A little squeal of delight went up from a woman at the check-in desk for the fall CEHD Writer’s Retreat. This was unusual not only because it was barely 8 am on a Saturday morning, but because graduate students generally don’t squeal. In this case, the outburst was followed by a cry of, “I thought I was the only one!” as she scanned the names of fellow PhD students who also signed up to spend the day focused on writing.
The common misconception among students that they are the only one “in the struggle” with the breadth and volume of writing encompassed in earning a graduate degree is one important reason the Office of Student and Academic Affairs (SAA) organizes a Writer’s Retreat once each semester. The retreat aims to provide a comfortable space where writers can set aside time to commit to their work away from distractions of home life, cellphones, and the thousand other things that make it so easy to procrastinate. To that end, the twenty-nine doctoral and master’s students began the day by setting goals for themselves and agreeing to hold themselves and each other accountable. They wrote those goals in magic marker on big sheets of paper and taped them to the walls by their workstations to serve as a constant reminder during the retreat. Rather than being intimidated or embarrassed to show their peers their unfinished workload or admit their struggles, most students found it liberating, cheering each other on as each task was crossed off the goal sheets. “Writing is obviously important in graduate school, but so is community,” said Brandon Quiles, SAA Student Engagement Coordinator and event organizer, “Establishing a sense of community where everyone relates to some degree how each other feels about being a graduate student, creates this atmosphere of support and productivity that the students enjoy and need. “
While most of the day was dedicated to blocks of writing time, there were other resources offered to the writers. The CEHD librarian, Anne Melville, led a workshop on navigating databases and stayed afterward to work one-on-one with students needing help finding research. Indigo Eriksen and Madeline Graham from The Writing Center held appointments with individual students, assisting with everything from simple proofreading to organizing literature reviews and portfolios. Students chose from an assortment of work areas on the third floor of the Johnson Center, including lobby lounges, a designated quiet classroom, and a collaborative classroom with snacks and coffee to refuel throughout the day before gathering once more at the end of the day to revisit goals and assess their progress.
Overall, the writers gave the day high marks and expressed interest in participating again in the spring. One participant commented, “Having time dedicated to writing with no distractions from home [was the most valuable part]. It was helpful to have other students around to know that what I’m going through is a shared experience.”