Grads Retreat to Tahoe for Dissertation Workshop

By Loren Michael Mortimer - On April 8 and 9, 2016 an interdisciplinary cohort of advanced graduate students from the social sciences and humanities ensconced themselves at the idyllic Granlibakken Resort near Lake Tahoe for 36 hours of workshops and mentoring sessions. They were participating in a dissertation retreat sponsored by ISS and the Davis Humanities Institute (DHI)—one that proved valuable and enjoyable for all.

What can smartphone user experience teach us about linguistic collocations? How does eighteenth century colonial violence against Abenaki women and children impact the lives of people living in Juba, South Sudan in the twenty-first century? How do the tools social scientists use for analyzing asymmetric and positively skewed data affect the ways development psychologists investigate children’s reactions to surprises?

The resonances between such diverse questions were gamely explored by Shaheen Amirebrahimi (Anthropology), Mrinmoyee Bhattacharya (French & Italian), Christian Doll (Anthropology), Silvia Echeverria (Spanish and Portugese), Georges Han (Psychology), Karen Hjortsvang (Psychology), Zoe Lin (History), Melissa McTernan (Psycology), Loren Michael Mortimer (History and Native American Studies), Victoria Torres (Human Ecology and the Graduate Group in Geography), and Lijuan Yin (Economics).

Their interdisciplinary exchanged helped them to appreciated the varied, nuanced, and occasionally idiosyncratic approaches of their given academic fields. By breaking down departmental barriers and finding unexpected connections in each other’s research, participants gained important insights into how their own research advances their respective academic fields.

Intensive yet informal 

Joe Dumit and David Biale, directors of ISS and DHI respectively, chaired a workshop that paired graduate students with writing partners from outside their discipline. Each participant presented his or her partner’s research, with an emphasis on how the work applied to fields outside the author’s immediate area of expertise. In generating feedback from the wider group, participants could see how their work was relevant to other academic disciplines, and discover interdisciplinary connections that may not otherwise be apparent.

Granlibakken provided the perfect setting for intensive, yet informal mentoring. By a roaring fire in the lodge’s magnificent fieldstone hearth, Professors Dumit and Biale led a professional development workshop meant to demystify the often-labyrinthine processes of publication, peer review, and academic appointments. Away from the formal university setting, grads felt at ease to ask difficult questions about the behind-the-scenes functions of the academic system.

High-impact advice

In their anonymous evaluations, participantss hailed all aspects of the retreat as a great success. Regarding the workshop, one wrote that “Hearing new perspectives about my topic, critiquing others’ work and thinking critically across disciplines was a worthwhile mental task!” The mentoring session, meanwhile, “felt like an exclusive salon with high-impact advice.” And as for Granlibakken and its environs: “so relaxing—set the mood for open, relaxed intimate discussion.”

All returned to Davis with high hopes for reconvening later in the year, as well as the conviction that future retreats would prove as beneficial to other graduate students as this one did to them.