Graduate Thesis Support Group

I. Basic information
II. Description and purpose of the group
III. If you are interested in joining
IV. Foundational principles of the group
VI. Graduate student resources

I. Basic information

Time: Thursdays 4:30-5:45
Place: Georgia Tech Counseling Center
Group leader: Nelson Binggeli, PhD

II. Description and purpose of the group

The Georgia Tech Counseling Center offers a support group for graduate students who are working on their thesis. The purpose of the group is to provide a mutually supportive environment for graduate students to address the academic, professional, and personal challenges involved in completing a thesis. Common topics addressed include: maintaining motivation in the face of obstacles, setting achievable goals, and working effectively with one’s advisor and committee. There is no charge for participating in the group.

The group ideally consists of 6-8 members who can make a commitment to attending weekly sessions that last 75 to 90 minutes (the length is determined by group members on the basis of their needs). Group members may leave the group at any time, and new members will be added periodically. The format of the group is typically an unstructured discussion amongst the group members. Group members are asked to maintain confidentiality regarding group discussions.

Current group members say that the group has helped them in a variety of ways, including: (1) Overcoming a sense of isolation and receiving support and encouragement; (2) coming to realize that they are not alone in experiencing internal and external obstacles to progress; and (3) generating potential solutions and hope.

III. If you are interested in joining

If you are interested, please contact Dr. Nelson Binggeli. I ask to meet with prospective members for about 30 minutes to determine whether the group could be helpful to them.

Policy on admitting a new member to the group who is from the same department as a current member:

I sometimes get requests to join the group from someone who is from the same department as a current member. This presents a dilemma as one or both of the members may not be comfortable discussing their concerns with the other.

I have developed a way of handling this that has seemed to work. I ask the prospective member permission to inform the current member that they wish to join the group, and ask the current member if they are comfortable having the prospective member in the group. I then ask the current member's permission to inform the prospective member of their identity, and I ask the prospective member if they would be comfortable being in the group with the current member. If either are not comfortable, I help the prospective member find alternative services. I am open to considering other methods of handling this situation, but this one has seemed to satisfy all involved in the past.

IV. Foundational principles of the group

1. Commitment. Regular attendance is essential for a group to work. It provides consistency and continuity, fosters the development of trusting and supportive relationships, and conveys respect to fellow group members. Accordingly, members agree to attend group on a weekly basis, to arrive on time, and to stay through the entire meeting. If you cannot attend a meeting, please let the group know, either by announcing it in group, or by notifying one of the co-leaders.

2. Confidentiality. Maintaining confidentiality of group members’ identities and personal information is essential for the integrity of the group and for fostering safety and trust. Group members agree to not divulge information about group members to others outside the group.

3. Respect. Group members agree to express their opinions to one another in a caring and respectful manner.

4. Being mindful of the potential effects of dual relationships. Dual relationships occur when group members interact with each other outside of group. As a group, we will discuss issues that may emerge when this happens, and members will be encouraged to express their preferences for how to handle this issue.

5. Considerations regarding leaving the group. If you decide to leave the group, please let me know. I will respect your decision, but I will be interested in hearing your feedback, and in having the opportunity to see if I might be able to suggest alternative ways that you may meet your needs. Also, please consider attending the group one last time to announce your intentions and to say goodbye to the other members.

V. How to get the most out of the group

1. Attend regularly and be on time. When members miss meetings and arrive late, everybody loses something, particularly that group member. There is no substitute for being there. You can’t benefit if you don’t attend. The more you miss, the more opportunities you miss to create the kind of group that will be helpful to you. When you aren’t there, you lose a sense of continuity of working on the issues that brought you into the group. Also, you lose connection to other people in the group. Others are less able to bond with you and be helpful to you. Also, you are not there to do the same for others. This is why regular on-time attendance is so critical to the lifeblood of a group. One of the key ingredients of a successful group is the “cohesiveness” of its members. Cohesiveness involves a sense of attachment to the group, a sense of bonding among its members, and a shared sense of purpose.

2. Set specific goals. Set specific goals for what you want to get out of the group, and out of each group session. Before each session, think about the specific challenges you are facing and the difficulty you are having in meeting them. Have an idea of what you would like to focus on in the group session.

3. Encourage and empathize with others: Encourage others to identify their specific challenges and goals. Empathize with them (i.e., let them know you hear what they are experiencing and feeling).

4. Find commonality with other group members. When others talk about their challenges and difficulty, identify how you may have faced similar things. The group is often productive when members can identify common themes in their struggles.

5. Share with others what is working for you. When you experience movement in the right direction, try to identify what you are doing that is working. Share your insights and breakthroughs.

6. Remember that you are a co-creator of the group. Remember that the group is what you (and your co-members) make it. Certainly, I as a leader have a responsibility here as well. But the nature of the group and how helpful it can be is largely a function of what group members co-create. If you are dissatisfied with the group or if you feel there are ways in which the group can improve in its cohesiveness and usefulness, please share this with the group.

VI. Graduate student resources

I have compiled a list of resources (e.g., books and websites) that may be helpful for graduate students.

Also, see my article: The top 10 potential pitfalls on the way to the PhD (and more than 10 ways of overcoming them)
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Last updated 04.22.13