Tag: graduate life

Writing the Dissertation Is(n’t) a Lonely Thing

Jessica Winck, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center

As a representative of the writing center, I spoke this past weekend with some PhD students at the start of a dissertation writing camp. It was early in the morning and everyone had a cup of coffee and their computers open in front of them, ready to work. I looked around and remembered that dissertation writing can seem lonely, but when we think about it, we’re actually in good company.


I’m not implying that being alone is never desirable or needed, or that we must lean on others for comfort every time we write. We have to admit, though, that academia can make students of all levels feel isolated sometimes.

One of the most telling examples of this isolation is how PhD students have the option of renting a carrel in the library while working on a dissertation. Carrels are these little closets with a small window on the door, a desk, chair, and an overhead light that beams down on the flat work surface. For me, a library carrel isn’t an ideal space for working on a dissertation because such a space can represent, in a spacial sense, what we might feel like overall as PhD students.

There are some important ways not to spend all our time working in a small closet, whether that closet is an apartment or a library carrel. I’ve written before on seeking out your peers for timed writing, say at a coffee shop. There’s a myth in academia that we’re not successful unless we do everything alone. In actuality, there are benefits to working with others beyond getting rid of our cabin fever: you can keep each other motivated while also building the habit of writing that will be useful for years. Beyond these benefits, when we give ourselves the opportunity to be in the same place as other interested scholars, we’re likely to activate those habits of mind that interested us in academia in the first place. On that note, take part in a dissertation writing retreat where you can experience week- or weekend-long scheduled time for writing, reflection, and one-on-one discussions about your work.

I want to put forward one more view on how we’re not alone in this work.

Working on a dissertation is a chance to focus on your particular interests, likely the ones that motivated you to become a member of your field. If you’re like me, you got into your field because you’re captivated by its view on the world and committed to working on its most pressing questions. Plus, you want your work to make a contribution. When you’re counting your words or pages and trying to meet deadlines, let’s try to think of ourselves as part of these larger discussions that are happening every day. Like the rhetorician Kenneth Burke said, these discussions have been going on for a very long time, and they will continue even after we’ve left them. Now that’s really something, to be part of that. Every day that we work on our dissertations, we stay a part of it.

The Importance of the Graduate Cohort

Alex Bohen, Consultant

AlexAs I began to brainstorm about what I wanted to discuss in my blog post I kept trying to remember what my first impression of the Writing Center was. I entered into the Writing Center for the first time in late August to take part in orientation. I remember seeing Dr. Bronwyn Williams, the director of the Writing Center, standing at the door welcoming everyone in and radiating an enthusiasm I was unaccustomed to at nine in the morning. Next, I saw Adam Robinson, assistant director, manning the coffee pot in a manner I would soon become familiar with. I continued to think back on that day and the next image that came to my mind was the myriad of strangers populating the rest of the room. These people were my new cohort and over the next several months they would become the greatest source of information and learning in my life. I have come to know that if I have a question my cohort is who to turn to for the answer. Having trouble helping a client? Ask the cohort. Wondering how clearly the thesis statement of your seminar paper reads? Ask the cohort. Not sure what classes to take next semester? Ask the cohort.

I want to focus on the cohort a little more closely. As a student and consultant in the Writing Center I can’t express how valuable my cohort has been to me. My only source of lament is that the cohort didn’t have more people in it. That is why I am incredibly happy to highlight and plug the Peer Mentoring program, headed up by two members of my cohort, Amy McCleese Nichols and Michelle Day. The program will pair new first year MAs with a second year MA who can function as the first building block for each student’s personal cohort. I think this is a great opportunity for all parties involved. New students will get an insider’s view on how to balance the stress of academic and personal life, as well as a familiar face at department social functions. Second year students get the opportunity to pass on all the helpful tips they have amassed after navigating one year of the program. I am excited to take part in this program and I hope that I can be as valuable to a new student as so many people have been to me during my first year at Louisville.