The Benefits of Peer-Led Writing Groups

This year I’ve been facilitating an informal monthly peer writing group, as part of my work as a graduate assistant. I’ll be starting work on my Master’s thesis this summer (eep!), and my colleagues and I hope to continue the tradition of meeting once a week or so to check in with each other.

Moliere quote:

Guess we’re in stage 2? Source:

Before this year, I had never taken advantage of a peer-led writing group before; now, however, I find them indispensable. Here are some of the many benefits they offer:

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Writing the Brief Academic Bio: A Genre Study

My Digital Writing class and I currently have something big in the works. I’m hoping to be able to share more the details of that project with you soon, but in the meantime, I thought I’d talk a little bit about a related piece of writing I’m working on now: the brief academic biography.

This is a genre most often needed when preparing a work for publication or submission to a conference. At first glance summarizing your academic-self in 50-100 words might SOUND really easy, but surprise! It’s for sure NOT.

grumpy cat making ironic shocked face

Source:… and of course Grumpy Cat.

If anything, it is more challenging than the longer academic bio or CV (see my blog post on CVs herebecause it is so condensed. You are forced to be entirely thoughtful of your content and syntax, right down to the word level. No fluff here.

Unfortunately, as a Master’s student, I’m in the awkward position of not having yet done a significant amount of scholarship in my field — or even necessarily having established exactly what that field is. So unlike a PhD student, postdoc, or professor, I don’t have a particularly meaningful body of research to refer to in the bio. My solution? Do a little recon on some typical conventions of the genre (specifically, the brief academic biography of grad students) to find out what is considered kosher to include and what isn’t. Here’s what I found:

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My Favorite Work Spaces

As a grad student, it is crucial to have a few go-to spots where I know I can automatically get into a productive frame of mind. I call upon each of them for different reasons and at different times. Here are a few of the beautiful places that help me get my work accomplished every day:

The library

A sunny corner of my university library

A sunny corner of my university library

Soo original, I know. But my university just completed construction on a gorgeous new library, so I take advantage of it at every possible opportunity. The best part: there are private (sound-proof!) study rooms that you can reserve for a study date with friends. With whiteboard walls, people! Walls you can WRITE ON! Enough said.

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A Must-Read Book for Grad Students

… In the humanities, at any rate. A professor of mine recommended me to Eric Hayot‘s The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities earlier this semester and I’m so pleased to have been introduced to such a gem just before starting work on my thesis.

Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

What Hayot does in this book that is so extraordinary is make visible all of the usually INvisible conventions of academic writing. As he says, “Why write a book on scholarly writing for graduate students and faculty in the humanities? Partly because no such book exists” (7). This is true, as far as I know. In short, highly digestible chapters (helpful for easy browsing at a reader’s convenience), he tackles topics like paragraph structure, footnotes and endnotes, and the various uses of parentheticals. Moreover, he does it all in delightful prose, as when he compares being “pro-jargon” with being “pro-gonorrhea” (178). But for me, perhaps the most concretely useful characteristic of Elements of Academic Style is Hayot’s frequent analysis of examples, for instance in his discussion of standard formats of academic titles of books and journal articles. He explains the efficacy (or not) of various real example titles.

I fully expect The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities to be incredibly valuable to my upcoming thesis work, and I also foresee its applicability to the high school English classroom as I move into my teaching career. If you’re a graduate student, especially in the humanities, this book is nothing less than a must-read!

Bonus recommendation: Hayot calls Wendy Laura Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success “excellent”; I have yet to pick it up but I plan to soon (2).

What books are essential to your grad school career? Tell me about them in the comments!



Your PhD Open Thread

Today I thought I’d invite you, the readers, to join me in an open thread discussion of something that’s heavy on my mind, and I’d be willing to bet on some of yours, too. Our topic?

To get a PhD, or not to get a PhD (Hamlet never tackled that one).


Seems like a fair trade. Source: Mathematics and Digital Humanities

I have many, conflicting thoughts on this decision, but I’d love to hear yours! Fire away in the comments, chaps.

Fun fact: In writing this blog post I discovered vast quantities of funny PhD memes. Source: quickmeme

Fun fact: In writing this blog post I discovered vast quantities of funny PhD memes. Source: quickmeme



The Russian Roulette of Course Registration

Well, it’s that time again — time to register for next semester’s courses. I’ve reached a point in my graduate program where, somewhat unbelievably, I have only one elective left(!). For a massive nerd like me, it is indeed a sad day, and I’ve been struggling to make a decision about how to use that last elective.

But sometimes when you aren’t familiar with the professor or the course, registering for classes can feel a bit like a game of Russian Roulette — just pull the trigger and hope for the best.


Or you can play my way: -firearms + cats Source: Cyanide and Happiness

When in doubt, here are a few of my strategies for course registration so that you end up with a roster of classes you can be excited about for next semester.

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