In this post, Sarah Chung, PGR in the School of Education and Westmere Scholar, tells us about the value she finds in running and attending Virtual Shut Up and Work.
As a mother of two young children, who was working as a full-time primary school teacher and school governor, I very enthusiastically started my part-time PhD in Education in 2018. I planned to work in the evenings and at weekends, only venturing onto campus as needed. On a regular basis I would receive e-mails which would tell me all about the opportunities that were available for PGRs and one always stuck out – Shut Up and Work. As an initiative, I thought it was great but I couldn’t join in as I was at work. It made me realise that there was a lot I couldn’t attend as a part-time PGR. When I became a Westmere Scholar in 2019, I had the opportunity to attend the Shut Up and Work sessions organised by the PGR Community Engagement Officer (then Eren Bilgen) and I immediately noticed how supportive the environment was with everyone sharing goals and next steps. I also noticed how much more productive I had been!
Reflecting on the session, I realised that it would be great if we could include other PGRs that were part-time, distance learners, PGRs with parental/caring responsibilities or even a combination of all three! Eren and I discussed how we could do this, and we decided to offer an online version – ‘Virtual Shut Up and Work’ – via the Westmere Facebook group for distance learners and part-time PGRs. The first session was two hours long and ran between 8pm and 10pm, to allow for work/child/carer commitments. It was based on the same principle of the on-campus Shut Up and Work: focusing on a goal, sharing targets, blocks of uninterrupted work, well-earned breaks to encourage socialising and networking, reflection and next steps. It was incredibly well received, with PGRs reflecting on how positive and supportive it had been but just as importantly, how they felt a part of the PGR community.
Since the first virtual session, the world has changed a lot and we have moved the Virtual Shut Up and Work Sessions into the newly developed Common Room on Discord. Every Monday between 8pm and 10pm, I lead a session and every week I feel motivated and supported by the group I work with. It has helped us all to feel connected to the PGR community, even though we cannot actually be there in person. Knowing that we can meet every Monday keeps us all encouraged and creates a positive start to the week. We share our highs and lows, support and encourage, and ensure we take breaks – something that can be easily forgotten when you work in isolation.
Virtual Shut Up and Work has grown and developed over the year, allowing PGR engagement with research culture, even when not physically on campus. It gives exactly the same support and encouragement as the on-campus version and has allowed PGRs, myself included, to keep some structure during an especially difficult time. Additionally, the camaraderie of Virtual Shut Up and Work helps to keep imposter syndrome in check, as through conversation and sharing of experiences, you begin to realise that you’re not alone in your PGR journey.
Have you been participating in any Shut Up and Work activity, with Sarah or other colleagues? Tell us about it below!