Marie Jacobs: "Come together"

Marie Jacobs is doctoraatsstudent aan de vakgroep Vertalen, Tolken en Communicatie. Ze schrijft als lid van de PhD writers' group van de onderzoeksgroep MULTIPLES.

Writing a dissertation can be a lonely quest. There are plenty of pre-corona studies that show how PhD students are particularly prone to mental health issues such as burn-out and depression. One can imagine that conducting literature reviews, analysing data, and writing up research papers gets even more lonesome “from home”…

With a group of PhD students from the MULTIPLES research group, we have been trying to find ways to “come together” and read, write, brainstorm and debrief together.  We started a writers’ group in 2018, which allowed us to physically meet about every week. After a couple of our members participated in Writer Development workshops, a course designed and taught by dr. Sarah Haas in the context of the doctoral school program (every PhD student’s favourite one – if you’re interested be sure to sign up the very day subscriptions open) , our sessions took on a certain format. The concept used to be very straightforward: we agreed on a date, one person booked a location and, hey presto, there you had a room of writing researchers. The rules of the game are simple yet effective. One of us jots down our names and goals on the white- or blackboard. There is no chair, boss, supervisor, leader or whatever. We agree on the duration of a session, we shut up and write. In between the sessions  we experienced the exhilaration of ticking off the writing goals, sharing small talk, venting frustration, celebrating joys, getting cups of tea and coffee. Occasionally even pieces of professional advice were thrown into the mix. Afterwards we’d sometimes have lunch, and discuss how the specific goals related to the bigger picture of our PhD – as well as our plans for the weekend.

When COVID-19 hit Belgium, the writers’ meetings were moved to a virtual stage. Not everyone was immediately enthusiastic. It took us a while to find the most suitable platform. Some people ‘suffered’ from screen fatigue or didn’t have a fast enough internet connection. Soon it became clear, however, that we needed the little check-ins that the writers’ group offered, during a pandemic more than ever. Nowadays we meet two times a week, have a mailing list with about 20 email addresses, a virtual whiteboard and – I’m not trying to brag here – a Google Calendar that updates itself regularly. If you pay close attention, you can sometimes see a toddler appear on screen, because that too is working from home…

Now, I don’t think we were necessarily motivated by the statistics and stereotypes about how conducting research can be a very individualist endeavour, but I do believe that the sense of community that we created for ourselves, is – in some ways and at some points, especially throughout 2020/2021 – what keeps us sane.


Come together