Workshops and Presentations



Dr. Sonja Foss and Dr. William Waters

Dr. Sonja Foss and Dr. William Waters offer workshops and writing retreats for graduate students and faculty on topics related to writing dissertations and publishing. Following is a partial list of available workshops; other workshops can be designed to meet your needs.

Workshops and retreats can be of any length. Any of the workshops also can be preceded or followed by individual coaching sessions, in which Sonja and William work with participants on their specific writing projects.


Destination Dissertation: Practical Strategies for Writing the Thesis or Dissertation

Designed for master’s and doctoral students, this workshop facilitates students’ progress on the journey that is the dissertation or thesis. The workshop uses travel as a metaphor, framing the process as an exciting trip of 29 steps that can be completed in less than nine months. The workshop focuses on those places where students tend to get delayed on their dissertation or thesis journey and provides practical and concrete processes for managing potential difficulties. The topics covered in the workshop may include:

  • Preparing to go: Conceptualizing the dissertation or thesis as a trip and learning what qualities to pack to make the journey a more efficient and enjoyable one
  • Planning the trip: Discovering the topic through a conceptual conversation that leads to the development of a pre-proposal
  • Advice from other travelers: Learning how to manage the literature and develop a conceptual schema for the literature review through efficient coding and categorizing
  • Things to see and do: Coding qualitative data efficiently and developing an original and sophisticated explanatory schema from the data
  • Useful phrases: Using fast writing and slow revising to make the writing and editing processes efficient and effective
  • Avoiding delays and annoyances: Avoiding the incomplete-scholar roles that prevent progress on the dissertation or thesis—roles such as the housekeeper, model employee, patient, and proxy critic


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Publishing But Were Afraid to Ask

For faculty members who want to learn strategies for effectively crafting articles, this workshop provides participants with an understanding of concrete, practical steps that produce high-quality work efficiently. Both new and seasoned scholars will benefit from the concrete and innovative strategies presented. The topics covered in the workshop may include:

  • Developing a research program
  • Conceptualizing new research projects
  • Achieving alignment in research design
  • Crafting the research question
  • Coding literature and developing a conceptual schema for a literature review
  • Coding data and developing an original explanatory schema
  • Fast writing and slow revising
  • Enacting the scholar role instead of incomplete scholar roles
  • Writing regularly
  • Selecting a journal
  • Analyzing and “measuring” a target journal
  • Common errors to avoid
  • Preparing a manuscript for submission
  • Responding effectively to reviews


Advisor Advising: Becoming a More Effective Graduate Advisor

Advising doctoral and master’s students can be time consuming and frustrating. This workshop is designed to help advisors develop productive relationships with doctoral and master’s advisees that result in high-quality dissertations and theses completed in a timely manner. The workshop familiarizes advisors with a framework of dissertation and thesis advising that provides reasonable expectations for the process and ensures that advisors and their advisees more closely share expectations for and conceptions of the dissertation/thesis. It also introduces advisors to concrete and innovative processes that propel students forward in areas such as research design, managing the literature, and coding qualitative data.


Telephone Writing Retreats

Some institutions would like to provide support for faculty working on publications but do not have the budget to bring Sonja and William to campus for a Scholars’ Retreat. A telephone writing retreat can be the solution. An institution pays Sonja and William to review drafts of manuscripts submitted by faculty to assess them for issues that may keep them from being published. Participants are scheduled for telephone conversations of thirty minutes each in which they receive advice about their manuscripts and have the opportunity to have their questions answered. This is a way to move writing projects forward quickly without having to pay the travel costs associated with a writing retreat.


Teleconferences and Webinars

Teleconferences and webinars can be developed on any topic related to academic writing. Sonja and William have done hour-long teleconferences and webinars on topics such as “Strengthening Your Literature Review,” “Back to the Basics: Crafting the Research Question,” “Generating and Refining Research Ideas,” and “Fast Writing and Slow Editing.”


Assessing Alignment in Research Projects

The focus in this workshop is on helping participants test the research designs of their projects for alignment. Lack of alignment among key pieces of the study—research question, categories of the literature review, data, methods of data collection and analysis, and significance—is one of the most common reasons why manuscripts are rejected by journal editors. This workshop ensures that participants will have tested and realigned the pieces of their studies prior to completing and submitting their manuscripts. Prior to attending the workshop, participants are asked to complete an alignment worksheet on their project that is reviewed by Sonja and William prior to the workshop. At the workshop, the worksheets are reviewed with the group of participants, and participants are encouraged to reconceptualize aspects of their projects that are not in alignment.


Scholars’ Retreats

Scholars’ Retreats provide intensive, focused, and supervised writing time for individuals working on dissertations, theses, and other writing projects. These are multiple-day workshops in which faculty members and/or graduate students work on their writing projects individually under the guidance of Sonja and William. Daily meetings with Sonja and William take the form of intensive conversations in which participants feel both supported and challenged as they talk through whatever aspect of their thesis, dissertation, article, or book with which they need assistance. Participants discover that Sonja and William’s friendly and supportive questions lead to profound insights that transfer into realistic expectations, clear goals, and concrete strategies.

The coaching sessions help participants solve whatever their particular issues or questions are, but typical topics covered in the coaching sessions include:

  • Conceptualizing a project
  • Assessing a project to ensure an aligned and doable research design
  • Coding literature to handle massive amounts of literature efficiently
  • Developing an original and sophisticated explanatory schema from data
  • Overcoming writing blocks
  • Managing time effectively
  • Developing strategies for writing regularly

Sonja and William no longer hold the Scholars’ Retreats they used to hold in Denver in the summer. But anyone can organize a Scholars’ Retreat on a university campus—deans, faculty members, or graduate students. Retreats also have been organized by individual scholars who live in the same area and who are working on dissertations and publications from many different universities. Organizing a Scholars’ Retreat involves the following:

  • Securing participants (if you do not have enough participants at your own university, Sonja and William will use their mailing list to try to secure additional participants)
  • Finding a place to hold the Retreat (locations typically are retreat centers, where participants have rooms or tables in work spaces; libraries, where participants use library carrels for their work spaces; dormitories; or the participants’ own offices)
  • Securing a room in which Sonja and William can meet individually with participants
  • Making arrangements for lunch for the participants: Typical arrangements include having everyone go together to a nearby restaurant or having lunch delivered by a local restaurant or catering service
  • We recommend that participants be asked to pay part of the fee for the workshop rather than having it paid for entirely by an institution because they are likely to be more invested in the workshop as a result.

 Scholars’ retreats can be anywhere from one day to one week long, and the number of participants can range from 5 to 25 (8 participants are ideal).




“The presenters’ skills are excellent. They are attentive, insightful and approachable. I learned to use more efficient, methodical writing strategies, and the importance of sticking to a schedule.”

“This workshop is so well thought out and executed. . . . I felt like the speakers were basically brilliant. I was able to look at my work with new eyes and let go of what was not working. I had not been able to accomplish this on my own.”

“The presenters’ skills are excellent. They are attentive, insightful and approachable. I learned to use more efficient, methodical writing strategies, and the importance of sticking to a schedule.”

“This workshop should be required for all students completing their dissertations. It really could be a class or a 30-day retreat! Both presenters were extremely knowledgeable about the mechanics of writing, writing techniques and analysis. The best feature of the workshop was the supervised writing with step-by-step guides and explanations on the ‘how to.’ I learned more about how to write than I ever learned in graduate school. We need more workshops like this one that actually help authors—real assistance that can be done with skills to walk away with!”

“I had never encountered anyone in my academic career who has the breadth of skills and articulation that these two have.”




Dr. Sonja K. Foss

Dr. Sonja Foss offers presentations on a variety of subjects. She is committed to delivering lively and conversational presentations and promises not to read to audiences from academic papers. Sample topics include:


Constricted and Constructed Potentiality: An Inquiry into Paradigms of Change

In this presentation, Sonja identifies and explicates two paradigms for generating change. In the conventional paradigm of constricted potentiality, change agents focus on tangible material conditions and use persuasion, directed externally, to change those conditions and thus improve their internal states. In the alternative paradigm of constructed potentiality, individuals focus on symbolic resources and use interpretation to change their own internal states, which then influence material conditions. She concludes with responses to questions and concerns often raised about the paradigm of constructed potentiality.


Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric

Sonja challenges a view of rhetoric as persuasion and proposes an alternative rhetoric that does not seek to change others but to understand them—invitational rhetoric. Based on the feminist principles of equality, immanent value, and self-determination, invitational rhetoric constitutes an invitation to the audience to enter the rhetor’s world and to see it as the rhetor does. Sonja explains the two primary rhetorical forms involved in invitational rhetoric—offering and the creation of external conditions—and provides some examples of invitational rhetoric. She concludes by situating invitational rhetoric in a rhetorical continuum that provides rhetors with a number of diverse rhetorical tools.


Rhetoric and Agency in Run Lola Run

In this presentation, Sonja explicates the nature and function of agentic orientation, a pattern of interaction that predisposes an individual to a particular enactment of agency. She uses the film Run Lola Run to explicate three agentic orientations—victim, supplicant, and director—each with a different interpretation of structure, a different response to that interpretation, and a different outcome.


My Feminist Evolution

Sonja traces her development as a feminist through three dramatically different definitions of feminism—the effort to gain equality for women with men; the effort to eliminate relationships of domination, oppression, and elitism; and the effort to make conscious choices to create the desired world using all of the resources available. She explicates the assumptions behind each definition and explains why she decided to move on from each stage to the next in her evolution. She concludes with a proposal for a repowered feminism. This is a useful presentation for groups interested in learning about the multiplicity of feminisms.


Structural and Performative Privilege: A Bifurcated Model for Addressing Privilege

In 1988, Peggy McIntosh published “White Privilege and Male Privilege,” an essay that changed the theoretical landscape for scholars who deal with issues of diversity, oppression, and power. In the years since McIntosh’s essay was published, scholars and activists have worked to eradicate privilege, but the results envisioned when McIntosh’s essay was published have not been achieved—privilege has not been eradicated. In this presentation, Sonja attempts to discover why not. Her solution is a bifurcation of the construct of privilege into the structural and performative models. In the structural model of privilege, the criterion for assigning privilege is group membership, privilege is seen as desirable but limited, the objective is to transform social structures, and the key strategy is the sharing of resources. In the performative model of privilege, privilege is socially constructed when individuals perform identities of superiority, privilege is seen as undesirable and excessive, the objective is enactment of performances of equality, and the key strategy is self-transformation.


A Rhetorical Schema for the Analysis of Visual Images

Sonja proposes and explicates a schema for assessing images that provides an alternative to the approaches traditionally used in the field of aesthetics. The schema is rooted in the notion of function and involves three steps that can be applied by lay viewers who do not have backgrounds in design, the arts, or aesthetics. She demonstrates the schema using a variety of visual images.


Enacting the Scholar Role

Valuable for graduate students and/or faculty who want to be more productive with their writing, this presentation helps writers enact the scholar role, which involves generating ideas and writing them down. Sonja explicates some of the incomplete-scholar roles that writers tend to adopt in place of the scholar role—the housekeeper, the student, and the patient, for example—that keep them from writing. She then provides tips for writing regularly, the antidote to all of the incomplete-scholar roles.


Dysfunctional Dissertation Myths

In this presentation, Sonja identifies and dispels five dysfunctional dissertation myths that many doctoral students (and even advisors) tend to hold: (1) Writing my dissertation will be a struggle; (2) Coming up with a good topic for my dissertation will take a long time; (3) I should begin writing on my dissertation as soon as possible; (4) Any wording of my research question will do—I get the gist of my study; and (5) I can complete my dissertation by doing things unrelated to the dissertation. The result is a new perspective for graduate students on writing the dissertation.



For More Information

For information on workshops and presentations, please contact Sonja at