The Dissertation Coach

The Dissertation Coach

Academic Year:
2019 - 2020 (June 1, 2019 through May 31, 2020)
Funding Requested:
Project Dates:
Project Director Address (with campus zip):
Simone Sessolo, Lecturer IV, Sweetland Center for Writing, 105 S State St, 1320 North Quad, Ann Arbor MI, 48019-1285
Project Director Telephone:
Graduate Student/Postdoc:
Chair Uniqname:
Overview of the Project:
The Dissertation Coach draws on dissertation writing strategies to affect individual student characteristics. As students interact with the Dissertation Coach by responding to evaluations of individual writing practices, they receive personalized feedback that encourages effective writing habits. It collects ongoing data on students’ challenges and pedagogical complications in dissertation writing and supervisory practices, and offers consistent writing feedback that dissertation advisors often cannot provide for lack of time. Among other benefits, the platform enables inclusive learning: students with disabilities, off-site students, and first-generation students can access the platform from wherever they are, in whatever form works best for them. The tool’s purpose is to engage early dissertation writers in effective writing habits: it molds behavior for long-form academic writing. Because of the interdisciplinary composition of the student body using the tool, the Dissertation Coach offers “writing across the disciplines” advice. It has the potential to impact early dissertation writers from across the University. Moreover, the Dissertation Coach can be adapted to specific departments or disciplines by adding content tailored for those units. This means the Dissertation Coach is both scalable and replicable: scalable, because it can be easily offered open-access to all graduate students; and replicable, because its interdisciplinary content can be easily augmented with discipline-specific messages.
Number of Graduate Students Affected Annually:
5000 graduate students
Number of Undergraduate Students Affected Annually:
0 undergraduate students
Proposal PDF:
Budget Administrator:
Colleen LaPere,
Final Report Fields
Project Objectives:

We are developing a messaging tool that serves graduate students transitioning from coursework to dissertation writing. This tool is offered as an ECoach platform, in collaboration with the Office of Academic Innovation. As students interact with the tool, they receive personalized feedback that encourages effective writing habits. In order to adapt the tool to disciplinary writing, we planned to gather data from specific departments to create content for their particular students. Our objective was to create an archive of suggestions and testimonials to be used in targeted messages.

Project Achievements:

We created and sent out a google survey to graduate chairs and advisors to include their voices in the personalized messages we are crafting. This survey included the following questions: what kind of dissertations do graduate students in your department write?; can you describe a typical dissertation timeline for graduate students in your department?; what is a typical challenge for a student in your department working on their first chapter?; what would you tell your students to guide them to successfully complete their first chapter?; what do you think your graduate students most need to know as they transition from coursework to dissertation writing? The deadline for responses was June 15.

We received 16 responses, and we employed a graduate student to code, tag, and systematize such responses. We will use these responses as quotes and testimonials to be delivered to students. We plan to launch the tool university-wide in Fall 2020.

The project will continue through the Summer term. We received financial support from the Office of Academic Innovation and Rackham that allows us to keep working on it.
The tool will launch university-wide in Fall 2020. Graduate students will be able to self-enroll. The experience will be semester-long. We will advertise enrollment across the university in August 2020.
Advice to your Colleagues:
Although 16 responses gave us enough material to work with, most of those responses came from the humanities. We expected a bigger response from social and natural sciences. To overcome this challenge, we decided to send personalized requests to individual graduate chairs.
Project Thumbnail:

Source URL: