Doctoral students who have finished their course work, but not their dissertation have been given the inglorious tag of “All But Dissertation.” Although many doctoral students proudly add “ABD” to their signature, what those three letters signify is that more work needs to be done.
For many writers of dissertations, the process drags on and on. Even though the average time for finishing a degree is less than at any time over the last 20 years, some studies say that the average time-to-degree is 7.7 years. Actually, in a high percentage of disciplines, a ten-year completion rate is the norm. Along the way, many ABD’s become discouraged and never finish.
The percentage of those who “walk away empty-handed” is said to be more than 30 per cent.
What are the universities doing?
In the past, I’ve thought that graduate schools make little effort to reach out to ABD’s and offer too few opportunities where ABD students could get a toe-hold in their dissertation process.
But in some quarters there have been changes. Recently, Dissertation Boot Camps have blossomed on many university campuses. Dissertation Boot Camps profit primarily those ABD’s close to campus, but for those who attend, Boot Camps are a boon.
As recently as 3 or 4 years ago, only a handful of universities had a Writer’s Retreat or a Boot Camp. Currently, many schools post notices of Boot Camps and how a student can enroll. Among the many schools offering Boot Camps for ABD’s are Lehigh University, University of Delaware, Claremont Graduate University, and West Virginia University.
What do Boot Camps Offer?
Most Boot Camps offer a day or a weekend of distraction-free writing time. And just that one day or two days or writing time away from your usual demands and in the company of other writers can allow you to mentally retool and to produce text.
Some Boot Camps offer workshops as well as writing time.
The Writing Center at The Claremont Graduate University offers not only a Boot Camp, but a community. Posted on the CGU Writing Center’s website/blog are schedules for the semester’s Boot Camp and for a series of workshops geared toward writing the dissertation.
At some schools, Boot Camp is a week in length.
If you are a PhD candidate in Humanities or Social Science at West Virginia University, you may have hit the jackpot! The WVU Writing Center offers a Boot Camp from May 9 thru May 13. It meets from 10 am to 4 pm (with an hour off for lunch). Each of the 5 days has unstructured writing time, but each day also includes a presentation. The topics for the daily presentations include goal setting, balancing writing and researching, the proposal, the lit review, and intros/conclusions/abstracts.
This unique Boot Camp also offers workshopping. Workshopping gives you the opportunity to receive feedback from other participants on what you are writing.
How do I get in?
If you are a Ph.D. candidate at a university sponsoring a Boot Camp, most likely you are eligible, although a few Boot Camps stipulate the field.
Some Boot Camps have an application process in which, among other topics, students need to address their goals for the Boot Camp or retreat.
Some ask for a refundable payment of $50. Most are free, though in case of Boot Camps that run for more than a day, you will have the expense of overnight lodging. Often, the expense is modest.
At least one school has several sessions each academic term, but this is rare. Clearly those schools which offer several sessions a year serve the greatest number of students.
One school advertises that past participants can apply for another session. However, many schools have limited space, and so returning students aren’t encouraged.
I am puzzled by several announcements that I have seen. For example, in one case, four universities band together to offer a retreat for four participants from each of the four universities. It would appear that for those four schools a total of only sixteen doctoral students will have the chance for a retreat.
Boot Camp is a wonderful opportunity for you to be removed from your everyday distractions and to be able to focus on your writing. Many writers find being around others while they write is helpful. Occasionally you need the energy and companionship other writers can give you.
If you’re not on campus, not eligible to take a Boot Camp, or your university doesn’t offer a Boot Camp, what other resources or choices are available to you.
You can also enroll in my virtual Dissertation Boot Camp. Do you need accountability? A little low on hope? Or how about some help in forming your own writing group?
Watch this space for more information on my Dissertation Boot Camp / Writer’s Retreat.
I would love to hear about your experiences in finding a Boot Camp or participating in one.
Happy distraction-free writing!