When a great plan comes together: Writing Retreat 2.0

27 Jul 2023

by Tolulope Falope

Organizations like UKERC should be commended when they come up with a strong and valuable program. That is what I felt about the writing retreat held by UKERC on 22-23 November 2022, at the Forest of Arden Marriott Hotel & Country Club in Birmingham. Attending was a unique experience, that combined the very common concept of study groups, blended with networking, taught writing skill sessions, and a conducive study environment.

One key attribute that made the writing session stand-out was accountability. We were told to set targets and objectives for the day and share it with our group members, providing progress updates throughout the event. I was so impressed by the structure and organization of the event, that I took the idea back to my university to see if they would implement it.

Developing Cranfield’s writing retreat

What makes a good idea even better is the fact that it can be improved upon, shared, and even sustained through collaboration especially at an institutional level. On getting back to my university, I found out that they organized “Shut up and write sessions”, a more popular iterative format of the group study. I contacted one of the organizers, Mandy Smith, a Research Support Librarian, about the possibility of holding a writing retreat at Cranfield with a format similar to that of UKERC’s event in 2022. Mandy along with Joanne Holden (Teaching Fellow in English for Academic Purposes) and Louise Woodland (Education Enhancement Lead) from the Cranfield Library Service, were very open and supportive of the idea. They immediately swung into action to make it happen, putting in an incredible amount of time and effort.

Fast forward six months later and we held our first Cranfield Writing Retreat at the Cranfield Management Development Centre. Attended by 24 research staff and students, we were able to adopt aspects from the UKERC writing retreat and add our own unique style. For instance, team leaders were selected beforehand and tasked with facilitating the focused group writing sessions by strictly keeping to time and facilitating the group discussions. Another spin on the original idea is students had to pick colour-coded cards to determine which group they would end up in. Since this was the first edition, we opted to hold it over an entire day rather than the two days held by UKERC.

The focused writing sessions were split into two 45-minute sessions and one 1-hour session. This was sandwiched in between by three talks. These talks were delivered by Cranfield teaching staff representing the diverse research backgrounds at the university. Dr Clare Knock (Centre for Defence and Security) spoke on “Overcoming writer’s block”. Dr Gustavo Castelluccio (School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing) delivered a talk on “Top tips for writing”. Finally, Prof Bruce Jefferson (School of Water, Energy and Environment), the Director of Research, gave us insights into “Writing quality papers and publishing”.

Achieving personal goals

Regular breaks and lunch were provided, which allowed the attendees to mingle and network with each other. You would be surprised how few research students ever interact beyond their office colleagues. Reflecting after the close of the event, I was truly proud that we were able to pull this off and of the role that I played in bringing the event back to Cranfield. For me personally, as a participant, I achieved my research goals at both writing events and attending was well worth it. Going forward, I highly recommend that this format of group study be adopted in universities around the UK.

Brainstorming session

About the author:

Tolulope Falope is undertaking a PhD in at Cranfield University. He is studying Solar energy integration using an energy management system and hopes to deliver clean energy solutions to industry at the end of his studies.