Baillie Gifford Writing Partnerships Programme

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What is the programme?

The Baillie Gifford Writing Partnerships Programme offers a partner matching service, events, and writing advice to help you write more, better, more happily.

Why does the programme exist?

The academic life, and especially the graduate and early-career life, often encourages bad habits. Two common problems are spending a lot of time working inefficiently and spending a lot of time feeling bad about not working.

Maybe we wake up with good intentions but also some nervousness about the thing we’re meant to be working on, let ourselves get sucked into email or news websites or some easy admin tasks just to get them off our plate, and find it’s coffee time and we still haven’t got back to that chapter or article. Maybe when we do get down to it, we feel panicky about the delay, expect too much of ourselves, are disappointed when we don’t manage all we hoped, work for so long we get exhausted, or otherwise persuade ourselves that our nerves were justified and writing is something to be feared.

Then we retreat back to easier things, promising ourselves we’ll do better tomorrow, or next week.

What if you could make your writing time reliably effective and enjoyable, feel satisfied with your achievements once you stop, and have more time for rest and play and everything else?

This may sound too good to be true, but it’s what the writing programme was established to help you achieve. And since it was founded in 2018, feedback from participants has consistently shown that it works.

Writing isn’t the only form academic work takes, of course, but it’s one of the most important, and one of the easiest to defer and worry about, so sorting it out can generate positive effects that ripple out into everything else. Committing to regular, structured, distraction-free writing sessions with someone else—writing independently, but not alone—can be a powerful way to get your working habits working better for you.

Coordinated by TORCH Research Associate and freelance coach and writer Dr Emily Troscianko, the Baillie Gifford Writing Partnerships Programme allows you to register your preferences and find someone to meet and write with. In pre-COVID times, this might have been at a café for a couple of hours on a Friday morning or first thing every weekday at the Bodleian; for now, meet-ups have to be remote, but we can help you establish a rhythm and format that work well for you and your writing partner.

How can the programme help me?

Taking part in the writing partnerships programme may help you in all kinds of ways, including:

  • taking writing seriously by scheduling dedicated time for it
  • injecting structure and variety into your working routines
  • enjoying protected writing time free from distractions and supported by your partner’s concentration
  • feeling less isolated in your working life
  • understanding that other people have problems with productivity, efficiency, and motivation sometimes too, whether similar to yours or different
  • clarifying how much writing you’re actually getting done
  • increasing your confidence in your ability to get things done
  • building good writing habits with your partner that extend naturally into other working time
  • ensuring that reading and note-taking feeds regularly into structured writing
  • building flexibility and confidence in your working preferences and routines
  • developing your ability to write clearly, concisely, and with a style appropriate to the task at hand
  • gaining new intellectual perspectives from someone outside your (sub)field
  • improving your capacity to talk clearly about your current writing projects
  • appreciating your achievements by keeping a record of your progress and sharing your goals and your successes with someone else
  • setting aside regular time to think and talk about how your current writing feeds into your wider professional and personal ambitions
  • devoting time and attention to your wellbeing and coming to understand better what affects it and how you can nurture it
  • supporting someone else in achieving benefits like these too.

If any of these changes sounds like something you’d like to see happen in your own life, a writing partnership may be for you. We have substantial data showing that benefits of all these kinds are enjoyed by programme participants.

What does a writing meet-up actually involve? 

The simplest version is to arrange a time to meet (ideally keeping it constant week by week), have a quick catch-up, note down your writing goals for the session, describe your goals to your partner and comment on each other’s intentions, and write for a set length of time (perhaps around an hour or a little more). Then stop for ten minutes, compare progress, maybe break for a coffee if you want a longer break, and do another session afterwards. The programme website offers examples of many other variations tried and tested by previous participants, each with slightly different benefits, and you and your partner will have the fun of finding out what works best for you.

What else does the programme offer?

The programme offers a range of other support alongside the core service of finding you a writing partner. There’s a termly orientation session to introduce strategies for scheduling, planning and prioritising, tracking progress, writing well, enhancing resilience, and generally bringing your daily working reality closer to your ideal. Emily sends out weekly writing tips during term: short guides to everything from generating good research questions to thinking out loud, with suggestions for incorporating the activities you’re your writing meet-ups. She also offers 1-1 writing consultations and runs writing bootcamps and writing breakfasts and afternoons to provide more intensive opportunities to change and reflect on your working habits in a group setting. All the events include timed writing sessions as well as guided stretching, planning and review, reflective/exploratory tasks, and sometimes work-sharing or admin sessions, and/or themed sessions of other kinds. These events are run virtually or in person, depending on circumstances.

Who is it for, and how do I join?

The programme is primarily for Masters, DPhil students, and early-career academics in the Humanities, though others are welcome too. To find a writing partner, visit the programme website at www.oxfordwritingprogramme.org. Follow the link on the homepage to book a place on the next orientation session. You’ll then receive a link to the combined baseline questionnaire and partner request form.

The baseline questionnaire asks you to reflect on your working habits, productivity, wellbeing, and career confidence before you join the programme. Once you join and are matched with a writing partner, you’ll be asked to complete related surveys at intervals throughout the year. Your responses will be used to create reports on the scheme’s efficacy, to refine the scheme for the future, and to generate a clearer picture of graduate and early-career practices and priorities in the Humanities. We hope the surveys will also be interesting prompts for personal reflection and (if need be) constructive change.

If you have (mental) health-related problems or a disability, learning difficulty, or other relevant personal circumstances, there is the option to mention these too. Emily has long been involved in Oxford University welfare provision, and other strands of her professional life involve supporting people in recovery from eating disorders. Nothing you say will be shared beyond the training team, and Emily will take what you share into account when selecting your partner. Just let Emily know in the baseline survey if you have any particular preferences.

Requests can be made at any time in the year, but you’re most likely to be matched quickly with a suitable partner if you make your request at the start of term so you can be included in the main termly matching process. Emails with deadline information are sent out to all Humanities graduates and postdocs before the beginning of every term.

Where can I find out more?

Feel free to explore the programme website and get in touch via the contact form if you have questions or suggestions.