Graduate Research and Retention

The Graduate College

Graduate Research and Retention

Dr. Marianne Di Pierro 

Graduate Research and Retention provides a wide variety of retention and career development services to assist Western Michigan University graduate students on their trajectories toward degree completion.  This office provides sustained individual mentoring, guidance, and advising support to graduate students in all disciplines. Its work represents an integrated approach to graduate student retention and success, and has, in the past, conducted research on time to degree and participated in national projects concerned with doctoral attrition and retention.  Through its initiatives, it ensures best practices in graduate education and implements programmatic interventions to enhance opportunities for degree completion and professional development for all Western graduate students. In addition, it provides conflict resolution in a confidential setting for students and faculty, dissertation and thesis coaching, proposal development and writing support, development of the CV or resume, salary negotiation guidance, as well as many other resources. In addition, this unit oversees all Graduate College awards for graduate student research and travel, as well as dissertation completion awards, fellowships, and prizes. Contact Dr. Marianne Di Pierro via email ( or via phone (387. 8249) for additional information and to make an appointment.

Top Row: From left to right: Dr. Marianne Di Pierro (Graduate Research & Retention); Dr. Christine Byrd-Jacobs (Acting Dean, Graduate College); Hazim Abdulrazzaq Abdulameer Al-Zubaidi (chemistry); Joy Juliana Kiefer (geoscience); Sarah Gillette (English/medieval studies); Miranda Lee (interdisciplinary evaluation); Jason Vonfossen (English); Cheryl Endres (interdisciplinary evaluation); Vinay Babu Gavirangaswamy (computer science)

Bottom Row: Chartanay Bonner (chemistry); Lisa Marie Van Plew-Cid (art education); Sharon Long (interdisciplinary health sciences); Stephanie Bobbit (counselor education/ counseling psychology); Not present: Gregory Greenman III (interdisciplinary evaluation)


Through the generous financial support of the WMU Graduate Student Association and its unwavering advocacy of graduate students, the Graduate College sponsored its annual Dissertation Café this summer.

On August 7 – August 11, 2017, 12 WMU graduate students dedicated themselves to a 5-day writing challenge at the Dissertation Café, an annual writing community that gathers every summer to continue the momentum toward graduation. The students worked together in the Graduate Student Commons, located in the Graduate College, from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. each day in an effort to advance their writing of theses and dissertations.  Several weeks prior, in order to be admitted to the Café, each student submitted an application, along with a Letter of Support from his or her respective dissertation/thesis chair, endorsing the advisee’s participation.  To help students prepare for this experience, Dr. Marianne Di Pierro, Graduate Research and Retention, met with participants and discussed their respective goals for the Café and then met again at the end of the Café to determine if projected goals had been met. Dr. Di Pierro, who has organized this annual event in years past, served as dissertation writing consultant and coach throughout the week to keep students focused and on track in reaching goals.  The majority of students surpassed or met their designated goals.  Café evaluations indicate that all of the participants Strongly Agree/Agree that the Cafe experience met their expectations and helped them to advance their dissertations.  The majority of students concluded that the Café event should take place during the fall and spring semesters, as well as the summer.

The Graduate College looks forward to continuing its support of our graduate students and is always researching new ways to enlighten the educational pathways for our students.  If you have suggestions or concerns, comments or observations, please contact Dr. Marianne Di Pierro at any time for a conversation: or 269. 387. 8249.




For all WMU graduate students – domestic and international

  • Dissertation Coaching/Dissertation Writing: sustained writing support throughout the dissertation experience to degree completion: includes the design of individualized mentoring plans that sustain students’ successful trajectory - a step-by-step process that identifies expectations for the dissertation and breaks them down into do-able segments that can be accomplished. Coaching includes a conceptual development of the proposal; teaching students how to manage the dissertation process with confidence and determination; conflict resolution and how to work successfully with committee members.  Interfaces with a chair on a continual basis and reinforces/maintains excellent communication between the advisor and the advisee. Oversees the management of forms/ assists in the interpretation of graduate student policy.
  • Conceptual Editing: serves as a conduit between dissertation chair and doctoral student to ensure the scholarly level of academic writing; integrity of dissertation research; alignment with chair’s vision for the focus/direction of the dissertation. Ensures academic integrity regarding compliance; access/permission to use surveys; reliability/validity of instruments. Conducts facilitated reviews.
  •  Dissertation Café: a summer writing-intensive experience that draws together dissertating students in a group setting and permits for interactive sessions, one-on-one assistance with the Center’s director, and goal-oriented writing sessions. Reinforces “progress to degree.”
  • Grant Writing: presents workshops on grant seeking: manages internal awards, scholarships, dissertation fellowships. Presents strategies for successful grant writing and conducts the editorial analysis of failed proposals with a view toward revision and resubmission. Partnered with OVPR in development of Grant Seeking Tool Kit for graduate students: 
  • Statistical Consultation: Works in partnership with the Department of Statistics and the Statistical Computing Center to arrange for the statistical consultation for graduate students working on the dissertation, thesis, specialist project or capstone project. Oversees the development of a Statistics Tool Kit to provide stats resources to graduate students.
  • Dissertation Defense/Proposal Defense Preparation: Guides students through mock defenses to ensure students understand defense rituals and procedures; oversees, edits, and refines the PowerPoint presentation; assists students with the oral pacing of delivery; helps students to locate the power within themselves to triumph in an examination setting.

  • Conducts Dissertation/Thesis Wellness Checks:  Provides ongoing “follow up” contacts with dissertating students to ensure ongoing progress and to determine if other needs have arisen that require intervention. Includes consultation on the development of articles for publication.

  • Cultivation of Professional Scholarship and Programmatic Resources: professional writing; development of the CV/resume/cover letter; preparation for position interview; publication; navigating the dissertation; financial management; time management; stress management; financial literacy for graduate students; qualitative and quantitative research methods; brown bag mentoring circles; perspectives on graduate student research; research support/library; ethical research; HSIRB; social media platforms for research, among others.


The services provided through Graduate Research and Retention are specialized to address the singular and distinct needs of graduate students. In many respects, these depart significantly from those of undergraduates. The rigor of the dissertation/thesis encompasses a spectrum of specialized skills: sustained conceptual development as well as excellent oral and written communication skills, in addition to those skills that dovetail into process management. Dr. Di Pierro occupies an “internal” position, one that reflects expertise regarding the invisible curriculum of the graduate student process: in other words, knowledge of the doctoral/masters trajectory, as well as an astute awareness of and sensitivity to the political implications of collaborating with committees and working with students.  These require the skills of those closest to the process and the procedures – those familiar with the internal operations of committees – how they function or do not.  The best results occur when one individual (or one collaborative team) oversees these specialized needs and works consistently with each student. Moreover, her role is to become an ad hoc member of the advisee’s dissertation or thesis committee, working directly with the committee and the advisee, when invited to do so.

Please visit the following URL for upcoming Fall 2017 programs, seminars, events, and other exciting “happenings” at the Graduate College: