Aalto Materials Platform

Doctoral writing workshops: fostering creativity, mutual support and productivity

Doctoral students have a lot to accomplish to reach their goal of a professional degree. From subject-area studies to research to collaboration, it’s a heavy load. While a great deal of doctoral students’ work is done independently, writing doesn’t have to be a lonely quest. And in a pandemic, students need writing support from their peers more than ever.

Aalto University_discussion_photo by Unto_Rautio

Meeting and talking to others from different departments is very nice, especially during these home times.

Doctoral student

In support of doctoral students, Aalto’s Materials Platform organized a suite of training opportunities across disciplines in 2020, including the Online Writing Workshop for Doctoral Students with John Weston on 6 October.

Part of Aalto’s Wellbeing Week, the workshop combined social support with practical work. Language teacher John Weston presented two seminars, A Crash Course in Academic Writing, and Common “Issues” in English. He offers a knowledgeable, organized, and meaningful virtual workshop. John says, "Working together online can feel good! It can be authentic, nourishing, and uplifting – and it’s also a really effective way of developing your writing.”

A blank page or a huge writing task can be daunting, so before sitting down to write, students should set goals about what they want to accomplish in their writing session. The co-writing session and goal-setting exercise during the workshop allowed students to test strategies they learned in the seminar and adapt it for their writing practice right away.

The event invited doctoral students to share best practices, plan their writing sessions, and ask questions of an English-language expert. Over 100 people registered for the workshop -- from all six Aalto schools -- as you can see in the graph below:

Jons Weston Writing workshop participation-per-disciplines

The event also introduced Aalto Language Centre’s support services for doctoral students: the Writing Clinic and courses for doctoral students, as well as resources available online. Semester-long courses are offered by the Language Centre, yet John’s short and intensive workshops also have their place for students in need of “writing first aid” or help with the writing process itself.

Based on participants’ feedback, it’s clear that doctoral students are eager for more. They asked for regular sessions like this one to be held often, workshops that take place over 2-3 days, a journal paper writing seminar, opportunities for peer evaluation, and writing workshops around a particular theme. One student's recommendation could be taken up by any doctoral programme, such as a doctoral writing winter school.

Another popular recommendation from attendees of this and similar Platform events was universally expressed: researchers want more time to just sit down and write. A multidisciplinary community of peers working together in the same room (in person or virtually) is one motivating way to get it done. 

If your department or research group is looking for ways to facilitate your doctoral students' progress, contact the Language Centre to book a workshop, seminar series, or enquire about courses.

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