Baillie Gifford Writing Partnerships Programme

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The academic life, and especially the graduate and early-career life, often encourages bad habits. Two common ones 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 nerves 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're impatient about not having made progress, 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 nervousness was justified. Then we retreat back to easier things, promising ourselves we’ll do better tomorrow, or next week.

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

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 brilliant way to get your working habits working better for you. Coordinated by TORCH Research Associate Dr Emily Troscianko, the Baillie Gifford Writing Partnerships Programme allows you to register your preferences and find someone to meet and write with – at a café for a couple of hours on a Friday morning, first thing every weekday at the Bodleian, or whatever rhythm works best for you and your writing partner.

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.

So 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 go for a coffee if you want a longer break, and do another session afterwards. There are lots of variations you could try, though, each with slightly different benefits, and you and your partner will have the fun of finding out what works best for you. Our guidance document provides an outline of some basic principles and ideas to try – for both your writing partnership and your more general writing practice.

The programme also 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 also sends out writing tips to give you ideas for how to make your writing meet-ups effective and enjoyable, and weekly reading suggestions to give you different perspectives on writing, goal-setting, professional development, and wellbeing. She’s also always happy to meet up for a coffee if you ever have writing-related questions or difficulties she might be able to help with. Finally, writing bootcamps and writing breakfasts and afternoons provide more intensive opportunities to change and reflect on your working habits in a group setting: they include timed writing sessions as well as food and drink, guided stretching, planning and review, reflective tasks, and sometimes work-sharing or admin sessions.

To help us assess the effectiveness of the scheme, as well as to encourage you to reflect on your working habits and wellbeing and how they change, in order to sign up to the programme you’ll be asked to complete a questionnaire about your working habits, productivity, wellbeing, and career confidence before embarking on the programme, and 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 it will also be an interesting prompt for personal reflection and (if need be) change.

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, please book onto the orientation session here (Please do so if you want a writing partner for this term, even if you know you can’t make that session. If that’s the case, please email training@humanities.ox.ac.uk after making your booking, and we’ll cancel your place for you while keeping your partner request live.) You’ll then receive a link to the combined baseline questionnaire and partner request form. To complete the request form you’ll need to tell us: 1) what your research area is and 2) what your preferences are for meeting up with your writing partner: what days/times work or don’t work for you, how often you’d like to meet, whether you prefer working in a library or a college or a café or some other environment, and any other preferences or needs you’d like to register.

If you have (mental) health-related problems or a disability, learning difficulty, or other personal circumstances that affect your work, 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 (except where there’s an imminent risk to you or others), and Emily will take what you share into account when selecting your partner. Otherwise, the pairings will be made primarily on the basis of scheduling compatibility (and to a lesser extent subject area), and you may be paired with someone at a different career stage from you. Just let Emily know if you have preferences in this regard too.

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 termly matching process. Emails with deadline information are sent out to all Humanities graduates and postdocs before the beginning of every term. The deadline for Michaelmas 2019 is Tuesday of 1st week (15 October).

The events confirmed so far for Michaelmas 2019 are:

  • Orientation session: Monday of 2nd week (21 October), 9:15 am to 11:45am or Thursday of 2nd week (24th October), 2pm-4.30pm
  • Writing afternoon: Wednesday of 6th week (20 November), 12 pm to 5:30 pm
  • Writing breakfast: Friday of 6th week (22 November), 8:30 am to 11:30 am
  • 2-day writing bootcamp: Monday and Wednesday of 7th week (25 and 27 November), 8:45 am to 5:30 pm
  • Writing breakfast: Friday of 7th week (29 November), 8:30am to 11:30 am
  • Writing bootcamp: 8th week (Monday to Friday mornings, 2 to 6 December), 8:30 am to 2 pm

Please note, by booking onto any of the sessions you will be agreeing to the principles set out in the Baillie Gifford Writing Partnerships Programme: Writing Events Philosophy.

Get in touch with Emily (emily.troscianko@humanities.ox.ac.uk) if you have any questions or ideas about the programme, or to request a writing partner match. You can also download our guidance document for tips on scheduling, planning, and other writing-related practicalities.

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