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