For Graduate Students
Dissertation Boot Camps
Graduate Student Tutoring
We work with graduate students on a variety of documents, including
- Dissertation proposals
- Dissertations, Masters' theses, and Masters' projects
- Journal articles
- Conference presentations
- Job application materials
- Grant proposals
- Research statements
- Course assignments and other projects
When we meet with graduate students, our priority is to make sure that the purpose and rationale for your research is clear to your readers; your content is appropriate for your audience; and that your information appears in the places readers expect to find it. So that we can give you advice that is specific to your field or area of study, we like for you to provide us with a model essay. If you are working on a dissertation or thesis, ask your advisor to provide you an example that she or he considers a good model. If you are working on a journal article, we would like to see an example of a publication from the journal you plan to submit to. We will help you analyze these model documents so you can make your presentation and style match what is expected.
Ways you can work with the GCC
- Receive feedback on a draft. Upload a draft you have created and ask your tutor to give you feedback. If your draft is long, explain what areas you would like to focus on when you make your appointment. You may make multiple appointments to go over a single draft. We prioritize making sure that your abstract and introduction clarify the importance and purpose of your research and that your results and their implications are clear.
- Brainstorm. Sometimes it is helpful to talk through ideas before you start to write. Our tutors will listen to you and help you develop an outline or sample sentences that makes sense of your ideas.
- Develop a presentation. If you are getting ready to deliver an oral presentation, you may want some help creating effective PowerPoint or Prezi slides. Our tutors will talk to you about research showing what makes an effective conference presentation and work with you to develop slides.
- Rehearse an oral presentation. You can use our tutors as an audience who can give you feedback on your oral presentation skills. We have a private conference room we can use to allow you to run through your presentation. We can even videotape your presentation and review it with you.
- Design figures, graphs, and tables that will make your results clear to a general audience. If you are working on a technical project, how you present your data is central to explaining your research and argument. Our tutors will review some of the principles of effective data visualization with you and help you present your data so your main findings and conclusions are clear to readers.
- Write a literature review. Your literature review should tell a story about the research you are reviewing rather than simply summarize a bunch of studies. Our tutors can help you make sense of this research literature and organize it in a way that provides a rationale for the research you are doing.
- Work through writer's block. If you are experiencing writer's block, our tutors can help you select a topic and develop a plan for action. We may ask you about your writing process and make suggestions about ways to structure your writing time.
- Attend one of our workshops. See our list of upcoming workshops for more information.
Creating a space for your research
One of the biggest difficulties graduate students face is explaining the importance of their research. When writing an introduction, abstract, or proposal, you need to explain why your research is important, how it connects to previous research, and how it is a new contribution to your field. Moreover, you typically need to describe this research in a way that makes sense to both experts and non-experts in your field. Our handout on How to Describe Your Research Contribution can help you figure out how to talk about your research in a way readers will understand. Our tutors can help you discuss your research using the four "moves" described in this handout.
Our philosophy on grammar
A paper can be grammatically correct and still very difficult for readers to understand. Likewise, a paper can be logical, clear and concise even though it contains grammatical errors. In our experience, most readers will forgive a few grammatical errors if they can understand what the writer is trying to say. Errors become most noticeable when a writer’s thoughts or arguments are unclear.
Our philosophy in the GCC is to first focus on making your arguments and ideas clear before we focus on errors. We believe this focus on clarity will improve your writing more than just eliminating grammatical errors. We also believe that strategies for clear writing can be taught more easily than English grammar rules, which can only be absorbed through repetition over long periods of time.
We can be a resource for helping you improve your grammar, but we think that helping you clarify the nature and purpose of your research should take priority. However, if you would prefer to focus on correctness rather than on ideas, you can tell your tutor when you make your appointment.
Other CMU resources for graduate students seeking to improve their communication skills
- Public Communication for Researchers offers seminars and support for scientists wishing to communicate with the general public.
- Graduate Education offers many professional development opportunities for graduate students, including workshops and discussions on grant-writing, gender and communication, preparing job search materials, and other topics.
- The Intercultural Communication Center supports non-native English speakers in developing fluency in speaking, reading, and writing. They offer many seminars and workshops throughout the year to support non-native English language speakers.
- The Eberly Center provides support for graduate student teaching and can help graduate students develop teaching statements and teaching portfolios.