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A Highly Recommended Workshop: Surviving Your Dissertation: Writing Groups and Other Survival Tools

December 1, 2016

As I enter the fifth year of my Ph.D. program and the dissertation writing stage, I keep wondering if I will finish my dissertation without sacrificing my sanity and my wellbeing. That is why, when I saw the title of the workshop “Surviving Your Dissertation: Writing Groups and Other Survival Tools,” co-sponsored by the Thompson Writing Studio and The Graduate School’s Professional Development Series and Teaching IDEAS Series, I signed up immediately.

To be honest, I arrived at the workshop with very low expectations. How many times have you bought a book with a title that promises to solve that specific problem that you are dealing with only to find that it does not help at all? I thought that I would be similarly disappointed by the workshop. To my surprise, I was wrong. I found the workshop to be helpful and relieving.

The workshop helped me in three specific ways. First, it provided practical advice on how to tackle each one of the different stages of the project such as planning, writing, researching, and organizing. It also helped me understand how these different stages may happen simultaneously or in a different order throughout the development of the process. Second, I learned about strategies that I can employ to face the difficulties of writing a long-term project like the dissertation. For example, creating writing groups, determining the time of the day I am most productive, and visiting the writing center to receive feedback on my writing are all strategies that can make the writing process easier. Third, the workshop made me realize that a dissertation is not a solitary endeavor but a collective one and that it is my responsibility to get the right people on board. The session offered advice on how to engage my advisor, committee members, and colleagues in my writing process.

The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Eliana Schonberg, director of the Thompson Writing Studio, and Dr. Margaret Swezey, associate director of the Thompson Writing Studio. In my opinion, they led the workshop from a place of compassion and sympathy. Dr. Schonberg and Dr. Swezey made me feel like they understand how hard it is to write a dissertation. Receiving that understanding was key for me at this stage. Similarly, it was helpful to sit in a room surrounded by many other dissertation writers who were feeling as lost and intimidated as I did.  The environment felt very supportive. We did not have to speak to each other, but the simple fact we were all there meant we were sharing in the same onerous experience.

I will probably attend this workshop again. I think that often it is necessary to listen to advice more than once to really integrate it in your daily life or as a habit. I highly recommend this workshop to everyone who is dealing with their dissertation right now and wondering whether they will survive this stage of graduate school.


Silvia Serrano

Ph.D. candidate, Romance Studies

Silvia Serrano is a Ph.D. candidate in Romance Studies. She specializes in nineteenth and twentieth century Latin American literatures and cultural studies with particular emphasis on Colombia. 

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