June 13, 2016

Graduate writing program offers peer-focused support

Writing group
Jason Koski/University Photography
Graduate students attend a year-end celebration for the new Writing Groups Program in the Big Red Barn.

When Michelle Cox, director of the English Language Support Office (ELSO), was working on her dissertation, she met regularly with a peer group who offered support and encouragement during the dissertation-writing process.

“We helped each other set goals, be accountable for those goals, think more critically about our claims and analysis, navigate feedback from our advisers and committee members, and generally feel more confident about what we were writing. I doubt I would have finished my dissertation so quickly had I not been in that group,” she said.

This experience motivated her to develop Cornell’s new Writing Groups Program. Composed of peers, these groups help motivate, support and advise domestic and international graduate students and postdocs on their writing.

“I wanted graduate students at Cornell, who might not otherwise either know about this type of support or be networked enough on campus to form their own, to have access to a writing group like the one I had,” Cox said.

Launched this spring, the program is co-sponsored by ELSO, the Graduate School’s Office of Student Life and Office of Academic Affairs and Programs, the Office of Postdoctoral Studies, and Mann Library.

Cox noted that although the offices co-sponsoring this program help facilitate, the Writing Groups Program is “largely run by the participants.” In each group there’s a leader responsible for meeting logistics.

The semesterlong program attracted 156 students and scholars, including master’s students, pre-exam and post-exam doctoral students, and postdocs. They were divided into 36 different groups that met one or more times per week throughout the semester.

Groups are further divided into three types: a meet and write group, in which members work on individual projects in a group setting; a meet and talk group, in which members discuss their writing challenges; and a meet and review group, in which members share drafts for feedback.

On a May afternoon in the Big Red Barn, participants gathered for a year-end celebration and were asked to complete surveys describing their experiences with the program.

One survey responder noted, “It was very helpful to realize that I’m not the only one who struggles to get my writing done,” while another said, “Having a group to talk about challenges I face in my writing projects, both as a source of confirmation and a source of help,” was one of the biggest benefits.

The Writing Groups Program also provides ongoing support from the program’s facilitators, including a Blackboard website with writing-related resources, a workshop series, a stipend for a meal for each group, and monthly meetings for writing group leaders.

Graduate student Anya Golovkova, who was a writing group leader this semester, was inspired to facilitate summer writing groups. “As a graduate student in a small field, it’s very easy to feel isolated, particularly during the breaks. Writing in a group creates a supportive environment that helps us stay focused and engaged with our work, so I am delighted to facilitate this program over the summer,” she said.

After a successful first semester, the Writing Groups Program will run again this fall. Interested students can apply early in the semester.

In the meantime, Golovkova’s summer writing groups are open to new members. “We still have lots of room for other serious and committed writers to join up,” Golovkova said. “They can just get in touch with me, and I will connect them with a group.”

Sally Kral is a communications assistant in the Graduate School.