break from my own project for a few hours; to get out of my car and try a new one for a bit. I also learned quite a bit from seeing the process play out in someone else’s shoes. When,–after a day that saw a lot of suggestions on re-organization of points with both of my clients–I met with my own director and was given the same feedback, I realized pretty quickly how necessary it is to have a “test driver” on your team, who can exist outside of your project until you bring them in for specific testing.

“Test-driving” the dissertation with colleagues and consultants

We often think of writing as a solitary practice, and I feel like the drafting of a thesis or dissertation often feels even more so. But this week has made it abundantly clear to me that we all need a team to help us out from time to time; that we are, in fact, engineers who are designing a kind of textual machine that needs to work on the road, or in the field. I was happy to serve on two such teams this past week, and going forward with my own project, I feel more certainty about how to use my own.

~Benjamin Bogart

On the joys of the retreat:

One of the best things I saw this year at the Retreat was how much the graduate students enjoy interacting with each other.  I loved to see them share their advice about how they handled certain steps in the writing process, from organizing all of their research to how to structure certain chapters.  We do a lot as consultants, but I think a lot of the benefits of the Retreat for graduate students is how much they can learn from each other’s experiences as well.

~Meghan Hancock

Just Three Saturdays: Comparing Dissertation Writing Retreat Models

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

Last weekend the Writing Center wrapped up our third Dissertation Writing Retreat. Much like the previous two dissertation retreats we’ve held, this one offered doctoral candidates the opportunity to have dedicated writing time and resources as well as time each day with a writing consultant. Unlike our previous retreats, we did not meet every day for a week; instead we met three Saturdays in a row. The difference in scheduling offered a unique experience that offered a different set of advantages than the week-long retreat.

First, the week-long retreat—which is a common model for these kinds of events—is useful to writers because it can be particularly helpful for breaking out of a rut and for developing daily writing habits. Our director, Bronwyn Williams, wrote during our first retreat about what the week-long model can offer. Some of our clients for the May retreats came in with the goal of finally wrapping up a chapter or with starting a chapter. Writer’s block is a common concern. In fact, this past May when I served as a consultant for the retreat that is exactly the place I was in, and I was hoping that like our writers I would be able to find the key with scheduled time each morning to write. We also work with writers during the week to develop daily goals or practices that will encourage them to do some writing every day. Hopefully these practices will continue once the week is over.

Certainly we have had good feedback from participants in the past two retreats. We’ve heard repeated calls for more retreats and more support for doctoral candidates in the form of writing groups and writing spaces. The School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies has responded to some of these call, as this semester they are starting Dissertation Writing Accountability groups. And, of course, the Writing Center always welcomes those who simply want to use the space to write or work during our open hours.

While we’ve had good feedback about the week-long retreat, and plan to continue offering them, sometimes circumstances call for some flexibility. A number of those interested in the May retreat were unable to attend because they work full-time jobs during the week. Many of these students were candidates in the College of Education and Human Development, and with the support of their college, we are able to design a Dissertation Writing Retreat that would meet all day for three Saturday in a row. Like our previous retreats, participants wrote in the morning and then, just before lunch, a short presentation was given on a dissertation writing strategy. In the afternoon, participants met with a consultant to talk about parts of their dissertation, writing strategies, or other writing related topics.

Ashly_Version_3The biggest advantage to meeting across three weeks—in this consultant’s opinion—was that there was a higher likelihood of developing habits. One hope of the week-long retreat is that repeated practice for five days, with support and peer supervision, will plant the seed of a habit. For the participants in this retreat, they had at least two weeks to practice and then report back about their effectiveness. There wasn’t as much direct support, but the accountability for progress was a little higher since they had a week to make progress between meetings rather than just an evening. One habit that I worked on with two of the participants was the practice of doing some writing or work every day that related to the dissertation. These women had busy lives—teaching, raising families, and other commitments—but they also worked hard to do even fifteen minutes of dissertation work every day. Of course, it wasn’t easy and some days that fifteen minutes didn’t happen. For the most part it did though, and I have confidence that they will be able to keep it up.

This is certainly not to say that one scheduling style for a dissertation writing retreat is better than another. Instead, I would argue here that each schedule works toward a different set of goals and has different expectations. Perhaps the week-long model is better for getting a burst of motivation and production that can get the ball rolling (again, sometimes) while the three-week model is more effective for establishing not just sparking habits. As the Writing Center moves forward and continues to host these retreats, we will be exploring these early thoughts and more. So, stay tuned; there’s more to come.

Write, Talk, Repeat: Reflecting on the Benefits of Our Second Dissertation Writing Retreat

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

Last week our former Assistant Director Barrie Olson wrote about the anticipation and promise of participating in our second Dissertation Writing Retreat (DWR). After a long, restful weekend and some reflection, it seems that the DWR delivered on nearly all its promises. Like Barrie, I participated in the retreat as a consultant, but as a dissertation writer myself, I found it helpful on multiple fronts. The biggest benefit of participating in the retreat, though, was being able to work with other graduate students both inside and outside of my field. The Dissertation Writing Retreat may be all about writing, and involve a good deal of writing, but talking about the writing helps to solidify the meaning of all that work, especially with those who aren’t familiar with the work.

Since I’m at the early stages of the dissertation process, my direct experiences may be somewhat limited. Nevertheless, between working with many different dissertation writers over the years and my own experiences, it seems that articulating the dissertation succinctly is one of the biggest challenges. In my own graduate program, we’re often advised to develop multiple versions of our answer to the question, “What is your dissertation/project about?”: ranging from an “elevator” version to a 15-20 minute version. Condensing an approximately 200 page project into a brief description isn’t all that easy when your brain is filled to the brim—maybe over the brim—with theories, research, examples, and other data that is “essential” to understanding your project. And, believe me, it all seems essential when it’s your project.

Working with two different students from drastically different disciplines (one in the Humanities and one in the hard sciences), I found that the feedback that they most often needed through the week was to write what they were explaining to me in sessions. That seems so easy, doesn’t it? All writers know it really isn’t as easy as it sounds. You often need someone else to spot the gap in your writing and tell you where you aren’t explaining something. It isn’t always about missing information though. Maybe your verbal description of your project really emphasizes a particular aspect or connection in your project, but you only have one sentence or a paragraph in 30 pages about that aspect. A good listener and reader can help you find those disconnections between what you’re saying about your writing and what’s actually happening in your writing.

Ashly_Version_3What’s really inspiring for someone like me is that those conversations are not just helpful for the writer. Having these conversations with two DWR participants helped me realize why I was having such difficulty drafting the introduction to my own dissertation. I’ve been writing pages and pages leading up to the point that I always begin with when I talk to people about my project. When I realized this during the retreat, I thought to myself, “Well, duh. That’s the problem.” Reaching that “duh” moment isn’t always easy though, and I’m sure that it won’t be the last one I have before this whole dissertation is written.

Fortunately, for all twelve participants in this year’s Dissertation Writing Retreat, these kinds of conversations were not limited to the one-on-one consultations we had each afternoon. Each day around lunch time, we also offered short workshops about the dissertation process, including writing the literature review, managing time and production, working with committee members, and developing support networks. In addition to hearing from some of the writing consultants, we also benefited from the insight of Dr. Stephen Schneider and Dr. Beth Boehm. The participants found the workshops especially helpful because they offered the opportunity to ask questions about the dissertation process generally but also to receive project-specific feedback from those who were currently working on their dissertation and those who had already completed one.

With all this praise in mind, it seems a little suspicious that I would claim that the retreat delivered on almost all its promises. Based on this post and the feedback from our participants, what could possibly have been missing? Technically, you’re right; it wasn’t missing anything it promised. Yet, as ambitious scholars we’ll always want more of a good thing. More time to write, more time to work with others on our writing and on our projects. More free food. We are still students after all. Thankfully, many of our participants said they would return to visit the Writing Center to work on their projects. And hopefully, we will all be inspired to create these kinds of supportive writing groups beyond the structure of the Writing Center.

That’s our dream, and this year was one more successful shot at achieving it.