Hesburgh Libraries’ Dissertation and Thesis Camp gives graduate students a leg up

by Tara O'Leary

Dozens of University of Notre Dame graduate students spent their spring break in the Hesburgh Library at camp — Dissertation and Thesis Camp, to be precise. The week-long immersion into advanced-level research and writing skill development is sponsored by the Hesburgh Libraries, the Graduate School and the University Writing Center.

Dissertation and Thesis Camp

Originally offered as a program to support the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE), the idea of an immersion camp quickly caught on with graduate students. In response to increasing demand, the first Graduate Dissertation and Thesis Camp was offered during spring break in 2011. Stories of success across academic disciplines have cemented the popularity of the camp, which is now offered every spring and fall break to graduate students.

“The Graduate School highlights professional development as a critically important aspect of training that enables graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to assume their careers fully prepared and with confidence,” said Laura A. Carlson, vice president and associate provost and dean of the Graduate School. “Our partnership with the Hesburgh Libraries is critical to ensuring that each student has the pathway and ongoing support required to develop advanced-level research skills during their time at Notre Dame.”

“The Graduate Dissertation and Thesis Camp is designed to assist students from across disciplines at every stage of their professional development,” said Mandy L. Havert, Graduate Outreach Services librarian. "Expert consultations in essential areas accelerate the research and writing process toward their degree or the completion of a large-scale project. Collaborative activity during the camp develops cross-disciplinary conversation skill. Most importantly, these skills and techniques further prepare our graduate students for successful careers outside of Notre Dame.”

The camp has many outcomes that benefit participants. Primarily it provides structured, uninterrupted research and writing time to build best practices for developing scholars. Studies show that a regular habit of writing, even in small blocks, results in productive, contributing members of academe. In addition to building a writing practice, participants learn strategies for goal setting, research management, stress management, wellness and more.

Students are also encouraged to build communities of practice with one another. Participants have a unique opportunity to engage with colleagues in their own and other graduate divisions to learn best practices from peers. These “communities of practice” evolve organically and keep students engaged in the camp process long after its conclusion.

“These writing camps help writers develop a clearer sense of their own best practices and build a healthy momentum that will see them successfully through their projects,” Matthew Capdevielle, director of the University Writing Center, said. “Participants often comment on the sense of community that the camps foster, a tangible feeling of camaraderie and collective enthusiasm. Participants know that they are not alone in this process, that they have the support of librarians, of Writing Center tutors and, most important of all, of one another in this warm and vibrant community of writers.”

Consultation opportunities are also an important part of camp. Consultants from the University Writing Center are available to read and respond to graduate students or talk about needs for the structure of their project. Likewise, subject area experts from the Libraries are available to consult on materials that might help fill in the research needs.

“I had a sizable project to accomplish before the end of the school year. The Graduate Dissertation and Thesis Camp provided numerous resources for increasing productivity through self-care, setting realistic goals and utilizing library resources and receiving feedback on writing. After the camp, I was able to continue the good writing habits I had developed. I submitted a much stronger written project than I would have otherwise. My conference paper went so well that a distinguished scholar in my field offered to help me revise my paper for publication. I could not have imagined a more successful conclusion to my project,” Mae Kilker, a graduate student in the Medieval Studies program, said.

“In keeping with its core mission of ‘connecting people to knowledge,’ the Libraries offer a vast array of resources, services and spaces to ensure the academic success of the graduate student and postdoctoral community. Dissertation and Thesis Camp is just one of many examples of how library expertise and advanced research services meet the ever-changing needs of Notre Dame students during their time here on campus and beyond,” said Diane Parr Walker, Edward H. Arnold University Librarian.

The Libraries are active partners on the Graduate School’s Professional Development Team and the Graduate Student Life Team to engage consistently with the graduate student population and other campus support organizations. For more information on the broad range of library services for graduate students, visit library.nd.edu/help/grads.shtml.

Contact: Mandy Havert, Hesburgh Libraries, 574-631-6189, mhavert@nd.edu