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.