Shut up and focus on mutual encouragement

In this post, Mustafa Coban, a PGR from the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies in the College of Arts and Law shares his experiences of Shut up and work.

Shut up and work was for me initially, Shut up and write, though I’ve come to appreciate the ‘work’ phrasing is much more apt since there is all sorts of work involved in study and research before, during and after the writing process. It was, and still largely is, a time dedicated to writing, editing, and proofreading. A friend who was leaving the university after completing her studies told me about Shut up and work as I was starting my PhD programme. It took me some time to seek out a session, but once I found one, I found it immediately useful.

University of Birmingham University Graduate School. Shut up & work co-working sessions for PGRs. Weekly Thursdays 1pm-4.30pm; Monthly Mondays 10am-5.10pm. Tackle your to-do list and get more done!

I wasn’t entirely sure of what I expected. But I knew I wanted a time dedicated to writing and only writing. I imagined it as time free not only from reading, but the endless loops and interesting dives into reading, that only seemed to snowball as I chased one footnote, idea, or curiosity after another until I had a folder of pdf articles becoming too big to manage. That was in the early days of my programme, and while I still chase footnotes, through “shutting up and writing” I’ve become better at not trying to cover everything I’ve read.

Getting deeper into the second half of my programme, I had to dedicate more time to writing, editing, refining arguments and such like. Then the pandemic started, which threw established patterns into flux. I’m a part-time researcher; I teach at a different institution and work as an examiner for a third organisation. Because of these I didn’t, and now can’t, spend a lot of time on campus, despite being local. As such I had already lacked a sense of community, however defined.

The online Shut up and work sessions have helped me to organize various commitments around a focal point. Choosing a particular session each week and attempting to organize my time to make that session a period of focused work has helped me organize the rest of my week for a good few months.

Apart from focusing my time, I’ve found other benefits. There is always mutual support and encouragement. A sense that we all realize we’re in differing but still challenging circumstances, that good study and research isn’t necessarily easy, let alone when there are other commitments in a busy life. The SMART target setting aspect gives a glimpse of all the research that is happening, how interesting it is, and how different from my own it is. Verbalizing a thought, or typing it out in some sessions, when there is occasion for a chat is quite reflective. Especially when I’ve been in a small room with only four walls and cups of coffee to voice ideas to. It’s not that there is a community of very closely aligned research interests in the sessions I’ve been to, but a group of people working together helps against boredom, procrastination and impostor syndrome.

In short, the Shut up and work sessions have given me a point of focus for my research and some structure to a nebulous home-working experience. Most significantly, the sustained support and encouragement from a community with little knowledge of the intricacies of each other’s work has been very helpful in keeping me going through the dual long slogs of a pandemic and a research degree.

One thought on “Shut up and focus on mutual encouragement”

  1. Great post. Much of this rings true for me – as a first year PhD student living in London, I’ve yet to step onto campus due to the pandemic, and the SU&W sessions have given me a sense of communal workspace and colleague support from my (very solitary) home office!


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