The Baillie Gifford Writing Partnerships Programme offers support for writing and writing-related habits to graduates and early-career academics in the Humanities at Oxford University.
By pairing you with a writing partner with whom to schedule regular writing meet-ups (in person, or in the age of COVID, online), and by offering highly structured group writing events as well as in-depth academic writing resources 1-1 support, the programme is here to make your writing happen more reliably, effectively, and enjoyably.
The programme came into being in 2015, when the current coordinator, Emily Troscianko, was Postdoctoral Training Coordinator for the Oxford University Humanities Division. It began life as a simple partner pairing scheme plus a few writing bootcamps during term. When funding for the position dried up, the scheme hibernated. It was resurrected in 2018, when the investment management firm Baillie Gifford offered funding to support 12 new DPhil scholarships in the Humanities, and made provision of a writing programme for the Humanities a condition of the gift.
The programme now sits within the Humanities Researcher Development and Training Programme, which includes pathways on preparation for academic practice, entrepreneurship, heritage, teaching, public engagement with research, and career confidence. It is the first and only writing programme at the University of Oxford, and its expansion has been inspired by the writing centre model exemplified by many North American universities. The programme complements more informal forms of writing support available around Oxford, many of which are helpfully collated in this Facebook group.
The programme is about writing, and not just about writing. Learning to write better also means learning other important things, like:
- learning to communicate
- learning to concentrate
- learning to make regular time for something meaningful yet difficult, with often delayed rewards, despite the demands of many other tasks and people.
In these senses, writing practice is practice in living, and the programme works from a belief in their inseparability. Its focus is academic writing, but the prerequisites and the consequences of getting better at academic writing are both broad and profound.
Who runs the programme?
The programme is designed and coordinated by Emily Troscianko, and supported by Caroline Thurston (Researcher Development and Training Manager for the Humanities Division) and Michelle Laynes (Training Administrative Assistant).
I have a DPhil in German literature and was a Junior Research Fellow at St John’s College before embarking on a portfolio career. I have four types of expertise relevant to running this programme.
- I write a lot, across a range of platforms and genres. I have published lots of academic articles and chapters as well as a research monograph, a coauthored textbook, and two works of popular nonfiction. I write a blog on eating disorders for Psychology Today, and contribute to the Oxford/Cambridge early-career blog.
- I coach people. I offer recovery coaching for eating disorders as well as academic/life coaching. I have devoted years to pinpointing what methods are effective in generating and sustaining meaningful habit change—which is what developing an effective writing practice requires.
- I have a “portfolio” career: a multi-stranded mostly freelance set of professional roles. Making one work well requires attention to the mechanics of the working day and week: how time is spent, priorities juggled, deadlines met (or not). This learning feeds directly into helping writing happen despite the standard busyness, for myself and for you.
- I know Oxford very well. The autumn of 2020 marked 20 years since I arrived at St Hilda’s as an undergrad, and over these two decades I have observed many examples, in my own life and other people’s, of how to do academic life badly (and some examples of how to do it really well). This programme is designed, not least, to provide you with sources of support, training, and inspiration that I wish I’d had myself.
Whenever there were deadlines to be met, my writing partner was always checking on me and encouraging me to help reach the goal. This was marvellously helpful as I managed to submit two pieces of written work on a self-imposed deadline this term.
One thing I do with a writing partner is commit to having a draft ready for them to read the day before it is due to my supervisor. This is one of the only things that makes it so I have it done on time.
Probably the most helpful thing is to have someone willing to talk over ideas with. It helps to articulate things, especially to those who are not experts as this makes me winnow it down to the core elements and justify them in more logical terms.
What’s been most helpful for me is discussing how to prioritise and plan what I can reasonably accomplish in a timed session. In other words, getting a sense of how to better estimate how long tasks really take. It’s been comforting knowing someone struggles with this, too. Together, we’ve been able to support each other by suggesting different research and writing approaches.
I only have a couple more months until my final submission for the DPhil Viva – Yikes! The writing sessions have helped me keep a good pace in a term that had a lot of other professional responsibilities (teaching, editing) and personal upheaval. I finished two chapters this term!
The writing programme has made a significant positive difference to my work this term. I’ve really valued being able to work in a virtual space with others, to have yoga and movement exercises as part of that, and to be encouraged to think more creatively and critically about my writing practices. I wish this had existed when I was a grad student and I’m extremely glad I signed up this term.
Having a writing-partner has changed my life!
Thanks to Katherine Fender (DPhil Eng Lit, St John’s, 2012-16) for the featured image and Sybilla Pereira (DPhil Philosophy, New, 2016-) for the profile picture.