Glimmer of hope

Title: Finding a Glimmer of Hope in the Long, Dark Night of Writing

Authors: Matthew Fox, The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, Lyndon Garrett, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Delia Mannen, ESADE Business School, Ramon Llull University, Emily Plews, Lundquist College of Business, University of Oregon, Kira Schabram, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, and Marlene Walk, School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania


The craft of academic research and writing is a challenging and often lonely endeavor.   Even with guidance from faculty advisors and empathy from other members of a doctoral cohort, we sometimes struggle.  What can doctoral students do to survive? And thrive? 


A little over a year ago we were attending the May Meaning Meeting where one of the members led a discussion titled, "Finding a Glimmer of Hope in the Long, Dark Night of Writing for Journal Publication". We realized that many of us students wrestled with the same challenges as the senior scholars. We spent more time than we cared to admit staring at a blank page or babysitting drafts we feared would never be ready to submit.  We wondered what we were supposed to say and how to say it.  We wondered whether what we wrote made sense or adhered to the academic conventions we were still struggling to understand.  We were looking for ways to reduce the ambiguity of the research process and increase the quantity and quality of our writing while managing the stress of it all.


Many of the glimmers of hope offered during the discussion involved working with others. As we were geographically dispersed from other members of the microcommunity and a few of us found ourselves in a doctoral cohort of only one person, we desired a social structure to address these challenges. Shortly after the gathering one of us proposed a writing group. Within a few days and a few lengthy email threads, we became a writing group of six senior doctoral students, from six institutions, spanning four different time zones from Vancouver to Germany.


Before our first meeting, we wrote and shared our personal objectives and goals for the group and then pieced together a structure and set of rules that worked for us. We decided to meet every week for two hours via Google Hangout, with a structure that begins with an informal round robin check-in--where we often vent frustrations and celebrate personal and professional accomplishments--followed by reviewing three pieces of writing for 30 minutes each. During each 30-minute slot, the presenting author provides a brief introduction and clarifies what type of feedback he/she is seeking and then remains (more or less) silent while the other members of the group discuss the piece. This allows for an open dialogue among those giving the feedback.


We each have a chance to share something for review every other week, although the rotation varies as unavoidable schedule conflicts arise and as we face periods of varying levels of need. In the past few weeks, a few of our members were completing their dissertations (increased need) which coincided with one member traveling for the job market while another began collecting data on site (reduced need).


Now that we have worked together for almost a year, we have built a rapport and established a history that allows us to draw on past work to not only improve the writing being reviewed but each scholar’s research stream as well. We have progressed from simply reviewing segments of papers to providing feedback on research ideas, data, memos, and job market materials. In fact, we have found the benefits of being a part of the writing group to extend far beyond advancing our respective crafts and quality of writing. Other benefits include: camaraderie; social, emotional, and professional support; knowledge sharing and extension; learning how to review and offer constructive feedback; and the meaningful experience of contributing to improve another’s scholarship. Freedom and adaptability to individual needs has been a major strength of our group, as has been openness to discuss the issues we face and provide critical yet constructive feedback.


Do we still get lost in the long dark night of writing? Yes. Does the dreaded blank page still haunt us? Of course. The endeavor remains challenging but it has become collective and thus no longer lonely, and that gives us an enormous glimmer of hope.