Archive for the ‘higher education’ Category

Are you interested in careers that might not be in academia?

Have you found it hard to find people in the academic environment who know about other careers?

Just a few days ago I learned from a dissertation coaching client of a great service that may interest you.

The Versatile PhD is a free online service for both ABD’s and PhD’s who are interested in learning about careers outside academia. Versatility is the key concept of The Versatile PhD.  The organizers recognize that you have “the ability to apply your skills and interests in a wide variety of fields.”

This site provides an arena for you to investigate possibilities and to think of the many choices available to you.

 The contributors are generous with their ideas and experience and provide information that you can use. You will find career panels that run for a week, announcements of events, discussion groups, job postings, career stories, and resumes. The website is full of interesting materials. For instance, you will find a store—actually a bookstore with section titles such as

–Books to help you chart a new course in your career

–Books to help you understand the non-academic job search process and navigate it successfully

–Books about The Academy

–Stuff for Scientists

The Versatile PhD started as a small community, and it’s been growing. Now many universities subscribe to the premium area. In fact, the subscription fees from universities pay for the open area, which you are welcome to join for free. Later this year, the premium area may be open to individuals.

If you have had experience with The Versatile PhD or if you’ve been looking for a community like this, I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,


Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

Read Full Post »

I’m curious how you learned the conventions you are to use, the voice you should use, the way to argue within your field, or, if you’re learning as you go, now, as you write your dissertation.

If you were at a U.S. university as an undergraduate, you may not have been writing exclusively in your major course of study until late in your 2nd or even until your 3rd year of school.  By then, had you learned a bit of flexibility by writing in different discourses for your required courses? 

Had you been writing as an art historian one night and the next night as a psychologist?  Did that give you insight into what writing conventions are important in each field?

And as you specialized more and more in  your own field, did you become clearer about your field’s discourse or writing conventions?

The New York Times (9.6.2009) asks several professors to give advice to students entering college this year. 

Stanley Fish advises students to “take a composition course even if they have tested out of it.”  He says, “I have taught many students whose SAT scores exempted them from the writing requirement, but a disheartening number of them couldn’t write.”

Gerald Graff,  the past president of the Modern Language Association, tells students how to write an argument, seemingly without the help of a writing class or instructor.  

Since it’s a little late for those of you who are writing dissertations to take a writing class, Graff’s suggestions on how to take what you know and transform it into an argument might be helpful and definitely would have helped me early on in my student career.

He says: 
1. Recognize that knowing a lot of stuff won’t do you much good unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument.

2. Pay close attention to what others are saying and writing and then summarize their arguments and assumptions in a recognizable way. Work especially on summarizing the views that go most against your own.

3. As you summarize, look not only for the thesis of an argument, but for who or what provoked it — the points of controversy.

4. Use these summaries to motivate what you say and to indicate why it needs saying. Don’t be afraid to give your own opinion, especially if you can back it up with reasons and evidence, but don’t disagree with anything without carefully summarizing it first.

Even as the writer of a dissertation, it’s great to remind yourself that you know a lot of stuff.  It’s easy to forget that. 

Also don’t forget that there’s usually a reason for the writing requirements you run into for your dissertation.  Remember that the literature review creates a context for your methodology and findings or for your argument.

As you write your dissertation, your field’s required structure and discourse conventions give you a great clothesline where you can hang your ideas.

Warm regards,


Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach


Read Full Post »

Dissertation writers are largely self-taught academic writers, and the learning process can be a bold and daring adventure.

Over the years many of my dissertation coaching clients talk about the challenges in writing academic discourse.  Academic writing is its own special discourse, with its own particular conventions. My dissertation coaching clients largely learn this discourse by doing.

What they are asked to do and the way they feel their way along, trying to put into practice what they think they’re being asked to do, is not unlike underprepared students in their first year or years of college.

Professors and instructors in composition and rhetoric fields are familiar with David Bartholomae’s article “Inventing the University.” Bartholomae defines how beginning college writers must act as if they know what they’re doing, even if they don’t.

The article opens in this way: “Every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to invent the university for the occasion–  .  .  . or a branch of it, like History or Anthropology or Economics or English. He has to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community.” 

Bartholomae says that students can’t wait to write academic discourse until after they have learned more or can write comfortably: “they must dare to speak it, or to carry off the bluff, since speaking and writing will most certainly be required long before the skill is ‘learned.’”

Likewise, my dissertation coaching clients have to boldly write and rewrite. Dare to write.

Dare to carry off the bluff.

Warm regards,


Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach


Read Full Post »

 When and how do we acquire the skills, voice, critical perspectives, and confidence needed for successful writing?   Specifically to write successfully a dissertation and, for that matter, the book that follows the dissertation?

Years ago as a first-year college student, I tested out of composition class, but all students at my university were required to take at least one semester of writing, so I took an advanced writing class.  It’s possible that I may have been required to write an argument, but I don’t remember any such formal assignment.  Maybe I’ve conveniently forgotten it since it would have been a painful process for me.  I came to the university understanding only vaguely what would be required in the demanding, competitive world of a good, large university.  

I think I was a decent writer at that time, but not very analytical.  I had a lot to learn. 

I recall a few assignments from that class–two had to do with describing a place.  I suppose I remember those assignments because it was the kind of writing that I had always enjoyed, but I wonder if in that class I was ever assigned to do something I didn’t already  know how to do, something that would help me write an extended argument.

Throughout my undergraduate years, I never felt confident as a writer, and years later, when I was ready to write my master’s thesis, I recall being very unsure about what I was supposed to do.  And that feeling was magnified even more by the time I began my dissertation.

I remember being afraid, but my strengths of curiosity, love of learning, and perseverance were helpful… at times…when I remembered to call on them.

Student writers in undergraduate school and graduate  school, dissertators, academicians, and professional writers all need to know how to use different rhetorical strategies and how to write in specific discourses.

Learning those skills is hard work, and teaching those skills and the type of writing in which those skills are learned is a bear, especially in terms of the paper load.

Is it a student’s responsibility to teach herself?  Maybe, but when is she or he told that it’s her job or how does she pick up on the cues of what kind of writing will serve her best?

How did you become a good writer?  I’d love to hear from you!

Warm regards,
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach


Read Full Post »

Just in time for the first day of classes at many universities, we’re reminded of one of the less admirable aspects of higher education.   

Purdue University’s women’s basketball team has been placed on probation for two years because an assistant coach committed academic fraud by helping a student write a term paper.  In emails sent to the student, the assistant coach implicated herself in far more than just “helping.”  She told the student, “Be sure you reread the paper and make it sound like you” (“Coach Caught By an E-Mail Trail,” http://insidehighered.com/news/2007/08/23/purdue).

In another exchange, the student implicated herself when she said, “Stop cakin’ and finish the paper . . . dang!”

Just this week, the London Times tapped Purdue as one of the Top 200 Universities in the world. 


I’m curious whether the professor of the course in question was aware of the student’s work or had any questions about the student’s being able to write the quality of the paper being submitted.

If you teach writing (or if you teach writing within the context of another course), you know that one of the only ways to detect plagiarism and also to help students learn to write is to require drafts and to hold individual student conferences on the drafts.

I’ve had various experiences with student athletes in which there were red flags and intrusions from the Athletic Department.  One student had not submitted work and had not shown up at a conference, but the next day an assistant coach was waiting for me in my classroom.  He touched my arm and made excuses for the young man, and he followed up with a telephone call.  He had also been in touch with other professors and instructors.

That situation did not end well for either the student athlete or the coach.

I don’t know why the assistant coach was so bold, other than the pressure coaches are under to produce wins, and their teams can’t win if students are ineligible. 

At another university, I also had underprepared student athletes in some classes, but at that school there was more academic support in place for those students and the athletes seemed to know that they were to do the work, no matter what. 

At that school, basketball players were extremely valuable to the school since the team went to the NCAA Sweet 16 finals.  Name recognition and increased applications for admissions were only part of what the school gained from having a team in the finals.

Universities bear much of the blame for situations that can sometimes be called academic fraud.  Too many athletes for the so-called money sports cannot do university-level work.  They need what community colleges offer. 

When universities admit students because of the money and fame the students will bring to the school, ethical dilemmas are almost inevitable

Underpaid, overworked instructors or teaching assistants in the lower level courses can’t be expected to redress the missing academic instruction and academic experiences of the underprepared student athlete and at the same time be alert to ferret out fouls from the Athletic Department.

Read Full Post »