Just me and my dissertation for 240 hours in a small, windowless office in the basement of North Quad, 9 a.m, to 3 p.m., 5 days a week. The first 8 weeks of summer. It sounded painful. Good for me, but painful—like running, reading Ulysses, or drinking carrot juice. And there were days that this was true; days when I was tired, had writer’s block, or when beautiful weather left me resentful of spending first half of my summer break stuck indoors. But, there were also days when it was productive, inspiring, exciting, and, dare I say, fun. 

Each Spring term, The Sweetland Writing Center’s Dissertation Writing Institute provides a group of late-stage Ph.D. students with the space, time, and funding to concentrate completely on their research. I applied for this opportunity because I was struggling to develop a productive work routine. I knew that my dissertation should be my central focus, but there was always something else that needed to be done—grading papers, attending meetings, planning new projects, reading the news, walking the dog, or watching the new season of Daredevil on Netflix. The Dissertation Writing Institute, affectionately referred to (by me) as Dissertation Bootcamp, gave me the chance to turn off all of that noise and immerse myself in my work. 

By the end of the writing institute, I had submitted three articles to academic journals (including two chapters of my dissertation), completed a draft of a third dissertation chapter, and finished the analyses for the fourth and final body chapter. To say I was productive is certainly an understatement and this alone is evidence enough for the excellence and effectiveness of this program. However, what’s more is that the writing institute reminded me that that my research on adolescent audiences and romantic relationships is valuable and important, that writing is a fun, dynamic process, and, most importantly, that I actually enjoy my work—a lot. I might even love it.

The institute also included consultations with a faculty mentor and participation in interdisciplinary writing groups. Meetings with my faculty mentor, Louis Cicciarelli, helped me take a step back and see the larger purpose and value of my work. Prof. Cicciarelli suggested strategies such as mapping with post-its (pictured) and setting small daily goals, and he encouraged me to own my work and find the voice in my writing. I will continue to use these strategies throughout my career. In the writing workshops, I loved helping my colleagues think through the structure and content of their writing, and I found their feedback on my work indispensible. In fact, I so valued these sessions that I am committed to incorporating more of these sorts of experiences into my regular work practice. 

At the end of the writing institute, beyond improving my CV and advancing my dissertation, I am recommitted to my research and writing, confident in my scholarship, and excited for my academic future. I managed to enjoy the nice weather a bit too (pictured).


Sarah Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Communication Studies. She plans to defend her dissertation, Teenage Dreams: Toward a Comprehensive Understanding of Adolescent Romantic Parasocial Attachments and Their Implications for Socialization, in early 2017.