My name is Rachel and I’m a first year PhD student at Sheffield Hallam University. I’m doing research within the field of Higher Education, specifically exploring the career aspirations of female doctoral students and examining how these aspirations change over the course of a doctorate. At the moment I’m focusing on writing up some initial thoughts from my first round of data collection, as well as doing other things like organising a conference on feminist research and preparing to start teaching in September.
The problem is, there’s always something I could be doing. There are so many interesting things to get involved with whilst you’re doing a PhD- whether it’s writing a paper with one of your peers, helping to organise departmental seminars or volunteering to write a book review- and I find it really hard to say no to any of these opportunities!
I decided that some of these things that I had agreed to do needed to have some time dedicated to them, otherwise they just wouldn’t get done. I knew that I needed to start allocating time to write- I have deadlines looming and I can easily spend a week just reading books from the big stack piled up high on my desk instead of writing.
But the idea of spending a day typing by myself didn’t really appeal. As any final year PhD student can attest to, writing can be an isolating and lonely experience. I decided that even just among my peers there must be others who also face the same difficulty- of having specific writing projects they want to dedicate time to, but not necessarily making time to get around to them. I thought that organising something regular where we could all come together and write in each other’s company must be possible.
I spoke to one of my supervisors and managed to secure a small budget for a writing group for doctoral students in my department, allowing us to have tea and coffee throughout the day (and some cake in the afternoon to keep our sugar levels up- very important!). The group now provides a dedicated space for writing for doctoral students in the Sheffield Institute of Education, and offers a supportive working environment. It could even lead to future collaborations between us.
The first meeting of our writing group was in early July, and it was a real success! I booked a room outside of the office where some of us usually work; I felt it would be important for us to ‘get away’ somewhere so that we were less likely to get distracted by day-to-day things like checking e-mails. We worked from 10am til 4pm, with a break of an hour for lunch. Some people came for either the morning or afternoon session, and some stayed for the whole day, but this element of flexibility according to people’s various commitments seemed to be useful.
I thought it would be good to discuss what we were going to work on, so at the start we talked about what we wanted to achieve that day. For me it was to write a draft of a book review I’d volunteered to write- a goal which I had achieved by the end of the day! At the end of the day those of us who had stayed we discussed how we had found the experience and it seemed that it had been a positive experience for everyone.
The feedback was that it was a productive day, and that setting aside time specifically to write was really useful. We will continue to meet monthly and I hope that it will continue to be popular and successful. The writing group is something which I think will become even more important to me as I continue through my PhD- I can see the value of it personally, as I work better in the company of others- but it seems that it was a help to others in my department too. I’ve met people who I might not otherwise have met as a result of the group, which also helps to build a community amongst PhD students.
So if you’re struggling to write alone and are thinking of starting something similar, I can absolutely recommend it!