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Grad students ‘live free or die writing’ during J-Term

Forty-one graduate students participated in the third annual J-Term Writing Boot Camp, which provides uninterrupted quiet space in the Memorial Union Building for writing of any kind.

Alyson Eberhardt is a PhD student, but as a mother of two young children who works full-time at UNH for the Sea Grant Cooperative Extension programs, finding the time to work on her dissertation can be a challenge.

But for one week during this year’s January term, Eberhardt had the chance to spend her undivided attention on her research during the third annual “Live Free or Die Writing Boot Camp,” which is a week-long Graduate School program that provides uninterrupted all-day quiet space in the Memorial Union Building for writing or work of any kind.

“What’s ideal is huge chunks of time,” Eberhardt explained. “So I feel like this Boot Camp is perfect.”

Eberhardt, who is a doctoral student in the Natural Resources & Earth Systems Science (NRESS) program, was one of 41 graduate students who attended the J-Term Writing Boot Camp. Students could attend for just one day, or the entire week, and coffee, tea, and lunch were provided. Prizes were also awarded to those who attended for at least four days.

The J-Term Writing Boot Camp started after Interim Dean Cari Moorhead attended a Council of Graduate Schools meeting and saw that Cornell University ran a similar successful program.

“The J-Term Boot Camp is a wonderful opportunity for students to focus on parts of their work, proposals, and articles in a setting with other students where they can also gain expertise from faculty,” Dr. Moorhead said.

Jovana Ardeljan Milosavljevic, a PhD student and graduate assistant, attended the initial Boot Camp and thought it would be beneficial to provide other writing opportunities to students throughout the year. The Graduate School weekly writing group started in the spring of 2016 and continued over the summer, with a focus on publication. The semester-long sessions are open to all masters and PhD students, regardless of discipline, and either lunch or dinner is provided by the Graduate School.

“For me, it’s about community and making each other stronger in terms of working together and knowing people around you are setting their mind on whatever goal they have,” Ardeljan Milosavljevic explained

Wilton Burns, a master’s student in Oceanography, used this year’s Boot Camp to work on a journal article for publication and to make headway on her thesis. She explained that being in a room with other students is motivating, but also comforting, as she’s realized many people have similar questions and struggles when it comes to writing.

“It just really has helped to know other people have had the same problems,” Burns said. “They’re struggling the same ways I am.”

The Boot Camp was also productive for Sara Clarke-Vivier, a PhD in Education student who attended all five days. With a May graduation date on the horizon, Clarke-Vivier spent her time working on her dissertation, of which she was able to send out a chapter for review. She also attends the Graduate School’s weekly writing groups.

“It’s been really great,” she said of the J-Term Boot Camp. “I’ve been really productive. I like being around other people. I feel like it’s got a good productive energy and it’s not too quiet.”

In addition to quiet writing space and lunch, the Boot Camp also provides students with faculty resources and support. Dr. Jessica Bolker of the Department of Biological Sciences and Dr. Reginald A. Wilburn of the English Department were on hand to assist students with writing questions and concerns.

Dr. Wilburn praised the Boot Camp, and said that it was an opportunity to recognize insecurities that every writer brings to the table.

“I think, first of all, it creates a community of professional writers,” he explained. “It reiterates the importance that all good writing requires repeated practice and rehearsal.” He also hopes that the Boot Camp provided students with discipline and dedication that they can recreate throughout the rest of the year.

“I think it should keep going, and it should even be larger,” he said. “I’m impressed with the numbers, but I think it should even be larger.”

—Author Kristen Melamed