The end of the fiscal year is looming, and we’ve just wrapped up budgeting for 2016/17. And as always, the push is to do more for our graduate students and postdocs with less. Some things are just never going to be free–the fee for a really great workshop facilitator, catering for our annual Career Night, paying the professor who teaches our teaching development course, our salaries–but we’re getting creative about finding ideas for new supports and services that don’t cost much in time, labour, or hard cash.
One of the things I did when I was still at York University was start up a Shut Up and Write! group for our grad students and postdocs, and it is may be my favourite example of a meaningful and useful support for early career researchers that doesn’t cost a dime. Your campus might already have a graduate Shut Up and Write! group, often coordinated by students themselves, but if you don’t, here’s the lowdown:
- a room
- a timer
- someone willing to facilitate discussion and run the timer (This person can also be doing their writing during the session; I use it as an opportunity to get in some quiet, distraction-free work on my normal day-job stuff)
Each Shut up and Write! session, at least the way I run it, includes:
- 10 minutes for introductions and chat
- 2-3 rounds of writing Pomodoros (each Pomodoro includes 25 minutes of intensive writing plus a 5 minute break)
- Time to discuss writing, trade writing and productivity tips, and get to know each other. On occasion, a more senior researcher or someone from the writing centre will come in to address a specific writing topic, take questions, or provide one-on-one consultation.
Attrition, particularly in the PhD, tends to happen most at the point when students transition from the relative structure of coursework, qualifying exams and (for my students, at least) collecting data to the nebulous and very self-directed period of writing the dissertation. Community and the motivation of progressing alongside others helps stop that from happening. It also helps postdocs feel like members of a community–an important shift for a group that often feels disconnected from their institution because they’re neither students nor faculty, and often are poorly served because they exist in that liminal space.
What about you, dear readers? Any brilliant ideas for low-cost and low-effort ways to create community- and skill-building opportunities for grad students and postdocs you’d like to share?