Tea and Sympathy

coffee pots

I attended my first Shut Up and Write session last week. To be honest, as I have only officially been a PhD student for 3 weeks, I only really went for the free cake! Surely I had nothing I could actually write? I hadn’t even had my first supervision meeting.

I arrived about 10 minutes into one of the pomodoros  (25 minute stretches of writing in silence as described in much more detail by the Thesis Whisperer here), sat down and opened up my laptop. I opened up a new word document and instead of staring at a blank page wondering when it would be ok to help myself to a slice of cake, as I had expected to do, I actually started writing. Reams and reams of questions came to me about a particular theoretical framework I hope to use in my research. I was truly amazed I had it in me!! I’ve been mulling this stuff over in my head for so long now, but I never sit down and take note. This session enabled all my thoughts to surface and actually get recorded. I can’t tell you how satisfying that felt. Admittedly, I ran out of steam fairly quickly (I managed 3 pomodoros), but I’ll be back, and not just for the cake!

The company is pretty cool too. In between pomodoros were 10-20 minute breaks. During this time tea and sympathy flowed. People often say that doing a PhD can be a lonely experience; it didn’t feel like it that morning. I chatted to some very interesting people, doing some very interesting research in areas far removed from my own. The people there were at all stages of the PhD and all had advice to offer. It got me wondering whether this might be an ideal place to find a critical friend from a radically different field, as recommended at the pre-conference event that was the birth place of this blog?

People have advised me to dedicate time to my PhD, perhaps a day a week. I do do this, but it has not been any way near as productive as that first Shut Up and Write session so far.  The dedicated space was so important, so too were the lack of distraction, and the knowledge that we were all there for the same reason.

If you don’t have a Shut Up and Write session at your institution, I’d strongly recommend setting one up. Just don’t forget the cake!


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