Friday, May 20, 2016

Write Place, Write Time

The Thesis and Dissertation office has received some queries about our Write Place, Write Time office sponsored writing group (click here for a short article on the group courtesy of NIU Today). I thought that it might be beneficial to use this week's blog to explain the writing group in a little more detail.

Once a month -- the second Thursday of every month to be exact, from 6pm to 9pm -- our office has reserved a space -- the Dissertation room located on the fourth floor of Founder's Library  -- for graduate students to sit in a quiet space and write their thesis or dissertation. I emphasize write because that is the primary purpose of the group.

I am a non-traditional graduate student with an overloaded schedule comprised of family and work obligations. As a consequence, it is difficult for me to find the time -- not to mention a quiet space -- at home to write. When I do manage to eke out an hour here or there, it is not uncommon for outside distractions to find their way into my head -- I am thinking about making school lunches for the next day, errands I have to run, chores that need to be finished, bills that have to be paid, etc. All of the sudden, those become my primary focus and no writing gets done.

The beauty about Write Place, Write Time is that there are no outside distractions. I let my kids know well in advance that on the second Thursday of every month there will be a three hour period when they will not be able to get in touch with me because I need that time to work. I don't use these three hours for research, data analysis, or worrying about how to format my dissertation according to the office guidelines. I just focus on writing.

Once I walk into the room, I set down my bags and turn off my phone -- well, I silence the ringer because I have kids and I need to be reachable in case of an emergency, but I place it on the table screen down so that I am not easily distracted. I write my rough drafts out by hand, so the next thing I do is take out my composition book and a pencil. I devote the first ten to fifteen minutes to reviewing content that I have already written, taking the time to do minimal proofreading, but mostly this is to remind myself where I left off. Before coming into the room, I've done my reading, I've made notes on relevant research, and most importantly, I know what comes next in the chapter. When necessary, I make sure that all of my notes and primary texts are spread out in front of me for quick and easy reference. Once all of that is taken care of, I start writing.

Within the first twenty minutes, I am composing new material for whatever chapter on which I am working. I work hard for an hour and break for a quick snack or dinner -- there are no fridges in the room and since I have a pretty strict diet, I typically pack something in tupperware for a quick meal. After a twenty minute dinner break, I write for another hour or so, and then I use the remaining time to go over all of the new material before packing up and calling it a night. Thus far, there have only been two sessions of Write Place, Write Time and I've managed to write one new chapter and finish revising a second. And these are not perfect chapters. Far from it. They are horrible first drafts that I know are in dire need of future correction. The important thing is: they are done. By the way, I should mention that if you have a chapter written but need the time to do a rewrite after corrections suggested by your committee, Write Place, Write Time is the ideal venue.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I do my best to be courteous. This means that I make the time to acknowledge everyone else in the room. However, we are all there to write. This means that socializing is not the priority. This is the unspoken agreement. If I do need to speak with someone in depth about something, we step out, go downstairs to the basement of the library, and grab a coffee -- yes, there is a coffee bar in the library if you need some late night caffeine, though I am not sure how late they are open. Even then I keep it to a minimum because I set aside time in my unbelievably busy schedule to write. I will not get this opportunity again -- at least, not until the next meeting.

Even though office staff participates in these writing group sessions, we aren't really there to help with questions about forms, thesis guidelines, or concerns about how to suppress a page number or set up Tables and Figures -- watch for upcoming presentations and workshops on these topics -- or to proofread people's work -- feel free to drop by Adams Hall, room 104 during office hours as we will be open all summer. If a question does come up, we will do our best to answer it; however, our task is to help keep everyone on task by ensuring a distraction free zone.

Anecdotal evidence and statistical data reflect that the most common reason many graduate students do not complete their graduate program is: they never found the time to write their thesis or dissertation. Write Place, Write Time has been set up to try to alleviate this problem. We want you to succeed as much as you want to succeed.

If you're still not sure if Write Place, Write Time is for you, please feel free to raise your concerns on our Facebook group page; send an email to the office; post a comment on this blog; better yet, drop in during the next session -- we meet on June 9.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Demystifying the UWC's "Dissertate in Eight" Program

As you know, Project Thesis NIU aims to keep you informed of updated and valuable information relating to all aspects of theses and dissertations. You may also know that we occasionally invite guest bloggers to contribute to Project Thesis on topics relevant to graduate students today. 

So today, we are happy to present you with a guest blog written by Gail Jacky, director of NIU’s University Writing Center. Please read her post below about a great summer opportunity, “Dissertate in Eight,” the UWC’s “Boot Camp” for Thesis and Dissertation Writers.

Pick a topic, write a proposal, defend the proposal, conduct the research, write up the findings, discuss the findings, defend the dissertation/thesis, format the dissertation/thesis, submit the dissertation/thesis to the Graduate School, and glide/stomp across the stage for hooding. How challenging can that be??????? Well, just as Dorothy and her friends ventured off to the Emerald City with trepidation, “Lions and tigers and bears – Oh My!,” the journey toward completion of a dissertation/thesis can also be fraught with unknowns and, yes, sometimes even a little fear.

Stevenson Towers B is Shown at Left
If you are seeking a way to demystify – okay, some would say “survive” – that process, please join the staff of the University Writing Center (UWC - Stevenson Towers B) for the 7th annual Dissertate in Eight boot camp June 15 to August 3, 2016. 

From 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. each Wednesday afternoon, speakers present some facet of the dissertation/thesis process per the following schedule:
  • Navigating the dissertation/thesis journey (6/15)
  • Determining what a dissertation/thesis looks like (6/22)
  • Understanding conflict resolution/negotiation strategies (6/29)
  • Employing graphics in your document (7/06)
  • Employing quantitative and/or qualitative methodologies (7/13)
  • Incorporating sources and maintaining your voice (7/20)
  • Meeting the Graduate School reader (7/27)
  • Preparing for the defense (8/3)

The discussions are conducted by the UWC staff and/or individuals who have completed their dissertations within the past academic year. The premise being – they made it, so can you!

Participants generally also take advantage of the rest of Wednesday afternoon, and sometimes the mornings as well, by working independently, connecting with the other participants, or scheduling sessions with the UWC writing coaches to discuss their ideas, organization, coding, etc. – you choose the focus, we provide the support.

Participants also often seek feedback on their writing and/or help finding sources. The UWC coaches love working with writers and are great sounding boards and resources. Many of this summer’s coaches are currently writing their own dissertations, so they can definitely support, and probably commiserate with, you.

Registration is required, and because of the size of the room the number of participants is limited to 30. The registration link is found on the UWC website . Applications are due by June 1. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at or 815-753-6336. I am the person behind the curtain, and I am ready to help you!

If you cannot attend the boot camp, you are always welcome to use the UWC services at other times: summer hours are M-Th, 9 to 4:30.