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A Life – Line: Dissertation Support Groups

Dissertation Support Groups (DSGs) are, perhaps, one of the most powerful resources available to candidates. Carefully constructed groups can provide much needed support as candidates navigate the challenges to dissertation completion. Along with providing a connection to others attempting to achieve the same feat, it provides a place to share the joys and frustrations of the writing process, and encourage group member’s transformation from student to independent researcher. DSGs can provide members a wide array of support and assistance. Among the many types of assistance DSGs can provide are: conceptual development, emotional support, networking, resource mining, technical and bureaucratic information sharing, time management and accountability, transitional guidance, and writing counsel. Each is discussed briefly.

Conceptual Development refers to the collective brainstorming that occurs in such groups when members are having difficulty wrapping their minds around their topic, their study, its methodology, etc. Peers can, oftentimes, ask more difficult and probing questions than professors. These questions can lead to alternate or complimentary lines of inquiry that opens up the mind of researchers and produces wonderful results.

Emotional Support is a key type of support DSGs offer. Writing the dissertation can often be a lonely, isolating, stressful time that has been known to lead to depression. Engaging in a DSG, with the opportunity to talk over the successes and failures of the dissertation writing process, can stem the tide of what has become known as “dissertation dropout.”

Networking/Job Support. DSGs can be the beginning of long-term research and/or friendship relationships that can lead to future research and employment opportunities. In addition, DSG members can share job and research leads, grant possibilities, and other career-oriented activities.

Resource Mining. Ideally, a DSG has members from a variety of disciplines with differing expertise. This means a DSG could have a methodologist, a clinician, a copywriter, an expert in Egyptology, an English candidate, and a person with multiple expertise. With this variety of knowledge and skills, DSG members can receive specific assistance to which non-DSG members do not have access.

Technical and Bureaucratic Information-Sharing refers to how a candidate maneuvers through the political or administrative dissertation process, handling diplomatic problems with committee members, or organizing competing interests in dissertations that cross subject lines. For example, I have had students who have conducted scientific dissertations that involved two and three different departments within a school. Of course, each department has its own idea as to what needs to be reported in the study. A DSG might allow such a candidate to find a way to meet the needs of all departments without increasing, to a great extent, the stress on the candidate.

Time Management and Accountability is another key support DSGs provide. Dissertation Support Groups have deadlines associated with their meetings that require candidates to complete portions of their dissertations for presentation to the rest of the group. Writing Counsel. Again, because DSGs often have an array of expertise in their memberships, it is quite possible for candidates to receive information about how best to communicate their study findings. In addition, DSGs force students to break down their writing into smaller, more manageable chunks that can make your writing tighter, stronger, and more concise.

Dissertation Support Groups can, indeed, provide candidates with an enormous amount of support that can help them successfully complete their dissertations. I do not normally talk about the role tutors can play in dissertations but this topic provides not only a good place to talk about this but also an ideal place to introduce the idea of dissertation coaching. Dissertation coaches/tutors can fulfill a unique role in DSGs. For example, a dissertation coach/tutor can be the administrative person for a DSG and thus be in charge of recruiting people into a DSG, managing the meetings (including setting up the meeting time and place), and disseminating information. In addition to tackling these roles, dissertation coaches/tutors can also provide specialized feedback (depending on their own experience and expertise).

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