2012 MI-AGEP Dissertation Writing Retreat

The 2012 Michigan Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (MI-AGEP) Dissertation Writing Retreat, held from May 21 to May 24 at the Kellogg Biological Station and Conference Center at Gull Lake, was a great success. For the third year in a row, a total of sixteen students attended from four participating universities: Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Wayne State. The students were in the STEM fields, which include Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or the SBE fields, which include the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. MI-AGEP is a National Science Foundation grant. For the third year, the four day event featured Dr. Wendy Carter-Veale, nationally known facilitator.

Dr. Carter-Veale has master’s degrees from Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University and an M.S. and Ph.D. from University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She is affiliated with University of Maryland- Baltimore County.

While receiving these degrees and raising her daughter, Dr. Carter-Veale experienced many of the problems that all graduate students face: time management issues, family/life/school balance, learning how to network and work with her committee and other contacts, and many other challenges. Research, along with her own experience, showed Dr. Carter-Veale that 50% of all students drop out of graduate school and 17% drop out during the thesis and the dissertation phase. In response to this disturbing statistic, she developed an interactive motivating tutorial designed to eliminate the high attrition rate among graduate students. She produced a powerful presentation that not only inspires students, but gives them workable solutions to their own educational predicaments.

The Kellogg Biological Station and Conference Center is located right on the shores of beautiful Gull Lake and has extensive grounds with gardens as well as self-contained dorms and cafeteria. As in years past, students found the setting to be relaxing and the retreat to be very helpful with their progress to dissertation completion.  They began by charting out a course of action and then learned techniques to stay on that plan even in the face of “real life,” which always seems to intrude on the process. These Ph.D. students kept to a rigorous and very structured timeline, which included mini-workshops and one-on-one hour long meetings held by Dr. Carter-Veale, and many hours spent working on their plan for their dissertation, or actually writing their dissertation itself. The appeal of the Dissertation Writing Retreat is that it offers structured writing time, along with consultations on problem areas, for students who are often pulled in many directions from jobs, families and school responsibilities.

Dr. Carter-Veale says, “A good dissertation is a done dissertation,” and that is a truth that she constantly reiterates to participants in her workshops. Another exercise she promotes is getting the “elevator speech” down pat. This involves distilling one’s thesis into a short, succinct, two minute speech for when one might have to impress a future professor or hiring unit with one’s scholarship, or when speaking to the media. This, along with many other motivating tips from Dr. Carter-Veale, helped bring the attending students further along in their dissertation completion in four days than they might have in four months of working on their own.

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