Grad students to attend dissertation ‘boot camp’

Instead of army fatigues and combat boots, Yale graduate students attending this weekend’s Dissertation Writing Boot Camp will need laptops and library books.

Twenty graduate students will undertake two rigorous days of writing at the first-ever retreat for students working on their dissertations. Far from the common perception of a traditional “boot camp,” this graduate school version will allow students — who have typically been in graduate school for at least five years — to devote time to writing the essays that will ultimately be the culmination of their work in the fields of study they have chosen.

The two-day boot camp, which will be held on two consecutive weekends, Feb. 3-4 and Feb. 10-11, will begin at 10 a.m. and, after 15 minutes of student-run exercises such as yoga, writers will get down to work on their dissertations. Throughout the day, power food for energy will be available, although students should be forewarned: There is no junk food allowed at boot camp.

“It’s not just snack time … it’s serious food for serious focus,” said Eben Rose, an academic writing fellow at the McDougal Center and a fifth-year graduate student in geology and geophysics, who came up with the idea for the boot camp.

Odwalla bars and Honest Tea will sustain the writers until a second exercise session, followed by dinner and an optional nighttime writing session. In addition to a quiet workspace and an endless supply of sustenance, the program will also provide peer reviewers, who will be on hand in the afternoon to go over writing done during the day. The reviewers are usually available to all graduate students through an ongoing program at the McDougal Center.

Kathryn Douglas, recruiting coordinator for Graduate Career Services, said she sees the camp as a “retreat opportunity” which provides students with a chance to work alongside peers and get a “jump-start” on their work.

Though this is the boot camp’s first year, the program is already receiving a great deal of interest: Sixteen of the 20 available spots have already been filled for this coming weekend, and 14 have been reserved for the following session. If the boot camp is deemed a success, Douglas said, the Graduate School will consider holding a longer one next year.

The dissertation writing process is often a daunting one, graduate students said, particularly because of the distractions of everyday life.

Valerie Thaler, a doctoral student in religious studies, first learned about the boot camp in an e-mail from the department. As a new mom and a seventh-year graduate student, Thaler said, she rarely finds time to devote to writing her dissertation, but because the boot camp is held during the weekend, it was possible for her to make arrangements to attend.

“It really helps to be in the company of other grad students,” Thaler said, “Writing is a lonely thing to do. I’m the only person who is writing in my family — it’s good to have other people who do the same thing you’re doing.”

The camp was modeled after similar programs held on other university campuses, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Rose said, but it was also designed to offer graduate students some of the services available to Yale undergraduates in their residential colleges.

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