Jo Sutherst is a second year PhD researcher in Art History and Visual Culture and a keen facilitator for the Doctoral College’s PGR Writing Groups.

Mid December 2020, the Christmas holidays approached with the prospect of higher lockdown tiers and many PGRs being away from family and friends around the world. In the last scheduled Wednesday evening Shut Up and Write session of the year, a few of the facilitators decided that we would run a ‘few extra sessions’ to maintain some momentum and sense of normality for ourselves and others during the holiday period. These Shut Up and Write sessions were run outside of the Researcher Development team planned sessions, run by PGRs for PGRs for 5 weeks. Facilitated by volunteers, the sessions attracted a wide range of attendees from all over the world. We advertised the sessions in the PGR Writing Group Teams Channel and on Twitter expecting just a few others to join us. How wrong were we?

Exacerbated by Covid-19 restrictions around the world, so many PGRs have found themselves alone and isolated from their friends and family this year; many are locked down in the UK unable to return to their home countries. The combination of structure in which to write and the opportunity to connect with others has been a great support to all of us during such a difficult time. Working with existing facilitators and 3 new facilitators that we trained during this period, we arranged and facilitated an incredible extra 66 sessions (one even lasting an extra hour by popular request!). There have been so many new faces join us from around the world which has been fantastic and so very interesting for all of us. We saw an astounding 856 attendances in 5 weeks, with the final week recording a massive 305! But we are not stopping there. Alongside the planned Researcher Development team sessions, volunteers will continue to run additional sessions to fill any gaps.

Without the shut up and write sessions things would have been very different for many of us. Joining the sessions has given us structure to our days and a real sense of community and belonging, something which is in short supply during the ongoing pandemic. The seemingly endless days under lockdown conditions can seem daunting when you are stuck at home (or in university accommodation); the lack of human contact preys on your mind, and the motivation to conduct research and write becomes non-existent. A WhatsApp group was set up and has attracted a growing community that shares pet pictures and interesting conversations about pretty much anything. This community is so important, especially at the moment. Everyone is at ease in the sessions; problems and difficulties are shared openly and discussed, helping to find solutions and to push each other forward. The feeling of togetherness and support that they provide has kept many of us sane and focused; each session is a source of knowledge, inspiration and friendship. Without the virtual arms around each of us, the holiday period would have been an extremely lonely one. We are not alone.

You can join in with Shut Up and Write by joining our Microsoft Teams group!

Written by: Jo Sutherst