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Dissertation/Writing Study Group

On a rainy day in March we (a group of scholar-practitioners) sat around the large table on Wallingford Street in Pittsburgh, to think of a name for the address of the website we had been talking about creating for the past two years. We've described ourselves variously as the "dissertation study group" or "the interpretive writing group" and by other colleagues, fondly as "the knightess of the square table" and also "the coven." Almost facetiously the current name for the address was bantered about and we took it. Later we decided that, indeed, it reflects both the doctorates that members are currently working on as well as the academic titles many had already earned. In addition, "docs" also refers to the documents we continue to write, the texts at the center of our deliberations. Thus the study group that has been meeting in one form or another for 23 years now has an address: DOC-R-US-.COM

In 1980 Noreen Garman formed a study group in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh in order to help her and her dissertation advisees become more informed about alternative forms of representation for their dissertation research. At that time the notion of qualitative or interpretive had not come into our research traditions at Pitt. Maria Piantanida was a member of the first study group. As the educational debates in the mid 1980's and 90's began to expand the inquiry traditions and research genres, the study group discourses took on greater challenges for doing what we called creative dissertations. At one point we organized an AERA session (one of many), titled "The Creative Dissertation: Oxymoron or Ontology?" (Before we actually presented the session, the group debated the use of creative and decided that it might be too presumptuous for what we wanted to say. We changed the title during the session to "The Authority to Imagine...")

Inevitably the group changed as members graduated and the research discourses in education expanded. (One example of the nature of our deliberations came as the group took on the challenges of studying aesthetic ways of knowing and the logics of justification that represent the various forms of representation.) Eventually the study group gained a special reputation in the School. Members were recommended by other faculty, and at present it is also a post-dissertation writing group. Ten members who have completed their dissertations within the past ten years are still active in the group. They serve as mentors for the others who are in the dissertation process and continue to use the group to critique their own writing for publication. In addition to presentations at national conferences, group members have published a monograph, journal articles and are currently working on an edited book.

The Dissertation/Writing Study Group now has several meritorious dissertations which are referenced on this web, including three studies that have won the AERA Outstanding Dissertation Award for Qualitative Research. One has won the 2000 Outstanding Dissertation Award for the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. Although Maria Piantanida and Noreen Garman serve as facilitators of the group, it is clear that the mentor relationships among the various group members are its strength. Piantanida and Garman's book, The Qualitative Dissertation: A Guide for Students and Faculty, is a result of the study group deliberations.

Copyright 2003,