Skip to main content

Start your own dissertation group


Graduate students who participate in departmental dissertation groups or groups led by their dissertation advisor (which I will call "formal groups") can count themselves lucky. The vast majority of grad students, especially in the humanities and social sciences, are not members of a dissertation group.

The good news is:
  1. You can start your own dissertation group
  2. It might even be more useful than the formal groups mentioned above.
I've written about the difference between such formal groups and the coaching groups we run at Academic Ladder. There is another solution, however, for those of you who don't have access to a formal group and cannot afford to sign up for a coaching group with us.

Start your own group! The trick is to start thinking outside of the box.

Here are some features of the standard formal group, which I would suggest you consider changing, in order to meet the needs of your particular group:
  1. They meet monthly
  2. They meet in person.
  3. You submit a chapter to the members ahead of time.
  4. Depending on the size of the group, your turn to submit may only come around every few months or twice a year.
  5. One person presents their work at each meeting and it is critiqued by all present.
Here are some alternatives and creative additions to this standard format:
  1. Meet weekly or every other week.
  2. Meet on the phone (there are free bridge lines available.)
  3. Start a private listserv for your group to communicate whenever they want (private listservs can be set up through Yahoo Groups.
  4. Submit smaller and less polished pieces of work.
  5. Ask for help on specific areas where you are stuck (e.g. presenting your argument, how much or which evidence to use, organization of a section.)
  6. Play around with various "assignments" that you all agree on (e.g. submitting a "statement of purpose" for your current section or chapter, or submitting a work plan for the next month).
  7. Commit to specific goals that you will achieve and report on in the next meeting.
  8. Keep a group score card with a space for each person to check off whether they achieved their goal.
A client of mine recently started her own group, and it is working wonderfully for all the members. She wrote to me:
I'm so proud of our group. I think the format is great--a small group, meeting every other week with some form of writing. We are getting very attuned to each other's projects--having the dissertation abstract as the first writing piece has been marvelous, b/c it gives me a roadmap for the subsequent writing pieces that each of us produced.
Another client arranged a group by writing to her departmental listserv, and then forming a smaller group online with those who responded. She has since successfully defended her dissertation, and credits the group (and me!) with a lot of her success in finishing.

If you can't find enough people in your own discipline, consider looking outside your field. People in foreign languages, comparative literature, and English, for example, can help each other with the writing process.

Be creative and try out different options. Academia can get so sticky and possessive of its methods, which are sometimes too formal and old-fashioned. Think about what your needs are, and start your dissertation group based on that starting point. And please let me know how it goes!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

"ABD" -- what does it really mean?

I thought I knew what the definition of ABD was. It was exactly the same as defined here in Carnegie Mellon's University Doctoral Candidate Policies for All But Dissertation (ABD) : After the completion of all formal degree requirements other than the completion of and approval of the doctoral dissertation and the public final examination, doctoral candidates shall be regarded as All But Dissertation(ABD). I have, though, occasionally run into the term ABD being used as a somewhat disparaging designation for one who fulfills the formal degree requirements of the Ph.D. but never finishes the dissertation, and then quits the program. Most recently, I saw it in What They Didn' t Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career , by Paul Gray and David E. Drew. Number 9 of their helpful hints is one that I strongly agree with: "Remember that a Ph.D. is primarily an indication of survivorship." They go on to say, "You stuck w

The Second Holiday Writing Challenge for Academics

Here's a little boost for those who need a little kickstart to write over the holidays.  I first offered a Holiday Writing Challenge  back in 2005, so I'd say it's about time to do it again. Here's what you do: Post in the comment section: what you'd like to work on (if anything) over the holidays, and the maximum amount of time you'd like to spend on it daily . Please keep this time limit reasonable and low unless you're under huge deadline pressure -- in which case you don't need this challenge in order to get something done! Whether you're a professor or a grad student, make sure you get a copy of the Dissertation Toolkit.  These tools will give you more information and tips for productive and creative writing.  For those of you who have had trouble making yourself write, you may want to start with VERY short writing goals . Even 5 or 10 minutes will be enough to get you jumpstarted.  Don't go more than 25 or 30 minutes withou

Academic Exhaustion Syndrome: Four Recovery Strategies

The semester’s over. If you’re anything like the academics I coach, you feel like death warmed over.  Those last stacks of grading got done on sheer will, determination and fumes. And this is before considering your writing deadlines, committee responsibilities, and other demands.  You are suffering from Academic Exhaustion Syndrome.  Academic Exhaustion Syndrome (an advanced, more scholarly state of burn out) is a state of emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, ending with grading, over the course of the semester and academic year. As the stress continues, you begin to lose interest and motivation to work, you have fantasies of standing up and screaming in the middle of a meeting, and you wonder what temporary loss of reality testing made you decide to become an academic.  This dreaded Syndrome can: Reduce your productivity and saps your energy Make you irritable and have thoughts of strangling an undergraduate Make you feel like you have nothing more to g