Post-Dissertation Support

Every summer, a friend and I lead a writing workshop for faculty at a college near Baltimore, helping their teaching-focused faculty develop journal articles, convert dissertations into books, and write grant proposals. Along the way, I’ve learned an infinitesimal amount of chemistry, enough nursing practice to be better able to advocate for myself in the hospital, and a lot about the daily churn of early-faculty life.

This workshop is held off-campus at a local event center, a 19th Century mansion converted to a B&B and wedding center. We meet in a converted carriage house, quiet enough to get work done but with sufficient wireless coverage to keep us in the moment. And for six years, it’s gotten great reviews—an oasis of protected time and space in the midst of chaos.

One of the comments this year was particularly striking to me. “I cannot emphasize enough how helpful this was for me. We all need editors & revision help. After graduate school this is very hard to find.” Last year, we had a focus group lunch for participants who’d been to more than one prior iteration of the writing retreat; one of the comments there was “You get paid to do this, so we don’t feel guilty about asking you for help. It’s a lot harder to ask one of my colleagues, because they’re already way too busy and this is just another burden.”

Once you’ve gotten your PhD, your dissertation committee will vanish; perhaps not in spirit, but in day-to-day support. And you’ll be left to develop your own intellectual network with whom you can exchange both nascent ideas and near-finished documents. It’s a form of peer review that goes unspoken, but it’s essential to your productivity and to your mental health.

Oddly, most departments have no formal mechanism for sharing syllabi under development; for sharing faculty scholarship under development; for sharing insights learned from conference travel. The department meeting is a logistical swamp of data demands and policy updates and deadlines, almost never an opportunity for intellectual growth. It’s easy to go through daily life without really knowing what your most immediate colleagues are up to.

If there’s a center for teaching and learning on your campus, they may be able to help facilitate these informal but vital connections. The particular workshop I co-lead is put on by an office of sponsored research. It may be that the department is not the only (or the best) venue for intellectual growth and support.