#PROWSS2020 was an invaluable research experience. It comprised a week of workshops targeting different areas of postgraduate writing and was accompanied each day by a 2-hour Shut Up and Work. After hearing wonderful things about previous Writing Summer Schools (and attending last year’s myself), I was an eager participant in the 2020 sessions.
COVID-19 has affected us all (for better and for worse) and university life has not escaped the dramatic changes the pandemic has triggered. With libraries and study spaces closed and opportunities to work from home being sporadic at best, #PROWSS2020 provided a much-needed opportunity for focused work. For PGRs one of the major adjustments of lockdown life has been the swift migration to online teaching and learning. The redefinition of the PGR Writing Summer School as an online event was a stressful, but ultimately successful process for all involved: issues such as broadband speed, extraneous noise, and remembering to “unmute” yourself were offset by positives of virtual teaching and learning, such as increased accessibility, opportunities to re-watch lectures, and the ability to wear pyjama bottoms at university without being considered inappropriate.
The content of the sessions was very useful and successfully built on last year’s topics. The initial session on “Writing A Successful PhD” by Simon Smith was a wonderfully informative way to start the week. Here we discussed challenges and strategies for working sustainably and developing confidence in academic writing. Day two was a session on “Writing for Publication” with Maria Kavussanu. In this hands-on workshop, we investigated the difference between writing for publication and writing for our thesis and planned our own journal articles. Day three ended with a session on “Strategies for Managing your Writing, Work, and Wellbeing” with both Helen Williams and Michael Shoolbred. This session linked to wider Summer School themes and provided invaluable opportunities to troubleshoot problems with other PGRs. The fourth day was a hands-on workshop on “Responding to Feedback” with Nicola Gale where we discussed what makes feedback useful and different ways that we may manage this. These workshops had a mixture of pre-recorded lectures and face-to-face sessions, including the very impressive use of break-out rooms, where smaller group discussion could take place. The whole week was rounded off with a question and answer session where PGRs who had recently submitted their own theses answered a range of questions on the process and helped to suppress any worries attendees were having about their own work.
Shut up and Work sessions occurred in parallel to the workshops and provided 2 hours every day for focused work (something that is difficult to find in normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic). Georgina Hardy managed these online sessions expertly and created a safe and productive virtual working environment. She curated the beginning of the session, providing guidance on how to set initial SMART targets, and managed mid- and post-session check-ins (where nearly everyone reported success!).
Overall, #PROWSS2020 was a very well organised and scheduled course with useful events to support postgraduate researchers at all stages of their PhD research. I would definitely recommend looking out for next year’s writing summer school!