For the fourth year in a row, Ph.D. students from a variety of programs at WMU joined fellow doctoral candidates from the University of Michigan and Wayne State for a “Dissertation Writing Retreat,” sponsored by the WMU-GEP program, and directed by Dr. Wendy Carter-Veale. The retreat is a fantastic opportunity for students at all levels of the dissertation process to spend scheduled time planning, organizing, writing, and work-shopping their research, within the beautiful setting of the MSU Kellogg Biological Station and Conference Center. In addition to providing this invaluable structured time to focus on writing and revising, the retreat also features mentorship and consultations with Dr. Carter-Veale, now in her fourth year of offering the retreat for WMU students. Dr. Carter-Veale’s research and personal experience in balancing work, academic life, and a family led her to create this kind of structured, hands-on, personal experience for graduate students in order to combat the high levels of attrition that occur over the course of their graduate programs.
Attendee LaSonda Wells describes her experience at the Dissertation Writing Retreat
One very popular and useful workshop offered at the retreat allows each student to begin crafting a two-minute dissertation talk, also known as the “elevator speech.” This short speech is intended to provide anyone a student might meet — a professor, mentor, funding representative, possible colleague — with just enough information to know what the student is contributing to his or her field. In addition to providing a means for students to summarize and “sell” their own work, the two-minute talk also gets students thinking about how to represent their work to non-academic audiences, and to distill their work down to its most basic and profound ideas.
Attendee LaSonda Wells introduces the idea of the two-minute dissertation talk and practices her own
Among the many beneficial outcomes of the retreat is that students are able to build support networks with their fellow dissertators, even across disciplinary lines. After the retreat ends, students continue to meet, talk, and text, sharing their writing, their concerns, and working through challenges together. Establishing these kinds of writing support groups is crucial during the high-pressure “ABD” period for graduate students. For students unable to attend the retreat, or for those who attended but who would like more sustained and ongoing professional support beyond the Retreat experience, the Graduate College at WMU and the Graduate Center for Research and Retention provide additional venues wherein students can create and grow these relationships. The Dissertation Cafe, a bi-monthly meeting of Ph.D. students working on their dissertations, is offered by Dr. Marianne Di Pierro and the Graduate Center for Research and Retention; at “cafe meetings,” students can meet with each other and with Dr. Di Pierro to discuss strategies for completion. Space is limited, so look for more information and register on the Grad College EVENTS page.
— Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar, WMU Graduate College