Graduate student Zach Tipton, right, meets accountability partner and writing consultant Eden Shulman, left.
Are you responsible for your writing, or is your writing responsible for you? That’s the question the university’s writing studio team asks graduate students on campus. And for scholars who feel their writing supports them, the Beat the Block Accountability writing program seeks to turn the tables on so they can take charge of their writing.
As graduate students enter the thesis and dissertation phase of their programs, many find it difficult to navigate a new world of high-stakes, low-structure writing. And that’s not unique to University of Arkansas students. Writing Studio staff members Dana Blair and Michel LaCrue have discovered through their research that the high-stakes, low-structure environment of writing theses, dissertations, and articles is a universal problem that causes anxiety to many graduate students and young professionals in academia.
For some graduate students, this lack of accountability can derail their plans to complete their capstone projects on time. For others, these anxieties prevent them from completing their projects, leading to dropout from their programs and lower program retention rates.
Some graduate students try to be proactive about building accountability into their writing plans by seeking appointments with their project advisors. But with variable schedules that don’t always coincide and advisors already overwhelmed and overbooked, these good intentions often fall flat.
Motivated to seek solutions to these challenges, Blair and LaCrue set out to create a writer support program that draws on cognitive-behavioral research. They also wanted to embed the accountability that many graduate students say they want and need, while helping to drive retention in the program and graduation.
In the summer of 2022, Blair and LaCrue hosted Get Out of Your Head and Into Writing, a workshop in which they discussed how to implement a writing system to break bad habits, create new habits and support long-term writing. They also offered optional follow-up writing responsibility groups throughout the summer. Attendance and response have been outstanding, indicating the need to continue the program in future semesters.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the turnout for this summer’s workshop, which boasted the highest turnout we’ve ever had at an event offered by the Writing Studio,” Blair said, writing studio coordinator. “The feedback we have received from our summer participants is encouraging, with students sharing that they are now excited to write, helping them to make substantial progress on their capstone projects and, in many cases , exceed project deadlines.”
Students and writing consultants participating in the Accountability Summer Program provided positive feedback.
Juanita Gil Bedoya, a graduate student writer participating in the program, said, “I learned strategies for writing more effectively and getting to know myself better when it comes to writing and setting goals and expectations. I enjoyed being able to talk about my struggles. and that we all learned from and supported each other.”
“Being able to help a student set goals and work together to achieve them has been very rewarding compared to the more traditional ‘one and done’ appointments,” noted Jack Arbuckle, graduate writing consultant.
Building on these summer successes, the writing studio will pilot its Beat the Block Accountability writing program with graduate students this fall. The program will consist of a kick-off information workshop, and those who decide to participate will be able to choose their support structure for the duration of the four-month program. Support includes accountability partners, coaching groups, and weekly writing at the Cordia Harrington Center of Excellence writing studio.
When a student enrolls in the program, Writing Studio staff will help connect them with accountability groups and writing consultants based on a number of preferences collected through an intake form, including personality and schedules to facilitate the most productive and positive experience for each participant. The program will last four months and will aim to develop the self-efficacy students need to complete their capstone projects on time. For students who want ongoing support beyond the first four months, the writing studio will work with them to create the support network they need.
Writing Systems Workshop
On Thursday and Friday, September 8 and 9, from 3-4 p.m. at the Cordia Harrington Center of Excellence, room 349, the Writing Studio will host a workshop to discuss how to implement a writing system that will help writers to smash evil. habits, create new habits, and sustain writing for the long term. Those interested in learning more about the Beat the Block Accountability writing program are encouraged to stay after 4-4:30 p.m. to learn more about the program. Those interested in enrolling in the Accountability Program are required to attend. Graduate students interested in participating but unable to attend should contact the Writing Studio.
To register for the workshop, complete this form. To sign up for the Writing Studio newsletter and receive monthly updates on upcoming events and helpful writing tips, sign up here.