Hesburgh Library offers thesis and dissertation boot camps

Author: Gene Stowe

Hesburgh Library boot camps

A collaboration among the Hesburgh Libraries, the Graduate School and the Writing Center offered three “boot camps” during fall break—advising undergraduates on senior thesis writing, graduate students on dissertation writing, and other graduate students on grant writing.

The program started three years ago with a Senior Thesis Camp, offered only in the fall, and added the first dissertation camp last spring. The Senior Thesis Camp was the brainchild of Assistant Provost Susan Ohmer when she was interim director of the Hesburgh Libraries. Each camp can serve up to 30
students.

“It allows us to meet the students where they are in their process,” says Graduate Outreach Services Librarian Mandy Havert. “This is the first time we’ve run them concurrently. They’re different levels of students, but the research topics are so deeply interesting at both levels.”

Students who register are matched with subject librarian specialists in their field. Hesburgh Libraries has 30 subject librarians, and 12 were assigned to students, sometimes seeking help from others because the research was interdisciplinary. An engineering librarian, for example, might call in a chemistry librarian for help with a chemical engineering topic, Havert says.

“There’s a lot of team effort that goes on,” she says. “All of the writers and researchers are encouraged to meet with a writing center tutor during this week. We bring in speakers for mornings and lunchtime workshops or keynote speeches to address topics like eating well, stress management, doing a thorough literature review, writing essentials, how to plan your research, how to keep a research log, using software more effectively and time management for academic research. These are all campus resources.”

Participants may continue supporting each other after the camp, Havert says. Some seniors arranged to meet every other week for dinner to discuss their progress and avoid the isolation that can result from the focused research.

“One of our major goals and outcomes we seek with this program is to make connections among the scholars so they can move on together in their cohort if they so choose and have a research community around them,” she says. “One of the things we’re seeking to do is build a community that can go forward and provide tools for the process.”

At the same time, Gretchen Busl, the Graduate School’s associate program director of grants and fellowships, conducted a writing camp for graduate students applying for grants and fellowships. The program, launched with 12 students last year, drew 18 participants every day and another half-dozen who attended some sessions.

“I saw the boot camp model for dissertations, and I thought it would be perfect,” she says, adding that the break came about a month before application deadlines, when students should be revising their applications. Some of them wrote multiple entire grant applications from scratch. Some revised different portions such as essays. They all had different goals for the week.”

Participants came from a variety of disciplines, including physics, biology, history, theology, computer engineering and psychology. The all-day sessions included half-hour talks on such topics as the essay’s genre; the importance of claims, proof and evidence; appropriate self-promotion; understanding the audience; and revising for precision.

Most of the time was spent on writing, with access all day to Busl, who reviewed 48 drafts, and other experts in the afternoon from the Writing Center and English for Academic Purposes.

“It’s a very specific genre—regardless of discipline, project or opportunity, there are similar models,” Busl says. Beyond the immediate application, she says, the professional development program trains students with skills that will serve them as faculty members when they apply for larger grants.