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.

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