Researching and writing a dissertation can be an overwhelming undertaking for many graduate students, and that’s why staff in NIU’s Thesis and Dissertation Office wants to let them know they’re not alone in navigating that process.
A unit of the Graduate School, the Thesis and Dissertation Office is staffed by an advisor and two graduate assistants tasked with reviewing theses and dissertations for degree completion and helping students successfully write and format them.
Carolyn Law, a dissertation advisor for the Graduate School, said her office has worked hard over the years to make their expertise widely and easily available, both through a robust website and through one-on-one consultations and workshops. She said with the encouragement of the Graduate School that her office – located in room 104 of Adams Hall – has shifted its focus from primarily a compliance and certification function to a student support services operation.
Those expanded offerings include workshops on some of the most troublesome areas of formatting and document preparation, brown bag discussions, and programs and presentations on the role of the thesis or dissertation in the timely completion of a degree. A new and growing library of online video tutorials is included among these engagement efforts.
Law’s graduate assistants, Robyn Byrd and Fred Stark, are currently working on their own dissertations, which Law said contributes a lot to the resources of the Thesis Office because they know both sides of the process. Byrd is pursuing her Ph.D. degree in English and hopes to become an English professor. Byrd describes the office as the “dissertation and thesis experts” on campus.
“We are the definitive source for how to put the dissertation together,” she explained. “The University Writing Center is where you go for writing help, but we are where you go for document conventions, final approval of the dissertation and even counseling on the dissertation process.”
Byrd said the most common issues her office helps students sort out are formatting problems, information about deadlines and approval expectations.
“Students should visit us early and often to make sure they are on schedule and build in time at the end of the semester they expect to graduate in order to revise and format the document,” she said.
Law said she’s seeing growing success in efforts to engage with students throughout the dissertation process.
“I do see that students are using my office more proactively and that’s my real goal,” Law said. “Being proactive now is critical because the role of the dissertation in higher education is changing.”
Much of that change has been driven by a transition from paper to electronic delivery of the completed dissertations, she explained.
“That has changed not only the format requirements but also the potential and opportunity for a dissertation to include things like animation and audio or video files that I don’t think students are fully exploiting,” Law explained. “These kinds of technology shifts will change the way that graduate scholarship is communicated and contributes to the body of knowledge, which is the point of writing these papers.”