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Finishing Your PhD: Strategies from the Dissertation Institute

Seminar Flyer

Research shows that doctoral students, and particularly underrepresented students, get stuck in the writing phases of degree completion for a variety of reasons.  In an effort to address this issue, Drs. Stephanie Adams, Howard Adams, and Holly Matusovich applied for and received funding through the NSF to develop and offer the Dissertation Institute as a week-long program for doctoral students as a way to provide resources, motivation, mentoring, and community. Through designing and hosting the institute in 2017, we have collected findings of students’ struggles and needs in their journey toward doctoral degree completion. In this interactive seminar, we will share research findings and offer suggested approaches from the Dissertation Institute to help all doctoral students take ownership of the doctoral experience and make progress towards degree completion.




Dr. Holly Matusovich (PI) is an Associate Professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Engineering Education. She has a doctorate in engineering education and her strengths include qualitative and mixed methods research study design and implementation. Her research expertise includes using motivation and related frameworks to study student engagement in learning, recruitment, and retention in engineering programs and careers, faculty teaching practices and intersections of motivation and learning strategies. She is/was PI/Co-PI on 10 funded research projects including the NSF CAREER Award. She has won several Virginia Tech awards including a Dean’s Award for Outstanding New Faculty, an Outstanding Teacher Award, and a Faculty Fellow Award. Dr. Matusovich has graduated 7 doctoral students since Spring 2009. She won the Hokie Supervisor Spotlight Award in 2014 and was nominated for a Graduate Advising Award in 2015. She has authored two book chapters, 14 journal manuscripts, and more than 50 conference papers.

Mayra S. Artiles is a Ph.D. Candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University with a focus on nanotechnology. Before her joining the Ph.D. program, she worked at Ford Motor Company as an Electrified Vehicles Thermal Engineer for four years. Her current research focuses on understanding the role of institutional policies in doctoral student support. Mayra is currently a research assistant for the Dissertation Institute where she studies the motivation of underrepresented minorities in doctoral engineering programs (For more information visit 

Juan M. Cruz M.Ed. is an assistant professor in the Department of Electronics Engineering at Universidad Javeriana in Bogota Colombia, and a Ph.D. Candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. His research focus is on instructional change in engineering education. During his 15 years of experience in Academia, he has been a professor, an electronics laboratory Manager, the head of the undergraduate program, and the leader of the Faculty Development program at the School of engineering at Universidad Javeriana.