Reflections on Writing Workshop

Gina Brandolino

As relieved as I was to learn that much of school would be conducted in person this fall, I was (and remain) a little leery about going back to Writing Workshop in person. Writing Workshop is close quarters, and after more than a year of worrying about close contact—and having reasons to still worry, even if you’re vaccinated—I wasn’t comfortable returning to in-person appointments. But I’ve been delighted to continue conducting my appointments remotely. I used to think there was no substitute for digging into and marking up a physical copy of a paper alongside a student, but I’ve been won over by the ease and convenience of both the student and me being able to see the project we’re working on at the same time—on googledocs or our platform’s whiteboard—without one of us having to crane our neck or strain to see. I’ve also seen a number of students who are first-timers at Writing Workshop and who I sense were perhaps a little shy about visiting us in person; I think for some students, it’s less intimidating to talk with us about their work in the comfort of their own spaces.

Jimmy Brancho

I’m feeling much relieved to be back in the office for our Writing Workshop. I feel like I’m a more effective consultant in person. Walking up to the door to greet the student and do a little chit-chat to warm up as we walk back has always felt like a critical part of the routine for me. Reading body language is more difficult over the computer. I read a lot faster and more attentively off a physical page. But, perhaps the most important part is the free-form nature of making annotations and experimenting with structure. I’m often drawing or prompting students to draw sketches of their organization or arrows about how they might connect ideas or move text around. To me, leaving feedback online feels too organized. The comparative freedom I feel in the in-person conference is worth the risk, and I hope it’s worth the extra effort for the students too.

Dissertation Writing Groups

For the first time, Sweetland offered Dissertation Writing Groups for the 2021 spring/summer terms. From anecdotal evidence, Sweetland faculty learned graduate students appreciated the flexibility of remote learning; we also surmised that some students were location-bound across the world due to COVID travel restrictions, family care, and research initiatives. We supposed that even “post pandemic,” many graduate students would appreciate the accountability of a writing group while they travelled for research, family, work, or leisure during the summer.

There was a high application turnout, though we also saw attrition. We were unable to survey participants who dropped out to learn why, but a couple students received funding later than expected, some students likely realized they needed a break from remote work, and, as during the academic school year, others prioritized different responsibilities. 

Nonetheless, we learned a lot from the spring/summer DWG, and we had several success stories, including groups that reapplied to work together during Fall 2021 and leaders who reapplied to lead new groups. We also revised the application to accommodate students who wanted to meet remotely or only in-person. There were enough students seeking to reconnect face-to-face that we created three such groups for Fall 2021.

April Conway
Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing


For the 2020-2021 academic year, Write-Togethers moved online. To protect the privacy and data of students, sessions were hosted in a Google doc. Each week, a new writing strategy and its source were summarized and cited and students were invited to post pre- and post-writing session goals and reflections. Students could sign up for a 10-minute Zoom appointment with a faculty consultant to ask questions about a current project. 

Weekly participants ranged from 1-10, though participants were usually regulars. For instance, I met with one participant weekly as she worked on her dissertation and job application materials. This student invited me to her dissertation defense (I attended!) and she accepted a postdoc fellowship at UC Berkeley. It was a pleasure to witness the student’s hard work and its payoff.   

Winter 2021 Write-Together participants were surveyed and they expressed continued interest in remote sessions, so this remains the current iteration of the Write-Togethers. 

From these pandemic-led initiatives, we discovered that students appreciate flexibility and continued support in multiple modes and from a variety of people. Moving forward, we can create more opportunities for graduate students to support each other, perhaps as writing consultants, and continue to provide in-person, remote, and hybrid modes of collaboration. As faculty, we continue to revisit what data we want to collect to make these programs benefit students. 

April Conway
Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing

Dissertation Writing Institute Goes Remote

Our 18th Dissertation Writing Institute continued through the pandemic this spring despite missing one critical component:  office space. Before this year, the DWI has always provided fellows office space in which to write and work on their dissertations. This space has been a mainstay of our program. DWI fellows put in six hours each day, five days a week, thirty hours each week for the eight-week program. What would the DWI look like without the office space where these writers work? 

This year we had to make a quick and vital decision with limited information.

Shortly after the university announced the decision to move to remote classes on March 11,  2020, Sweetland director, Tessa Tinkle, emailed our 24 fellows to assure them about the upcoming spring institute. The DWI would continue.  Fellows would still receive stipends. 

We still had to sort out what we would do, what the DWI might look like, without much to go on.  

Katie Dimmery

“DWI’s decision to go virtual happened before there were any established norms around what going virtual would mean,” Katie Dimmery, a dual degree student in Asian Languages and Cultures wrote me. “Though I don’t think any of the students knew quite what to expect, the combination of weekly group meetings, frequent one-on-one meetings with instructors, and ongoing group conversations about ‘creating a dissertation writing space’ were really effective for me. I didn’t have an office on campus, but it kinda felt like I did. Didn’t get to hang out in person with any of the other students or instructors, but I felt that I got to know them and to share the writing process with them. AND I made about three chapters.”

And even without the actual office space of past years, we were able to continue, as best we could, providing important program features. 

…having an academic workshop with an amazing group of graduate students from different disciplines made my work better. Their feedback was invaluable.

Charles Wilkes

Charles Wilkes, a doctoral candidate in the School of Education defending his dissertation in the Winter 21, wrote me that “Despite not meeting in person, being a part of the DWI remotely was great. Two things that made the experience great were first being able to meet with my leader frequently. I am at my best when I have to produce writing and get constant feedback. I was able to get that through the institute. Second, having an academic workshop with an amazing group of graduate students from different disciplines made my work better. Their feedback was invaluable. Considering how successful the program was remote, I can only imagine how beneficial it would have been if it were in person. The structure and people at DWI are built for anyone working on their dissertation to make significant progress!”

Writing from home has its distractions.
Photo credit:
Kate Dimmery

Although the DWI could not provide the physical office space for our fellows this year, we made our best efforts—via BlueJeans and Zoom—to provide them with other program features we know matter to dissertation writers. We maintained one-to-one feedback opportunities for fellows to share their in-progress writing and talk about their work with DWI faculty, and we continued offering small interdisciplinary group workshops for each writer.  

While we know what we did miss by not being together this past spring—the informal knowledge sharing, community building, friendships, the printers, and much more—the DWI was able to endure with the help of willing fellows and a swift decision to be supportive and creative in reimagining the DWI, relying on what we could provide fellows, in the strange space and time we all found ourselves this spring.

Louis Cicciarelli
Co-Director, Dissertation Writing Institute
Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing

Sweetland Fellows Seminar 2020

The Fellows Seminar brings together graduate student instructors (Junior Fellows) and faculty (Senior Fellows) from multiple disciplines who share a commitment to integrating writing in their courses. The program is supported by the College of Literature, Science & the Arts, the Rackham Graduate School, and the Sweetland Center for Writing.

All seminar participants share an interest in helping students become better writers; integrating writing in their courses; and discussing critical issues in the teaching of writing with colleagues.

The Sweetland Fellows Seminar was the most rewarding and enriching pedagogical training I have received at the University. Not only did we read contemporary research on how to effectively center writing in our teaching, the seminar also provided a space for collaborative sharing among faculty, staff, and graduate students who occupy different disciplinary spaces and fill different pedagogical roles. In the process of discussing our various aims for teaching writing and working together to design assignments and assignment sequences, I formed meaningful professional relationships that lasted beyond the seminar. As teachers, we most often focus on how to impart the knowledge of our disciplines to our students, but the seminar provided a rare opportunity to work together across disciplines in our pedagogical practice. 

Lucy Peterson, Junior Fellow

2020 Junior Fellows

Anna Cornel, Classical Languages and Literature
Kim Hess, Sociology
Benjamin Hollenbach, Anthropology
Tugce Kayaal, Near Eastern Studies
Jane Kitaevich, Political Science
Hongling Lu, Material Science & Engineering
Lucy Peterson, Political Science
Niku Tarhechu Tarhesi, Anthropology

2020 Senior Fellows

Gina Cervetti, School of Education
Christine Modey, Sweetland Center for Writing
Ragnhild Nordaas, Political Science
Colleen Seifert, Psychology
Twila Tardif, Psychology
Tessa Tinkle, Sweetland Center for Writing

New Sweetland Initiatives in Dissertation Writing

This past year saw Sweetland increase its academic initiatives to aid graduate students as they write their dissertations. Sweetland has long offered a graduate course, Writing 630, that provides instructional support to graduate students writing in their discipline. Experience in the classroom revealed that, at times, a peer interaction between graduate students who were focusing on writing shorter pieces, like a conference presentation or an article for publication, and graduate students who were writing a dissertation chapter, were not the most advantageous, since the rhetorical conditions for the two enterprises were abundantly different. Therefore, Sweetland designed a novel course specifically answering the needs of dissertation writers: Writing 631, “Dissertation Writing.”

This course, while supporting doctoral candidates in completing one or more chapters of their dissertation, primarily aids students in gaining self-awareness as writers. The course engages doctoral students in planning, managing, and improving their writing process, as well as in solidifying practices that writers can apply to their future writing beyond the PhD. The format combines discussion meetings, peer-review sessions for effective revision, and reflective writing activities that prompt students to define what it means, in an academic setting of research and teaching, to be a writer.

Sweetland also received grants from The Office of Academic Innovation and The Office of the Provost to develop a digital messaging tool to assist graduate writers remotely: The Dissertation Coach. This tool takes advantage of an existing and successfully tested product in undergraduate education (ECoach), and reconfigures that platform to target graduate students in the dissertation writing phase. Following current practices in behavioral science, the Dissertation Coach aims at influencing positive writing behavior, especially when dissertation writers encounter challenges in productivity. The Dissertation Coach has been launched in its beta version during Fall 2019 as an addition to the interdisciplinary Sweetland/Rackham Dissertation Writing Groups. Sweetland faculty Louis Cicciarelli, Larissa Sano, and Simone Sessolo have developed the platform. They have been helped by Marisol Fila, a PhD student in Romance Languages and Literature.

2019 Fellows Seminar

The Fellows Seminar brings together Faculty (Senior Fellows) and graduate student instructors (Junior Fellows) from multiple disciplines who share a commitment to integrating writing into their courses. Fellows confer with local and national visiting speakers, learn ways of helping students become better writers, discuss concerns about teaching in the age of the internet, learn how to integrate writing in their courses, and examine approaches to incorporating writing across the disciplines. For more information visit the Senior Fellows or Junior Fellows pages on our website. Listen to our Topics in Writing podcast featuring Fellows Seminar visiting speakers.

2019 Senior Fellows (Faculty)

Michelle Bellino, School of Education
Anne Gere, Sweetland Center for Writing
Despina Margomenou, Classical Studies
Raymond McDaniel, Sweetland Center for Writing
George Tyler, Political Science

2019 Junior Fellows (Graduate Students)

Katherine Beydler, Classical Studies
Katherine Hummel, English Language and Literature
Vincent Longo, Screen Arts and Cultures
Aleksandra Marciniak, Slavic Languages and Literatures
Elizabeth McNeill, Germanic Languages and Literatures
Kamaria Porter, School of Education
Emily Saidel, Communication Studies

Graduate Student Support / Rackham – ELI Partnership

For the over 8,000 doctoral and masters students enrolled in programs overseen by the Rackham Graduate School, writing is both the means by which they have gained admission and also an instrument of their graduate work. This fact remains constant across disciplines even as each field and speciality maintains its own conventions, norms, and scholarly expectations. When we think of graduate school, it’s often the focal intellectual intensity of scholarship itself we imagine. This focus can make it all too easy to overlook the degree to which scholarly and professional practice requires not just what can feel like endless writing, but also an endless education in writing itself.

This points to a central paradox of the role of graduate school: the way you write your way in doesn’t automatically prepare you for the way you have to write your way through and out. The first graduate seminar is often radically unlike the undergraduate senior seminars; the techniques that make for a successful grant or fellowship application rarely make themselves transparent; no one knows how to write a dissertation until they write a dissertation, a task most will (one imagines) only complete once and which has no direct precedent and no exact antecedent. The challenges are many, and potentially compounded by the suspicion many graduate students have that they should know how to do all this already, that making the challenge of writing visible and explicit is somehow tantamount to admitting a flaw.

However, the flaw isn’t with the students; it’s with an academic culture that values writing without making the process of learning about writing legible and offering community, instruction, and exchange. In recognition of this need, the Rackham Graduate School is partnering with the Sweetland Center for Writing and the English Language Institute to offer support to graduate students at all levels and of all disciplines. This last summer four Sweetland faculty members, led by Louis Cicciarelli (longtime coordinator of Sweetland’s Dissertation Writing Institute), met to assess student needs and develop workshops and programs to meet the diverse array of graduate writing occasions and tasks.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, we will offer four group workshops and presentations, focusing on topics as narrowly vital as how to approach grant and fellowship applications in STEM fields to those as broadly applicable as how to achieve lucid and direct academic prose, as well as workshops that address the role of argument at the level of a dissertation, and how to structure and manage the writing of one. Additionally, Sweetland faculty member Cat Cassel is facilitating weekly graduate Write-Together sessions and soliciting feedback from the session participants to help us customize workshops we will subsequently offer. These conversations will enable us to make sure we and our partners can turn the centrality of writing to graduate life into an occasion for celebration, community, discussion, and deliberation as we continue to seek new ways to best serve our graduate writers.

Larissa Sano leads “Writing Grant and Fellowship Proposals in STEM Disciplines” workshop

2018 Fellows Seminar

The Fellows Seminar brings together Faculty (Senior Fellows) and graduate student instructors (Junior Fellows) from multiple disciplines who share a commitment to integrating writing into their courses. Fellows confer with local and national visiting speakers, learn ways of helping students become better writers, discuss concerns about teaching in the age of the internet, learn how to integrate writing in their courses, and examine approaches to incorporating writing across the disciplines. For more information visit the Senior Fellows or Junior Fellows pages on our website. Listen to our Topics in Writing podcast featuring Fellows Seminar visiting speakers.

Senior Fellows (Faculty)

Sigrid Anderson Cordell,  English
Jimmy Brancho, Sweetland
Anne Gere, Sweetland
Michael Makin, Slavic
Bruce Mannheim, Anthropology
Matthew Solomon, Screen Arts & Cultures

Junior Fellows (Grad Students)

Sahin Acikgoz, Comparative Literature
Jillian Myers, Biology
Kyra R. Pazan, Anthropology
Adriana Ponce, Sociology
Rachna Reddy, Anthropology
Rachel Webb, Mathematics
Jana Wilbricht, Communication Studies
Sunhay You, English & Women’s Studies

Graduate Student Research Assistants

Meg Garver’s MA in rhetoric and composition is from Clemson University where she wrote a thesis on women’s access to health care services. There she had her first experience as a composition instructor, and has privileged the identity, educator, ever since. Entering her 3rd year in the Joint PhD Program in English and Education, her interests are still within the rhetoric of health and medicine field, with a primary focus on doctor-patient communication. Specifically, she directs attention to barriers of access, including the technical language physicians deploy, as well as the gender dynamics at play within the history and current practice of medicine. Her interests include Science and Technology Studies, New Literacy Studies, Digital Studies, Disability Studies, and Writing Studies, all from a feminist standpoint. Meg hopes to build upon the work being done to merge the worlds of medicine and the humanities, and to help develop public scholarship, thereby making academic knowledge accessible to all.

Naitnaphit Limlamai is a doctoral student in the Joint Program in English and Education, where she studies secondary English methods courses and their instructors. Specifically, she studies how methods instructors conceptualize the discipline of English and the implications of that conceptualization for their courses. Before attending Michigan she taught high school English for 13 years in Florida, New York, and Georgia. She earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in Human Development and Philosophy from Boston College and a Masters in Education after completing the Alliance for Catholic Education program at the University of Notre Dame. At Michigan she has taught in the English Department Writing Program and in the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning.

Emily Wilson is in her fourth year in the Joint Program in English and Education. Her undergraduate degree is in elementary education, and her master’s degree is in English literature and rhetoric. Growing up as a military kid and moving all over the United States made Emily interested in studying the experiences of military kids, and Emily’s previous career as a middle and high school English teacher made her interested in adolescent literacy practices. Her dissertation focuses on the role that literacy plays in the lived experiences of military-connected students, and how these students use literacy to “restory” their narratives. She has also worked on a number of research projects at Sweetland. Emily was involved in the longitudinal writing development study, and she co-authored one of the chapters of the forthcoming book Developing Writers. She helped develop the data layer, a repository of writing development study data, for the Book Unbound project. And she has worked extensively with the MWrite project, an initiative to incorporate more writing in large undergraduate gateway courses here at Michigan.

Supporting Graduate Student Writers

Supporting Graduate Student Writers

Graduate school poses challenges for writers as they shift from producing seminar papers to creating dissertations of several hundred pages. In collaboration with Rackham Graduate School, Sweetland offers several forms of support for graduate student writers, and the goal is to continually improve this support.

This past spring the Dissertation Writing Institute marked its fifteenth year.  Since Sweetland and Rackham began it in 2003, the DWI has provided offices, structure, and writing support to 24 fellows for 8 weeks each spring term.  Over 290 dissertation writers from a range of disciplines have participated in the Institute.  Co-directors Paul Barron and Louis Cicciarelli have worked to create a program that supports graduate student writers by building the routine and structure, as one fellow, said, “to get work done.”  Cicciarelli says “We’ve tried, since the DWI began, to listen to these writers and to encourage progress in their projects by providing a space and place to think and focus on writing.”

A more recent form of support for graduate students is the Dissertation Writing Group.  Approximately 50 graduate students are sorted into groups of four so that they can meet regularly in meetings facilitated by a more experienced peer. The group leaders receive ongoing support from Sweetland faculty members Louis Ciccarelli and Simone Sessolo as they convene these groups.  In order to provide additional support to participants in DWGs, Sweetland is about to launch a beta test of ECoach for graduate students.  This system was originally developed to provide personalized support to first-year students in large enrollment courses in fields like physics, chemistry, and statistics. As adapted for use with DWGs, ECoach will enable Sweetland faculty members to offer participants personalized assistance with dissertation writing practices, strategies for avoiding common pitfalls, and ways of developing a productive writing schedule.

The newest Sweetland/Rackham collaboration, Write-Together Sessions, began this fall. These Sessions provide graduate student writers with a common space to work on the second floor of Rackham, as well as morning beverages, snacks, lunch, on-site writing support, and the opportunity to write in the company of others.  Offered every other Friday from 9-1pm, the pilot run of Write -Together Sessions brings graduate student writers who may feel isolated into a shared working space to generate writing and connect with other writers.

2017 Fellows Seminar

The Fellows Seminar brings together Faculty (Senior Fellows) and graduate student instructors (Junior Fellows) from multiple disciplines who share a commitment to integrating writing into their courses. Fellows confer with local and national visiting speakers, learn ways of helping students become better writers, discuss concerns about teaching in the age of the internet, learn how to integrate writing in their courses, and examine approaches to incorporating writing across the disciplines. For more information visit the Senior Fellows or Junior Fellows pages on our website. Listen to our Topics in Writing podcast featuring Fellows Seminar visiting speakers.

Senior Fellows (Faculty)

Samar Ali (Near Eastern Studies)
Gary Beckman (Near Eastern Studies)
Anne Gere (Sweetland)
Elizabeth Goodenough (Residential College)
Shuwen Li (Sweetland)
Vilma Mesa (School of Education)
Sheila Murphy (Screen Arts & Cultures)

Junior Fellows (Grad Students)

Alena Aniskiewicz (Slavic Languages & Literature)
Christian Greenhill (Materials Science & Engineering)
Jacqueline Larios (History)
Lori Smithey (Architecture & Urban Planning)
Elizabeth Tinsley Johnson (Anthropology)

2016 Fellows Seminar – Junior & Senior Fellows

The Fellows Seminar brings together Faculty (Senior Fellows) and graduate student instructors (Junior Fellows) from multiple disciplines who share a commitment to integrating writing into their courses. Fellows confer with local and national visiting speakers, learn ways of helping students become better writers, discuss concerns about teaching in the age of the internet, learn how to integrate writing in their courses, and examine approaches to incorporating writing across the disciplines. For more information visit the Senior Fellows or Junior Fellows pages on our website. Listen to our Topics in Writing podcast featuring Fellows Seminar visiting speakers.

Senior Fellows (Faculty)

Anne Gere, Sweetland Center for Writing
Lori Randall, Sweetland Center for Writing
Larissa Sano, Sweetland Center for Writing
Ginger Shultz, Chemistry
Valerie Traub, English/Women’s Studies

Junior Fellows (Graduate Students)

Lindsay Ahalt Champion, Anthropology
Sheila Coursey, English Language & Literature
Mika Kennedy, English Language & Literature
Sarah Mass, History
Fabian Guy Neuner, Political Science
Christina Perry Sampson, Anthropology

Meet the New Graduate Student Research Assistants

emilyEmily Wilson was born in Hawaii and grew up in the Air Force, moving 18 times before coming to Ann Arbor. Her undergraduate degree is in elementary education, her master’s degree is in English literature and rhetoric, and she enjoyed teaching high school English for 11 wonderful years prior to pursuing her Ph.D. in English and Education here at Michigan. Emily is in the second year of her doctoral program, and her current research interest is helping military-connected students thrive in K-12 classrooms, particularly through literacy-based interventions. Her work as a graduate student research assistant at Sweetland has also piqued her interest in writing in STEM fields and the development and assessment of automated essay feedback programs. She has been married for over a decade to her college sweetheart, Tim, a multilingual vegan web consultant and part-time assistant pastor at their church.


Benjamin Keating is a doctoral candidate in U-M’s Joint Program in English and Education and a graduate student research assistant at the Sweetland Center for Writing. This is his final semester at Sweetland, where he has worked on a number of projects, including a multi-year longitudinal study of undergraduate writing development at U-M. In addition to his Sweetland work this semester, he is busy collecting data for his dissertation, which is an examination of peer review interaction in two college writing classrooms. His own research interests include peer review theory and practice, antiracist pedagogy, critical race and whiteness theory, language ideology, and discourse analysis.



Lizzie Hutton is now entering her sixth year in the JPEE program. Her dissertation explores the early inter-disciplinary career and context of the American reading theorist Louise Rosenblatt and retheorizes Rosenblatt’s constructs of transaction and stance for the post-secondary writing classroom. Lizzie’s interests include composition studies, literacy studies, reading studies, the transfer of knowledge, and creative writing, with a particular focus on poetry and poetics. This also marks Lizzie’s fourth year as a GSRA at the Sweetland Center for Writing, where, previous to her doctoral work, she was long-time faculty, teaching writing and literature courses at variety of levels.



Ryan McCarty is in his third year as a PhD student in the Joint Program in English and Education, and his second year as a GSRA at Sweetland. He has been continuing to gather data in his longitudinal study of bilingual students’ experiences with language and writing as they move from high school to college, and is increasingly interested in the ways that these students develop unique insights through their daily translational experiences. At Sweetland, Ryan has been part of the culmination of a large study of student writing development at the University of Michigan, which will result in a multi-authored book project. He is also helping to launch the pilot semester of a large cross-disciplinary study of writing to learn in the sciences.