If you looked in on the group—doctoral students intent on their laptops, with pens at the ready—you might think that you were witnessing a graduate class or seminar.
But would you have said “Dissertation Boot Camp”? This weeklong event brings students from varied disciplines together to focus completely on key aspects of dissertation writing. Waiting lists are regular for the “boot camp” and with other activities where students gather to develop professionalism vital to their futures beyond the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Graduate School Professional Development(GSPD) program strives to help graduate students hone the skills they’ll need for future careers. The program serves as a resource to students in addition to their own departmental training.
“Our programming is intended to support the development of skills and knowledge of students that they wouldn’t necessarily get within their academic programs,” explains Brian Rybarczyk, director of graduate student academic and professional development at The Graduate School.
Four assets everyone needs in their careers—communication, academic development, leadership and professionalism, and career development—guide the GSPD programming. During the 2012-2013 academic year, the program offered 45 events. More than 700 graduate students participated, several attending multiple events. These included workshops on writing CVs and cover letters, the Dissertation Boot Camp, a networking and social media workshop, and many more.
“We teach skills that transcend disciplinary boundaries,” Rybarczyk says. “We also give students the opportunity to communicate with others outside their departments. They can see that they’re in the same boat, even if they’re in completely different disciplines.”
This opportunity for students to meet their counterparts in other fields makes the GSPD events special, according to Gigi Taylor, ESL specialist for the Writing Center and a facilitator of the Dissertation Boot Camp. “They find, as writers in the boot camp, that they are struggling with the same issues as they work through a major project.” This fosters a supportive community among students who may never have met otherwise, she adds.
Teresa Perez, graduate student assistant in the Graduate Student Center and Ph.D. candidate in economics, says a common program goal is to learn to communicate effectively with a broad audience. “Being in an interdisciplinary environment is key to achieving a greater understanding of how to communicate with many different people.”
The workshops and support that GSPD provides have been invaluable to Carolina alumni. Brandon Essary, an assistant professor of Italian at Elon University who received his Ph.D. from Carolina in 2012, describes his experience with the program as indispensable.
“With the help of this program, I came to understand the language of job applications,” Essary says. “It really is its own language.”
Courtney Lewis, an assistant professor of anthropology and Southern studies at the University of South Carolina who earned her Ph.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012, agrees that working with the GSPD was vital.
“Every step along the way, they offered an event to keep graduate students from floundering,” Lewis says. “They made each step of the process a little bit easier and a little bit less time consuming.”
Both of these alumni have carried the skills they learned in workshops with them as they have embarked on their careers. According to Rybarczyk, that’s what the GSPD program is built to do.
“Ultimately, we want students to learn something new that they can apply to their own career,” Rybarczyk explains. “We also want them to realize that it doesn’t end here. This is a start. We may not be able to lead them every step of the way, but we’re going to give them the foundation they need, to empower them.”