This auto-ethnographic study describes a practical application of qualitative research skills in an intensive writing retreat. The retreat was held in response to an inadequate dissertation defense just three weeks before final university deadline for graduation. It uses narrative and double- storytelling to step in and out of the experience of a debriefing process that put the writer in a vulnerable position with a critical friend. The reality of not completing the PhD demanded aggressive and immediate action – an intense commitment to critical analysis of the dissertation. The reflective self-study of the writing retreat experience describes the significance of a critical friend, a safe place, commitment to task, trust, respect, and risk-taking that resulted in an approved dissertation and completed degree program. The unconventional action encourages exploration of alternative approaches for both doctoral committees and students struggling with the final phase of dissertation writing. Insights on collaboration and reflection are shown in the analogy with the playful spider sniffing activity.


Interviewing Researcher, Debriefing, Critical Friend, Dissertation Completion

Author Bio(s)

Jan Williams, PhD, completed her doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction after a career in special education, assessments, and administration. She maintains her interests in educational leadership and blending her equine expertise with therapeutic riding. She is currently a consultant expanding her professional presentations and publications. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: williams.jank@gmail.com.

Reese Todd, PhD, served as a tenured teacher educator in Curriculum & Instruction in the College of Education at Texas Tech University. She taught graduate courses in social studies education, action research, and spatial thinking with particular interests in K-12 geography education, qualitative research methods, and service-learning. Her work includes multiple presentations at international, national, state conferences and publications in academic journals. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: rhtodd.ok@gmail.com.

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