Shut up and write online
Kelly Preece and Jo Sutherst from the University of Exeter explain how moving a postgraduate writing project online saw a 4- fold increase in participation and the emergence of peer-led working.
Authors: Kelly Preece, Jo Sutherst
What exactly was the shift in culture and/or organisational practice that you wish to highlight?
Shut Up and Write started life as the Supporting PGR Writing project (2018-2021), led by Kelly Preece (Researcher Development Manager) and funded by the University of Exeter Alumni Annual Fund. With PGRs, Kelly developed a structure and practice for running on campus ‘Write Clubs’ and retreats – writing spaces where PGRs could work together in a facilitated space, find support (or a sense of belonging) in the PGR community, avoid procrastination and improve productivity.
With the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic and the first UK lockdown, these Write Clubs were moved online. What evolved was a much more streamlined approach utilising the worldwide Shut Up and Write movement, using Microsoft Teams to run regular two hour sessions as a shared space to work, discuss and run collaborative sessions.
Through moving online, Shut Up and Write sessions have proliferated and are now run at least 4 times a day in the week, with 3 sessions over the weekend. In the 2020/2021 academic year we had almost 8000 attendances from PGRs across the academic year. Shut Up and Write has also evolved to be a completely peer-led space, with organisational support from the University of Exeter Doctoral College when needed, with PGRs co-ordinating the calendar of sessions, facilitating them, providing peer support and a engaged, lively and thriving community of practice.
What did ‘working well’ look like?
“Shut Up and Write is for the whole PGR community, but has a particular impact on distance and international students, disabled students, parents and carers, and those studying part-time due to work commitments. The flexibility (and camaraderie) Shut Up and Write provides means that previously marginalised groups are not only taking part in University activities they were not able to before, but in many cases also taking a leading role in co-ordinating them. The level of impact is captured in this tweet from one of our PGR facilitators, Beth Mills:
~1yr since I joined @ExeterDoctoral online Shut Up and Write! Less a writing group than a chosen family, SUAW kept me going thru #lockdown2020 & has become one of the joys of my life. Will be ever grateful for the friends I’ve made & continue to make as part of this community 💚
Find the original tweet here: https://twitter.com/C19Beth/status/1385659337364983812
Shut Up and Write has and continues to evolve substantially through the COVID-19 pandemic. Working well, in this case, looked like letting the PGRs take the lead. By developing a structure and an online space (the Microsoft Team) we were able to create a space for peer-led learning, supporting and community-building. As Shut Up and Write runs through a Teams site, the PGR co-ordinators and facilitators are able to be responsive, flexible and develop a virtual community space. It has also allowed graduates, postdocs and staff to continue to be part of the community after they submit their research degree, and as an online space we have been able to open it up to PGRs across the Great West 4 (GW4) Universities.
How could this practice be spread?
Very simply. The structure and method is simple and well established. Using a Teams site, PGRs organise scheduled and ad-hoc 2 hour writing sessions using the Shut Up and Write/pomodoro technique. That’s it. But the impact, and the cultural shift this has had in PGR community, is substantial. At Exeter the practice has already spread to our ECR community as part of the Researcher Development Programme for ECRs, and the wider academic community through sessions led by our Academic Development team.
As part of the Supporting PGR Writing Project we produced two sets of resources to help spread practice further – a handbook and a set of resource courses, which are freely available on our website. We are also in the process of writing a journal article, co-authored by members of the Shut Up and Write community at Exeter.
We have published information about running Shut Up and Write groups here: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/research/doctoralcollege/researcherdevelopment/training/writing/shutupandwrite/
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