Origins of our Study

Origins of our Study

American universities have sought to create ‘a climate conducive to

creativity’ from their inception by welding the concept of individualism to

the idea of research itself. The figure of the ‘independent scholar’ has

served graduate education as both its informing principle and its telos…

-Patricia Sullivan, Writing With: New Directions in Collaborative

Teaching, Learning, and Research, 1994

Laura: This was not a study met with welcoming approval. Some may wonder why

two doctoral students so close to their degrees would take on a dissertation study that would

be met with the amount of resistance and criticism as this one. Our professors told us to just

get the degree and change the world later. We understood the good intentions guiding the

advice, but we believed that our dissertation goals were worth fighting for because we felt the

research data would prove to be an important addition to the field’s body of knowledge.

From the time we joined our doctoral program in 2008, we had collaborated on multiple

projects for our courses as well as our professional development, including academic

conferences and journal articles. As such, the topic of collaboration had driven many

conversations between us and our peers, ultimately arriving at one important question: Why,

in our field of composition, are we encouraged to collaborate scholastically and

professionally but denied that opportunity when it comes to completing one of our most

important projects—our dissertation? Haven’t we already proven ourselves as individual

scholars throughout our coursework and qualifying portfolio3? Couldn’t the dissertation

process yield richer data if two people collaborated throughout the process? Doesn’t this type

of collaborative research capture the essence of the social constructionist nature of our

discipline? Because we have no real data to answer such questions, we have decided to study

iii At our graduate institution, we are required to submit a qualifying portfolio after our first

two semesters of coursework. According to the program website, “The purpose of the

portfolio is to evaluate each student’s ability to successfully complete this program.”

the following question at the dissertation level: Why are there no collaborative dissertations

in our field of composition? With such a research question, it seems only to make sense,

then, that we should delve into the topic together, to collaboratively embody our scholarship–

as co-researchers, co-authors, and co-constructors of knowledge.

Sabatino: Patricia Sullivan (1994) recognizes that the “dissertation is inhabited,

shaped, and, in a sense, co-authored by all those whose works and lives give it presence and

meaning” (p. 25). We shared the same collaborative goals for the project, and as qualitative

researchers, we intended to tackle these questions by engaging in a multivocal conversation

with one another as collaborative researchers, with the stakeholders (other ABD students),

with gatekeepers (administration, facilitators), with faculty, as well as with other tandem

researchers. After the dissertations have been written, after the act of collaboration has been

studied, only then will those others like us who are trying to resist have a study to reference

on the act itself.

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