Welcome (back) to campus and to the start of fall term! Here are some suggestions from the Fellowships & Writing Center staff as you gear up for the new academic year. We hope to work with you or see you at one of our events in the coming months!
The FWC works with all graduate students in GSAS. We have six principal offerings:
- We critique your academic writing for argumentation, structure, and style. You may upload your piece of writing using our FWC intake form.
- We provide advising on applying for fellowships. Sign up for an appointment with Dr. Jeannette Miller.
- We also hold brainstorming office hours for students who would like help starting a writing project or need a sounding board in the middle of one.
- We offer a variety of workshops on topics such as “Overcoming Writing Obstacles” and “The Art of the Prospectus.” This bi-weekly newsletter and our FWC Engage page provide descriptions and registration links for our upcoming workshops.
- We invite you to practice your oral presentations (dissertation defense, conference paper, etc.) with us on Friday afternoons between 2 and 5 p.m. ET starting on September 24.
- We facilitate The Writing Oasis, our program of small writing groups that provide a space for accountability, productivity, and peer support. Sign up using the link in our next newsletter and on the Writing Oasis page of our website.
–Dr. Jeannette Miller
I often stumble across old term papers from my first few years of graduate school. Sometimes this occurs during a frenetic search for a document on my laptop or upon finding a seemingly ancient USB memory stick that I purchased from a vending machine in one or another Harvard library lobby. In nearly every instance such as these, I often find myself recoiling at the thought that so much past writing was left wilting on a hard drive or some sort of “cloud” application rather than having been put to use on all the research projects I have engaged in since, my dissertation being but one instance. Indeed, it is vital not only to revisit old writing, be it a term paper or your research notes for a manuscript, but also to approach such short-term writing projects as experimental moments for more substantial future writing endeavors. As the semester begins, especially for those graduate students in the coursework phase of their programs, consider utilizing term papers or research papers as an opportunity to experiment with nascent ideas that could later find their way into a dissertation, thesis, or book manuscript. Wishing everyone the very best with their writing in the coming year!
You may know the feeling. You’ve worked hard all day...and have spent exactly zero minutes on your own projects. The start of the year is a great time to chip away at this problem by committing to a dedicated time and space for writing. First, start with some reflection: in what spaces do you work best, for what types of work? Do you hit your writing groove first thing in the morning, or not till late afternoon? Next, make a plan. Schedule in writing time—even 15 minutes—and treat this as a sacred appointment with yourself. Do not schedule other meetings during this time! Perhaps you can make the pandemic work for you by signing up for an hour alone in your shared office and having your colleagues keep you accountable. Schedule in a weekly planning day too, in which you break down big projects into manageable pieces; having a running list will give you choices when you have an unexpected free half hour to write, read secondary literature, or analyze a primary source. Finally, be ready to adapt. The term will get busy, as it always does. You might spend four hours making a beautiful color-coded schedule that you will stop following by day three. The important thing is to pick up where you left off and keep moving forward.
As graduate students, we often grapple with deep uncertainty about our research abilities, which can lead to a sense of paralysis when we sit down to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). But remember, you have a support system, and primary among this group is your doctoral advisor. It’s true that faculty have precious little free time, especially at the start of the academic year, when administrative demands, teaching responsibilities, and their own scholarship—often upon which their careers depend—make it seem as though they have not a moment to spare for us. But advisors also care about helping their students achieve success. With the fall term underway, make it a point to talk to your advisor, not just through vague emails, but in person (or over Zoom). Be prepared to discuss your goals in concrete terms and to ask questions. While you’re at it, try to set up a regular meeting time—this may be common for some fields, but not for others, and it’s important that you be proactive. Having a plan in place and absorbing informed guidance that brings blurry edges into focus can make all the difference in the world, giving you the confidence and freedom to move forward. Just as importantly, it forces you to take a deep breath and engage in self-reflection, which is critical for gaining clarity. In turn, clarity of thought—of direction—is key to good writing. Finally, set deadlines to send writing to your advisors or other readers, as much for yourself as for them: something is always better than nothing. And if you need help along the way, the staff of the Fellowships & Writing Center are here for you as well, whether you have written a messy outline or a polished piece of prose, and we embrace the opportunity to learn from you as we read your work and to help you bring your vision to the paper!