How to land an #altac job at a university

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This past Saturday, I was a panelist at the “Beyond the Professoriate” web conference hosted by Jennifer Polk and Maren Wood. I participated in their higher education panel, where four of us talked about our experiences working in #altac positions still within the university. (Other panels focused on corporate jobs, non-profit or government jobs, and more for PhDs.) My fellow panelists offered some great advice, and there was an active Twitter backchannel throughout the day. If you’re interested in the conversation, you can search for the conference hashtag, #beyondprof, or check out the Storify feed that Jennifer put together after Saturday’s discussion.

I promised to blog about my talk. We only spoke briefly, about 10 minutes total, describing both our current positions and then offering advice from experience. I narrowed my time down to three main points for PhDs or EdDs who are interested in applying to alt-ac jobs within universities or colleges:

1. Work Your Network

Searches for these professional positions work quite differently than tenure track jobs. So, work your network just like you might have to for an industry position — both in order to hear about new postings and in applying and interviewing for them. Search job boards at schools all year round, not just during hiring season. Contact people you know within units to ask them about positions potentially opening up, or to find out more about the job once it has been posted. Ask them to put in a good word for you if you’ve applied, or ask faculty or others you might know at the university to put in a good word for you with the person in charge of the search. The hiring also works on a much shorter timeline than tenure track positions, so do your research early in the process and keep yourself fresh on the job and unit if you are called for an interview.

2. Show Them Your Vision

So, what kind of research should you be doing for these jobs? This is where the leg work for the position comes in. You may know that many alt-ac jobs are relatively new within universities, at least in the long history of higher education. This means that for many of the institutions you would be applying to, a particular position could be brand new, like mine was, or at least have a short history. You want to understand where the position fits into the structure of the unit (a specific college, the Graduate School, extension education, and so on). Who is the supervisor? What are the goals of the job, and how does that fit with the mission of the unit? Who has been in the job previously (f you can find out)? Search that person to find their expertise.

When you know the basics of the unit and the position, you are primed to do the most critical work in applying: show them your vision. In my case, the position of Director and Thesis and Dissertation Support Services was a brand new role. The Deans in the Graduate School knew they wanted to hire an expert in writing across the disciplines and genre theory who could offer writing instruction and support to graduate students across the university. They wrote the position and had it approved by the Provost, touting their vision for improving graduate degree completion for NC State.

However, they had very little insight into exactly how this mission could be executed. This is where I swung for the fences in my application and interview. In my cover letters, I wrote briefly about a vision for this brand new office and how I would use my research from my PhD to develop genre-based services for graduate students. This got my application noticed. For my interviews (I had three total), I assembled a complete package of my vision for Thesis and Dissertation Support Services: I mocked up a one year plan, complete with a list of seminars and workshops, each with their own learning outcomes; I included strategic planning such as meeting with Directors of Graduate Programs and college deans to learn about graduate student needs across the university; I developed a plan for a week-long Dissertation Institute for doctoral candidates (which I will actually be running next week!).

It was risky to spend so much time mocking up what the office would look like, but in the end, this showed the hiring committee that they could have confidence in hiring me because I had a vision for the building an office of graduate student support from scratch — something they didn’t know how to do but knew they needed to hire. I also demonstrated that I would need very little supervision to get the office off of the ground. This is key for many alt-ac positions at universities, as they tend to have very little day-to-day supervision (of course, depending on the unit). But overall you are expected to work independently, make sound decisions, and do work that overall contributes to the success of the unit without relying on approval from others.

The key with showing them your vision is that you make yourself valuable to the institution. Many deans or faculty in charge of hiring alt-ac positions have a hard time visualizing the jobs because they are much more familiar with the tenure track and adjunct faculty models. So, show them you can do the job by showing up with a plan.

Of course, if the job has previously existed, your research and visioning will look a little different. You may want to be a bit more conservative in your planning, as you’ll have an existing structure to work into. Learn as much as you can about the program or office; if you can’t answer basic questions about it in the interview, you’ve blown your changes. Know what you like about the job or programming, and know what might be some things you could advocate to do differently or add as new. Overall, your goal is to show you understand the role, fit into it, and can help them grow and be successful. Which brings me to my third point:

3. Understand the University

If you land an interview, and as well if you are offered the job, you have to understand what role your position plays in the larger university picture. You also have to understand how to manage the daily operations of your job. This requires research and a good bit of knowledge with certain processes within the university (some that you won’t discover until you start). For your interview, you should absolutely know the strategic plan and mission of the university, as this guides the work the units do on campus. How does your work contribute to that? Be able to speak to this in your interview. Don’t brag about your knowledge, but know for instance that your university is focusing on internationalization, so part of your job as Career Center Director might be increasing the university’s international internships (and put that in your visioning documents!).

You’ll also need to know things like where funding comes from and how it can be spend. For example, in North Carolina, state-funded institutions like NC State cannot spend state monies on food or beverages. In my case, the likelihood of my office getting a budget AT ALL was slim to none (and indeed, my budget this year was $0), so I talked about how I could build services that could help graduate more students while using no funds at all.

Don’t fret though: This is where your time spent doing a doctorate comes in. You’ve probably served on committees, attended functions across campus, and had other experiences where you’ve gleaned insight into the university. Especially if you are applying where you got your degree, put this information to good use! And if you’re still early in the process, know that taking on some of the opportunities that come your way are an important element of professional development if you are interested in pursuing alt-ac jobs.

Of course, these are just the three key points I focused on this past Saturday. There are plenty of great sites with alt-ac advice out there — perhaps that’s a good idea for a future aggregated links post! What other advice do you have for folks pursuing alt-ac opportunities in higher education? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Hunt Library Writer

Great links: All the best advice on dissertation writing in one post!

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Most of the search hits to my blog are related to finishing thesis and/or dissertation writing. There are many great authors and bloggers out there sharing great advice for dissertation writing (along with other graduate student issues, too). I thought it would be useful to aggregate what I think are some of the best pieces of advice out there, so that it could all be easily accessible in one place!

*Note: all links to external sites will open in a new tab or window.

Understanding the dissertation genre

Demystifying the Dissertation” blog post series from Inside Higher Education, written by Peg Boyle Single who has an excellent book by the same title

On the different types of literature reviews: “Not all literature reviews are the same,” via Pat Thomson, doctoral writing expert and book author

Six steps to writing a literature review by Tanya Golash-Boza

Writing your dissertation conclusion, Part 1 and Part 2, via Pat Thomson (two excellent posts on this difficult part of your dissertation!)

How long is the average dissertation? by Marcus Beck — scroll to the bottom of the post to see the average length in your field!

Writing tips and strategies

Using a spreadsheet to keep track of your writing progress via yours truly

How to deliberately practice your academic writing with some great advice on how focusing on verbs can help you improve your academic writing via The Thesis Whisperer blog

How I wrote my PhD thesis in 3 months by James Hayton

Top 10 Tips for Fast Thesis/Dissertation Writing by James Hayton

10 Ways You Can Write Every Day by Tanya Golash-Boza

A faculty member’s advice for finishing your dissertation via Claremont Graduate University’s Dissertation Bootcamp blog

Five time management ideas for part-time students, by part-time students via The Thesis Whisperer blog

Dissertations and baseball: You’ve got to “live to fight another day” from Jim Brown

Dealing with your committee

Are you on the same page as your supervisor? Some advice about how to talk to your chair and committee members about the type of writer you are and the feedback you need to success via The Thesis Whisperer blog

How to communicate effectively with your thesis supervisor by Dora Farkas

Dealing with negative face-to-face feedback from your committee – great tips for handling a difficult situation, via Pat Thomson

blogs dedicated to graduate student writing

The archives of these blogs are a treasure trove of information and advice for thesis and dissertation writers. Bookmark these and search them when you need to!

The Thesis Whisperer by Inger Mewbern

Patter by Pat Thomson (She’s currently [as of March 2014] writing about her book writing process – this is a fascinating series for anyone who is thinking of writing a book from their dissertation or after the diss process)

James Hayton (Formerly “The Three Month Thesis”) by James Hayton

Finish Your Thesis by Dora Farkas

Explorations of Style – A Blog about Academic Writing by Rachael Cayley

What’s missing?

Of course, this is just a selection of great posts and blogs that I have been saving over the past few months of developing Thesis and Dissertation Support Services. What other blogs or specific blog posts deserve to be listed here? Leave a comment, and I’ll update the list! In future posts, I’ll share my list of academic publications that are the most helpful for dissertation writers, graduate student job searching blog posts, and emerging resources for #alt-ac job seekers.

How to handle dissertation revisions from your committee

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In my last post, I talked about a key reason why dissertation writing is difficult for doctoral students. In this post, I’m going to address another challenging element to finishing your dissertation: handling committee revisions.

You never receive instruction in revising such a high-stakes document

One of the major elements of the dissertation that many students do not remain conscious of (or perhaps never fully think about) is that a dissertation is a highly negotiated document. From the very beginning of the project, its shape is determined by multiple players — you, the student, your chair, and your fellow committee members. Remember your proposal stage? Most likely, your initial idea for the project wasn’t the one that was approved, but instead, a revised version that you all collectively decided was the path to pursue. All along the way, you are writing and have this work reviewed by your chair, and potentially other committee members, and of course, you have the final revisions that come either right before or immediately following the defense, this time certainly coming from every member of your committee.

However, you never receive instruction in how to handle, negotiate, and complete revisions for your dissertation. Even if you took a writing course, this most likely wasn’t an element. And no part of your curriculum prepares you for this. Think about it — did you ever have to revise a final project for a graduate seminar based on feedback from four faculty members? Or in your undergraduate degree, did you ever even have to revise a paper at all? Probably not. But now, you are expected to tackle hundreds of comments and changes, from the most major revisions down to the deletion of an extra comma, and do so in a timely manner to graduate on time.

Tips for handling committee revision

So you are down to the wire before your dissertation defense (or maybe afterward, facing the final deadline for submitting your ETD) and you have to handle revisions from four committee members in your 150 page document. How do you do it? Here are my three key steps:

  1. Read ALL of the comments. Before you make a single change, read and understand what each committee member is saying. Don’t start with Committee Member #2’s comments and then move to the next one. What if do that, only to find that your chair has given you different advice than Committee Member #2? Assess ALL feedback first, looking for patterns and similarities between members. Write down the common comments (“The labels on your tables are unclear” or “Your discussion should include the connection between your data and current methods of practice”) and see if you can identify the big issues you should start with .
  2. Decide how to approach revisions that need you to make a choice. Sometimes, you will receive conflicting advice from committee members, or you may disagree with a committee member’s suggestion and want to keep something as you originally had it. These revisions require you to make an active decision about what you will do and how you will justify it. This is your work, so you get to make the decision — but you must be able to support it to your committee members. For example, you may choose to go with your chair’s advice for reordering your Results section instead of how another committee member has suggested. You must offer your committee an explanation of this choice. For example, you might say, “I’ve re-ordered with the temperature data reported first because this order is parallel to how I discuss the implications in the discussion section.” It does not have to be long (and shouldn’t be!) but it should be a justifiable explanation for why you have chosen it. This is a part of the intellectual work of a dissertation.
  3. Write out a prioritized task list for each and every revision you have to do. Always, always start with the “big picture” revisions, such as requests for more data, re-organizing a chapter, including additional literature, and so on. Make each item a separate task, things you can break down into 5-10 minute working chunks. Then, when you have 1 hour to tackle your revisions, you can accomplish up to 12 different tasks on your list! You could also enter your revisions into a spreadsheet if you find that easier than a written out list (and it might help you be more organized). Always end with minor details such as spelling, punctuation, labeling, and so on. These may be impacted by your “big picture” revisions (for example, if you have to delete a table, why did you bother correcting the label first?). You may be tempted to do the “easy” spell checking first, but it will save you more time in the end if you start with the big items.

When you are done, you can use your list or spreadsheet to tell your committee what revisions you made and include the justifications that you need to. This could easily be in an email body, with your dissertation as an attachment, or you could insert comments into your document as you go along.

Follow these steps to keep better track of your revisions and to help you accomplish them on time! What advice do you have for finalizing your dissertation revisions?

MacPhail’s “No-fail secret” to finishing your dissertation

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Yesterday, Chronicle Vitae published a quite good article on dissertation writing by Theresa MacPhail, titled, “The No-Fail Secret to Writing a Dissertation.” The secret:

Just sit down and write.

Now, to a certain point, she is entirely correct. I see many students who run analyses upon analyses of their data, read articles upon articles, and overall do many different tasks on their dissertation BUT write it. So yes, there comes a point (and it’s sooner rather than later) where you just have to sit down and write.

More specifically, she advocates writing every day, and for very good reason. MacPhail asserts,

“Writing is thinking. It takes time and it’s supposed to be challenging. The biggest mistake I’ve seen most graduate students make is to mythologize what I call ‘the moment of genius.’ Because writing is thinking, brilliant thoughts do not just appear on the page after long hours of arduous musing on a subject. In my experience, the best ideas almost always come about through the act of writing itself.”

Her article is very good, and I’d recommend that graduate students read it in its entirety for an important perspective on the hard work of writing and the importance of keeping your dissertation work “in your head” everyday, as I say it, because the ideas will come more easily when you make a daily date with your writing.

The only caveat I want to add to this is that there are very real obstacles for students undertaking a dissertation. A dissertation is an occluded genre for doctoral students–there is rarely any formal instruction for writing it, and they only take part in it once they are required to do so to graduate–which makes the idea of “sitting down and writing” difficult for those who do not know what they are sitting down to write. Much of this is disciplinary, as different fields tend toward different types of dissertations, and much of this is more local–doctoral advisors’ requirements for their students can widely differ, even within the same program at an institution.

This is a key reason why my office, Thesis and Dissertation Support Services, exists. There can be scholarly writing instruction for a dissertation, and this type of writing instruction can empower graduate students beyond the completion of a dissertation. If they can learn to recognize the patterns of argument and key features of work in their fields, they are also equipped to do the writing required of them in their research careers after they finish their doctoral degrees. A great example of this is John Swales’ “Create a Research Space” model for writing scientific research article introductions. At NC State, many of the dissertations in the sciences, and increasingly in other disciplines, are comprised of three or more stand alone research articles. While students can intuit some of the elements of a research article introduction from years of reading and perhaps a bit of writing, there is a lot of value in having a workshop and discussion about the CARS model, why the three moves exist, and how students can do them to fit into their own disciplinary conventions.

As a writing across the disciplines scholar whose research focuses on those in the sciences and engineering, I know that our work has value to graduate students and faculty across the institution. For example, I find that advisors intuitively know what makes for a good introduction, but they generally cannot articulate why. They tend to show students an article they feel does a good job and suggest that they emulate this, a strategy that is limited in its success because students are not learning why introductions are structured as they are (and they can get highly frustrated writing as novices trying to emulate seasoned experts). By just trying to emulate writers, students are not learning how to situate their work within a field and articulate its significance. But by providing instruction in this model, students in our workshops learn the how and the why–and now they can export this knowledge to their dissertations and research genres beyond, like grant proposals, conference presentations, and more.

We are making the implicit explicit for our doctoral students. And why not? It might be the only scholarly writing instructions students ever receive in graduate school.

So yes, to finish your dissertation, you must sit down and write. But when you have a stronger understanding of the genre expectations, history, and context, then you are more likely to be successful when you do. Seek out resources as you are developing your dissertation proposals to better understand the genre and the expectations. If you’re at NC State, come to our Thesis and Dissertation Support Services events. If you’re at another institution, follow me on Twitter: @makautry, and ask your faculty where you might find resources like this on your own campus.

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Resources for Graduate Students at N.C. State

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Are you using all of the resources available to you, like the fabulous Hunt Library?
Are you using all of the resources available to you, like the fabulous Hunt Library Graduate Student Commons?

This post is intended to aggregate and summarize the many resources available to graduate students at N.C. State. Often these units are spread across the university, and it can be hard to find them all. If I have missed something, leave a comment, and I’ll be sure to add it.

Academic & Professional Preparation

Thesis & Dissertation Support Services (TDSS)

Of course, I have to start with my own services. We offer scholarly writing instruction and best practices for graduate school to help students better understand the global process of writing a thesis or dissertation. We offer many seminars, workshops, and other resources for students, primarily focused on writing. These services are brand new for Fall 2013 and are constantly expanding. TDSS: We put the creation of scholarship within reach of students.

Preparing Future Leaders (PFL)

PFL offers evidence-based programs, support, and coaching that guide students through the best practices of leadership. This premier community exemplifies creative engagement, reflective practice, and multi-disciplinary collaboration through workshops, seminars, and longer certificate and fellowship programs for graduate students. Their offerings cover teaching, job applications, and planning for being a future faculty member. These are you go-to people for professional development!

Graduate Writing Center

The new (in fall 2013) Graduate Writing Center is open for all graduate students to bring non-exam related writing materials that they would like feedback on. Writing consultants are trained tutors who can help students in any discipline with writing at any stage, whether it’s an outline, first draft, or final draft. Make your appointment online today!

Library Research Workshops

The amazing folks at the NCSU Libraries offer a wide variety of research-related workshops for graduate students, including Writing Research Article Introductions, Searching Scholarly Databases, Publishing Smartly, and more! These are great particularly for newer graduate students to help you get acclimated to the expectations of a research career and the processes you will be doing constantly.

Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)

While technically a component of Preparing Future Leaders (above), RCR deserves its own mention for the importance of the programming that it runs. Their programming covers all elements of academic and research integrity, including data management, ethics, and more. If your assistantship or work is funded by an NSF or NIH grant, you will have to take the short course they developed in order to meet those funding agencies’ requirements.

Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD)

The Graduate School’s IMSD grant program helps to support and fund diversity in graduate school, specifically for students in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. Through this program, students can apply for additional need-based funding for their degree and other retention programs for diverse students in these fields.

University Graduate Student Association (UGSA)

The UGSA is an important resource for graduate students at N.C. State. Part of your student fees go toward supporting this organization, which in turns provides programming and opportunities. They offer competitive travel awards to help fund conference attendance and co-sponsor the annual Research Symposium where you can try your hand at presenting your research at a local conference. Follow them on Twitter, Like them on Facebook, and watch for their newsletter, PawPrints, to keep you up to date on the opportunities they have for you.

Health & Well Being

Counseling Center

Life in grad school can be overwhelming at times. NCSU has a great Counseling Center that is open to all graduate students (for free!) to talk about any issues you would like to discuss. They also frequently offer group sessions, some of which are highly relevant to graduate students, such as “The Perfection Trap.”

Carmichael Gym

Your student fees include membership to the gym! Now that I’m no longer a student, I regret not taking advantage of this more than a few swim sessions and tennis matches. They offers tons of group classes and have great facilities. There’s nothing like a good workout to help mitigate the stress of grad school!

ARTS NC State

In my opinion, getting a graduate education isn’t just about the coursework and research, but it’s also about culture. ARTS NC State has a wide variety of events and shows both on campus and throughout Raleigh. Whatever your preference — music, fashion, theater, art — there are events for you!

As you can see, there is a wide variety of resources available to graduate students here at N.C. State. I hope you can take advantage of many of them while you are here!

Need to finish your dissertation? Protect your time!

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With the start of school less than two weeks away here at N.C. State, I’m getting ready to kick off our new programming here at Thesis and Dissertation Support Services. Part of the services will include blog posts all about the global process of writing a thesis or dissertation, our events, and other graduate school-related issues. Today’s post is geared toward students writing their dissertation and a common obstacle for many doctoral students.

Protect your time

A few days ago, I tweeted: “An important lesson for #diss writers: Protect your time. Others don’t care if you finish. But it matters if you do!” The tweet quickly received some retweets/replies and seemed to resonate with folks, and rightly so. Time is one of the greatest challenges for doctoral students. There’s never enough of it with everything that competes for your time (lab work, more articles to read, extracurriculars, family, teaching, conferences–the list is long and different for everyone).

So how do you finish? Protect your time. Easy to say, but harder to do. Completing your degree is more important to you than anyone else. That is, others will ask you for your time, need you to do things, assume you have some availability, etc. They won’t first think: “Well, so-and-so needs to finish her dissertation.” That will NEVER happen.

People will always be asking you do things. You will always need to do many things. But you need to put your dissertation first. A dissertation requires many hours. One dissertation guide (Foss & Waters’ Destination Dissertation, 2007) estimates 1,078 hours. That’s nearly 7 months of working at it full time (40 hours/week). Not many doctoral students can dedicate that much time a week for a dissertation. At 10 hours/week, that means it would take over 2 years to complete the diss. Maybe you’re aiming somewhere in between? Then you need to find about 20 hours per week to work on your dissertation. Between lab time, teaching, department meetings, and job applications–20 hours can be hard to find.

Or can they? The key is not to have to FIND time. The key is to PROTECT your time so that you always have 20 hours per week (at least) available to work on your dissertation. Here are some strategies for doing this:

Schedule out your working hours for the week, including dissertation time. Twenty hours per week is 4 hours each weekday. One strategy would be to block off all your mornings each weekday for dissertation writing. 8am-12pm = dissertation time (or whatever chunk of time works best for you. Know when you work best!). Block it off in your Google Calendar. Close your email. Turn off Gchat. Be dressed, have coffee in hand, and ready to go at 8am. Work until noon (with bathroom, snack, stretch breaks, of course). Don’t commute to school during this time. Don’t meet a friend for coffee. Use all four hours. Do this every day you have it scheduled, and you will be incredibly productive! Having a habit means you’ll be ready to write when it’s time. No “waiting for inspiration.” No one has ever finished a dissertation using the working method of “waiting for inspiration.”

Dissertation time is for nothing else. Block off your calendar every weekday from 8am-noon from now until Christmas. And stick to it. Meetings, student conferences, fun time, anything else that you have to do must be scheduled outside of your dissertation working time. Do not give in! Don’t attend that job talk at 9:30 am in your department. That’s your dissertation time. Don’t meet with a student at 10am. That’s your dissertation time. This is what it means to protect your time. Other people will not know it is your dissertation time. You do. Ask for meetings in the afternoon. Schedule office hours in the afternoon. Whatever it takes!

People will understand when you tell them. They know it’s your job to finish your dissertation! But there’s no way for them to know your schedule. So when something comes up at 10am, just decline with a friendly note that you have a dissertation session that day and time. It is your right to do this. It is your job to finish your dissertation. Stick up for yourself! Protect your time. No one else will do this for you.

Occasionally things will come up. That’s OK. But making exceptions to your M-F, 8am-noon working schedule (or whatever hours you’ve chosen) should be an absolute exception and not the norm. You might have a Skype interview and the faculty can only do it in during your dissertation session. That’s OK. But then you need to make up for the time that’s lost: where can you get back the 2 hours that you were doing other things? Add it in somewhere else, even if that means turning something down in a generally open time. Dissertation time comes first.

Weekends will be nice rewards–or bonus working time. If you put in all your 20 hours during the week, weekends can be a restful, relaxing time without worrying about making progress on your dissertation, because you’ve done that all week! The end of your degree can be a stressful time as a graduate student: finishing a diss, applying to jobs, teaching, caring for family, etc. So it’s important to take care of yourself and give yourself a break, such as on the weekends (or even just on one weekend day). Alternatively, if you’ve gotten on a roll during the week and want to do more, then weekends become bonus time where you get additional work done (and possibly finish your dissertation sooner).

Now, I realize these suggestions (or at the very least, the example of 20 hours per week) probably work best for full time students. Part time students who work a different job full time may have fewer hours each week to work on their dissertations, but the concept of protecting your time still applies. Maybe even more so. The time that you do get for dissertation work, even if only 1 hour per night and a few hours on the weekend, becomes critical for you to use and to protect. Carve out that time on your Google calendar, and apply the same ideas: protect the time. Only very rarely allow exceptions. And make up for lost time when you do.

Protect your time and you will have the time to finish your dissertation. That’s your number one goal as a doctoral student, so why let other things derail that progress?

What strategies do you use for finding time–making time–to complete your dissertation? Share in the comments!

TDSS Timeline

What are “Thesis and Dissertation Support Services?”

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My new role in the Graduate School at N.C. State is as Director of Thesis and Dissertation Support Services. What exactly does that mean? In this post, I will explain the university’s reasoning for developing such a position and the general direction of the work that I’m starting to do.

The idea of thesis and dissertation support professionals is not new in higher education, but these positions are more common in Europe and Australia than they are in the United States. In doing research for my application, I found many Writing Centers that incorporated support for students writing their theses and dissertations, but I had a hard time finding people who were solely dedicated to these two genres. The University of Michigan’s Louis Ciccarelli runs their Dissertation Writing Institute, which he talked about at this year’s CCCC. But otherwise, what I mostly found are Writing Center professionals who run similar concepts of a dissertation retreat or “bootcamp” and sometimes other workshops targeting doctoral students.

At N.C. State and other research institutions around the country, we are gearing up our focus on graduate education, and particularly doctoral education. This is a multi-pronged effort for graduate student success, and my new position plays a key role in this focus. In proposing the position, they envisioned a writing scholar specializing in writing across the disciplines who could “make explicit the implicit expectations of theses and dissertations” (Lovitts, 2007). Since our institution specializes in the sciences and engineering fields, they were looking in particular for someone who understands writing in the empirical sciences and the key genre, the scientific research article, as an increasing number of dissertations in the sciences are now composed of several publishable (or already published) journal articles.

Their argument is pretty simple: in graduate education, especially doctoral education, there is a great need for the complementary services of a writing professional to help students better understand writing in the academy, and especially writing a dissertation. There is a lot of research that shows how the expectations of the genre can be unclear to graduate students (and even to the faculty directing the dissertations) (Paltridge, 2002; Lovitts, 2007; Gustavii, 2012). Additionally, rarely do graduate students get extensive writing training in their coursework, and advisors increasingly lament the quality of graduate student writing (Lovitts, 2007), but not all faculty feel well-equipped to provide the support they see their students needing. With the hectic schedules of faculty at doctoral-granting institutions, even if they wanted to spend more time helping their graduate students understand academic writing, it’s just not feasible.

This is where my new position steps in to complement the advisory and mentoring roles of faculty members at N.C. State. My services are cross-disciplinary, helping students in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and engineering to understand the genre of the dissertation and to make clear to them the support structures that are in place for graduate students here at the university. I am spending this summer developing the ideas for a variety of workshops that will help advance students’ work on completing their theses and dissertations and developing partnerships with appropriate departments and centers across campus.

Of course, I am by no means reinventing the wheel: writings center, individual programs, departments, and other university units across the country offer a variety of graduate student support for dissertation writing. But what is new about my position is the goal to serve as a central resource for all of the services that are offered across campus. So, in addition to doing research on graduate student writing, dissertations, and doctoral education in general, I’m also spending a lot of time learning the campus and what individual programs are doing to support their students.

Did I miss anyone in my research for this position? If you are a fellow “dissertation support professional,” I would love to hear about your position and the kind of work that you do. And if you’re a graduate student, I’d be interested to hear about the support available to you as a dissertating student, or what support you think would be helpful to you in the process. And especially if you’re at N.C. State, I’d love to hear from you and meet you some time! Drop me a line at: makittle [at] ncsu [dot] edu.