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Mellon Funds New Summer Dissertation Writing Program

May 10, 2017

The Graduate School has received a grant of $350,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund a three-year pilot project called the “Writing-in-residence Dissertation Working Group.”

Inspired by the success of “Dissertation Boot Camps” (all-day writing sessions with breaks for food and physical exercise), the new program will provide a setting and structure for graduate students in the humanities to work on their dissertations during the summer prior to the year in which they devote themselves full-time to dissertation writing. Each year, a group of fifteen students and two faculty mentors will be chosen for the ten-week program. Students and mentors will gather Monday through Friday during traditional working hours and have communal working lunches three times a week. Each participant will be given a $2,000 professional development grant to support research and conference travel in the following year.

We are immensely grateful to the Mellon Foundation for their support of this groundbreaking project, which draws on best practices from within and beyond the university,” said Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator for the grant.

The initiative aims to teach sustainable scholarly work habits and provide social motivation and feedback — benefits that can be hard to find at this crucial juncture in students’ dissertation work. Participation in the project will help students advance toward completing their degrees in a timely fashion and in a collegial setting. Because a successful academic career depends on the ability to write cogently, at length, and on challenging deadlines while managing additional professional responsibilities, this project will ultimately strengthen the professoriate and the culture of scholarship in the humanities. It will also encourage collaborative efforts, an increasingly important component of professional advancement in the humanities.

Each year, the group will include some clusters of students from the same department or closely related disciplines (national literature programs, for instance), to encourage a culture of collaborative work within programs over the long term while also giving students contact with peers outside their disciplines. An academic coaching service will provide on-going support to the faculty mentors, and a professional academic coach will meet with the full group for two day-long workshops, one at the beginning and one at the end of the program.

After the summer, students will be expected to run peer workshops in their own departments on sustainable work habits, with support from Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Faculty mentors, seasoned by their experience in the writing groups, will return to their own departments and model best practices for their colleagues.

The experience of writing steadily and in the intellectual company of one’s peers can establish strong writing habits for a life-time. We hope that these summer experiences will do just that,” says Amy Hungerford, dean of humanities.

Pamela Schirmeister, senior associate dean of the Graduate School, adds, “We are excited about the transformative possibilities of the workshops. Students will finish their dissertations more quickly, yes, but they will also develop work habits that will last through their careers.”

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