Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will offer a summer Writing-in-Residence Dissertation Workshop during the next three summers to strengthen the thesis writing of 15 selected graduate students each year, and to foster cross-disciplinary community.
Last month the Graduate School received a $350,000 Mellon grant to offer the 10-week summer workshop, which is accepting applications from advanced Ph.D. students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences until April 12. In the academic year following the summer program, each participant will receive mentorship and access to a $2,000 professional development fund for research and conference travel.
“The idea is simple,” Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley wrote in a March 29 email announcing the program. “These writing groups seek to develop students’ skills as writers and as managers of long-term academic projects while, at the same time, counteracting the isolating work practices typical of traditional humanities scholarship.”
Participants in the program — which runs from early June through mid-August — will gather daily with a senior faculty mentor to work on their dissertations, attend weekly meetings to share their progress and participate in various professional development activities.
The writing groups will be led by two faculty mentors and will be held Monday through Friday during workday hours.
Senior Associate Dean and Dean of Strategic Initiatives at the Graduate School Pamela Schirmeister said that the program is essentially an extension of the Graduate Writing Laboratory’s shorter Dissertation Boot Camps, which have run for nearly a decade and provided students with structured time and space to write their dissertations.
The Graduate Writing Lab started offering Dissertation Boot Camps in 2007, and since then has regularly offered between eight and 10 full days of writing retreats and 12 to 15 short, three-hour writing retreats every year, supplementing writing time with workshops, consultations, meditations and icebreakers, said Director of the Graduate Writing Laboratory Elena Kallestinova. She added that high demand among graduate students usually results in long waiting lists for these retreats.
Schirmeister noted that a longer program promotes long-term behavioral changes and promises longer-term cultural change. She added that the boot camps provided structured writing time with no distractions, something especially important for students writing their dissertations.
“There is anxiety, mystique, misunderstanding and lack of clarity about the writing process, particularly when the product is long, like a dissertation,” Schirmeister said. “Writing is neither mysterious nor magical, but it is something that can be easily disrupted. It is hard to write a paragraph, let alone a dissertation, if you have to check your phone every five minutes.”
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler said the Mellon grant proposal process began in the summer of 2015, and she learned at the beginning of this semester that the Graduate School was likely to receive it. The grant was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a private foundation that helps fund the arts and humanities.
“We are hopeful that we will have a full complement of interested students this summer, and that they will have a productive and collegial summer of writing,” Gendler said.
The program aims to give graduate students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences the opportunity to work on their dissertations in communal spaces and to further sustainable work habits that they will share with other students in and beyond their own departments through presentations, Gendler said.
Behavior like phone-checking gets in the way of regular writing, and the writing-in-residence program requires students to focus on their writing in a way that makes it a “sustainable habit” in the face of distraction, Schirmeister said. She added that according to a Deloitte study, Americans across all age groups check their phones an average of 46 times a day, and she said she suspects this number is probably higher for people engaged in stressful writing projects.
“Participants will be expected to offer a workshop in their own department on sustainable writing practices, so the lessons learned in the program will be folded back into departmental culture,” Schirmeister said.
Students planning to begin their dissertation fellowship or take the second term of their dissertation fellowship in fall 2017, as well as those planning to begin their fellowship in spring 2018, are eligible for this summer’s workshop. The selection committee will notify applicants by the end of April, according to Cooley.
“The new summer workshop will be a wonderful opportunity for graduate students to jump-start their dissertation writing with mentoring from faculty and in the company of students in a range of humanistic disciplines,” Cooley said. “The experience is designed to enhance Yale’s cross-disciplinary community and provide valuable professional support.”