The University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) is a young, regional university with a rapidly growing Higher Degree by Research (HDR) student cohort. Our cohort has developed at an accelerated rate in an environment with an ever-developing research capacity and increased regulatory and budgetary pressures. For universities, the creation of a research community is not only vital to ensure student wellbeing and interdisciplinary collaboration, but to also create a sense of belonging – an indicator of student capacity and success (Shacha & Od-Cohen 2009). We sought to create a writing-group which both brought our community together to research, and which also created a sense of community. The resulting project, Write Club, has become a staple of the USC academic and research calendar.
Rule #1: Talk about Write Club
Write Club is a multi-modal writing group, centred upon the critical work of putting pen-to-paper, but which also helps connect peer-to-peer in an environment which increasingly confronts the tyranny of distance associated with our multi-campus environment. Unlike in Fight Club, the film from which the group unashamedly takes its name, our first rule is to talk about Write Club and to share the love for this collaborative space.
The purpose of Write Club is to:
- Provide a structured work environment for HDR students;
- Build social connections and reduce social isolation;
- Support fellow HDR students through their journey; and to
- Provide a space where students can share their experiences, struggles, and issues.
Rule #2: Timing is everything
Write Club runs every Tuesday and Thursday from 8-10am. This was a strategic decision, with students consulted prior to this scheduling becoming concrete. Consistent scheduling multiple-times throughout the week has been key to the success of this venture, with Tuesday and Thursday avoiding interruption by public holidays and also allowing some creative marketing: ‘If the day starts with T it’s time for Write Club.’
Even when at Write Club, timing is central. Write Club has been structured this semester through the use of the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro technique, popularised by Francesco Cirillo, seeks to reduce anxieties related to performing complex task by splitting work into four 20-25-minute increments, interspersed with 5-minute breaks. After four of these increments (one Pomodoro), the individual is permitted a longer break.
Francesco Cirillo notes the first goal of the Pomodoro Technique is to ‘alleviate anxiety linked to becoming’ (emphasis in original) (Cirillo 2007, p 3). For our purposes, the Pomodoro Technique also alleviated anxiety to becoming a community. We chose to run the group using the Pomodoro Technique because it allowed for short conversations during the session and emphasises a 30-minute break at the end of every four writing blocks.
Rule #3: Be open, inclusive and understanding
To allow students who are not at our primary campus to attend we utilise Zoom, a teleconferencing software. This software allows external students to write along with those who are physically in the room, and also for them to witness and share in conversation during the session through video-conferencing. It is vital that Zoom be an option. The HDR journey is isolating, and for those who are not physically located near the main campus, or even near any campus, it can be even more so.
Over the course of the semester, the group has had a steady, if fluctuating, attendance. The students who attend are at all stages of their HDR journey, with some having only just started, others nearing confirmation, and some close of submission. This diversity in student attendance has created a supportive environment where sharing knowledge, tips and tricks to survive and thrive throughout the HDR journey.
Rule #4: Community comes first (and coffee a close second)
Write Club is not solely about writing – it connects students in a social space outside of work. The HDR journey, whether Masters or Doctorate level, is an isolating experience (Hunt 2010). Research shows that HDR students are more prone to mental health issues due to the stress of the degree (Pain 2017) and there is a culture of ‘publish or perish’ (McGrail & Jones 2006). Write Club seeks to not only remove students from their own isolation to engage in writing, but to also create an environment where students are able to share their struggles, ask questions and seek advice from peers.
We secured funding from the University to purchase coffee for Write Club attendees. By going to the cafe, we create connections between students and allow for general discussions to happen. This allows for conversations which are often cut-off by the limited 5-minute break between the writing sessions. Coffee also provides an added incentive for students to get out of bed early, trek into campus, and be productive.
Rule #5: It’s right to write
Write Club has proved to be a success, with plans for it to continue into 2020. Heidi, a Master of Science student, recently remarked: “I’ve found that if I don’t come to Write Club on a Tuesday, I don’t get any work done for that week. It sets me up to work.” This group has not only allowed for the creation of new friendships and increased outputs, but for critical reflection on the way in which participant’s write. In a community which is increasingly dispersed and pressured, events like Write Club provide opportunities for peers to share their own best practice and to connect beyond their disciplinary space.
We are excited to see where Write Club goes into the future – potentially exploring different writing techniques and meeting new friends in the process. Write Club has helped us to ‘start the day write’, but it has also shown how writing can provide a way of doing right by students, and creating a more collaborative, connected research community.
Cirillo, F 2007, The Pomodoro Technique, Franscesco Cirillo.
Hunt, J 2010, ‘Mental Health Problems and Help-Seeking Behavior Among College Students,’ Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 3-10.
McGrail, M, Rickard, C, & Jones, R 2006, ‘Publish or perish: a systematic review of interventions to increase academic publication rates,’ Higher Education Research & Development, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 19-35.
Pain, E, 2017, ‘Ph.D. students face significant mental health challenges,’ Science, 4 April, Retrieved from https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2017/04/phd-students-face-significant-mental-health-challenges.
Shacha, M, Od-Cohen, Y 2009, ‘Rethinking PhD learning incorporating communities of practice,’ Innovations in Education and Teaching International, vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 279-292.