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Academics

Dissertation boot camp supports graduate students through the rigors of the writing process

The program, which has been offered routinely since 2010 to doctoral students at UNC-Chapel Hill, asks participants to deliberately set aside time — as much as 15 hours a week — for dissertation work.

Natalia Rebolledo Fuentealba, ’21 (Ph.D.) an international graduate student from Chile, turned todissertation boot camp, professional development programming offered by The Writing Center and The Graduate School, to improve her writing skills as she worked on her dissertation in nutrition. 

The boot camp, which has been offered routinely since 2010 to doctoral students at UNC-Chapel Hill, asks participants to deliberately set aside time—as much as 15 hours a week—for dissertation work. Rebolledo attended her first week-long session as she began to prepare in 2019; she attended several sessions in order to continue momentum. 

“When I was writing, they shared a lot of tools, like reverse outlining or color-coding. Those tools improved my writing to become more concise.” Rebolledo said. “I’m not a native English speaker, so I needed all of the tools I could get.” 

When the boot camps moved online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rebolledo said she continued to benefit from setting aside blocks of time to work on her dissertation.

“During the pandemic, I needed blocks of time to work,” she said. “My advisor graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill, and she said the dissertation boot camp was so good and encouraged me to go.” 

During the boot camp, she also learned about other resources offered by the Writing Center and the Learning Center. 

In terms of professional development, Rebolledo said what she learned will benefit her as she continues to write and publish her research. For example, she shared that in written Spanish, sentences tend to be longer than in English. In addition to her advisor noticing improvements in her written word, Rebolledo said her spoken English also improved. 

“The main lesson I took was if you don’t block time to write, writing is not going to happen,” Rebolledo said. “That’s something I need to plan even now. I submitted my dissertation, but I do need to publish papers.” 

Her dissertation analyzes front-of-package warning labels and marketing restrictions on junk food in Chile and how purchase and intake of non-nutritive sweeteners changed. In her dissertation acknowledgment section, she credited the dissertation boot camp with helping her complete her degree, offered by the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. 

As a first-generation Ph.D. student, Rebolledo said boot camps help to demystify graduate school and how to work more efficiently. “You only learn by trying,” she said. “At The Writing Center, everyone is so nice. It’s a very supportive environment.” 

During her time as a Ph.D. student, she also participated in The Graduate School’s Diversity and Student Success programming, specifically, its Initiative for Minority Excellence. Connecting with peers and resources on campus can be critical in pursuing graduate education.  

“I wanted to take advantage of everything I could,” Rebolledo said. 

Learn more about The Graduate School