Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Inaugural “dissertation boot camp” is quite a success

Grad students, like this one, were provided a distraction-free place to work, as well as practical advice and nurturing support at Lehigh's first-ever dissertation boot camp.

Nearly 30 Lehigh graduate students attended the university’s first “dissertation boot camp” held this past weekend in the Wood Dining Room in Iacocca Hall.

At the sessions, students were provided a distraction-free place to work, as well as practical advice and nurturing support. Scheduled talks were held on overcoming writer’s block, time management, the use of electronic reference materials and effective communications. The latter session was led by graduate students from Counseling Psychology.

Dean Koski, varsity men’s soccer coach, opened the two-day workshop with an inspirational talk on setting and achieving goals. After lunch, an instructor from the Yoga Loft led a brief guided meditation with brain energizing exercises to gear up for an afternoon of work.

The boot camp was organized by Kathleen Hutnik, director of Graduate Student Life at Lehigh, who was inspired by similar programs offered at Yale and the University of Pennsylvania.

“They’ve both been holding boot camps like this with much success for the last few years,” says Hutnik. “It sounded like a great idea to me, particularly after my own experience with writing a doctoral dissertation. When you’re writing a document as long as a dissertation over many months or even years, it’s easy to lose heart and lose focus. The task can seem overwhelming and it becomes easy to avoid it or to distract yourself.”

Hutnik and a team drawn from offices throughout Lehigh provided food, a steady supply of caffeine, technical support and printing services.

Avoiding all distractions

For their part, the participating grad students signed an agreement to turn over their cell phones at the start of each day, and to refrain from indulging in typical distractions, such as visiting My Space, Facebook or other favorite Web sites.

Judging from the responses provided through evaluation forms, Hutnik declared the inaugural event a success.

“Students told us that the environment was ideal and inspiring, and that they got more done in two days than they’d been able to do on their own in two weeks,” she says. “One student said that that 70 percent of their dissertation was put together and formatted over the course of the weekend. Others said they gained confidence, or were inspired by the other hard-working students. Most of them said they would certainly do it again—as many as two or three times a year.”

Sonja Sentocnik, a grad student in the College of Education who is working toward her EdD in educational leadership, said she was attracted to the concept of the boot camp to jumpstart her dissertation writing.

“Writing a dissertation proposal can be a very overwhelming and lonely task,” she says. “You need to be constantly encouraged plus feel that people care about you and the progress you make. Writing the dissertation requires sitting and reading and thinking for long hours without interruptions and distractions. And the fact that there were other graduate students who were in the same boat was a big draw for me.”

Sentocnik says she’s been attempting to complete her literature review for her dissertation since the beginning of January, but found herself “getting lost in everyday chores and graduate assistantship work.”

Day after day would go by, she says, “and I wasn’t accomplishing much. I was getting more and more frustrated.”

Her participation in the Graduate Student Life boot camp gave her the boost she needed.

“It was apparent that the people who organized it definitely knew firsthand what it means to write a dissertation,” she says. “It was extremely thoughtfully planned and implemented, and I loved the additional activities and great care shown to all us.”

Most importantly, she adds, “I got a lot of work done—more than I’ve gotten done in weeks.”

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Wednesday, February 13, 2008

share this story: