Sociology PGR writing retreat blog: Individual reflections (part 2)

Further to two recent blog posts on the Sociology PGR writing retreat held in June, here are some more (final!) reflections on the experience. This time Claire, Karina and Adrienne weigh in.


The retreat was a great space to have some quiet time to write – actually doing this in a group made me much more focussed on getting my work done! I think watching everyone else get their heads down and write made me want to do the same. I really loved the structure, I think if I hadn’t have had this I might not have got as much done as I actually did.   I am really glad we factored in some time to get out for some fresh air too.

It had been a good while since I had written anything structured so it did take me an hour or so to get into doing this, but the whole environment really helped me do so. If I was to do this again I would break my goals down into more specific and manageable achievements rather than having the aim of ‘starting to write a part of my literature review’.

It was lovely to socialise with the other PGR students who I don’t see very often, and get to know everyone better.


The retreat was very productive for me. I focused on the analysis of two interviews and wrote about them. I also finished some memos.

Staying away was an interesting experience and helped me achieve my goals. I had some time to share some ideas with colleagues and listen to what they are researching.  We were in different phases of our work, so we don’t always cross over – it was important to discuss what we do and what we are planning to do in our theses.

I also really enjoyed socializing with colleagues in a different environment, and to get to know them a bit better.


One might expect that the primary benefit of going on a writing retreat would be getting a lot of writing done.  Of course, holing away for two days with a bunch of other PhD students who are also trying madly to put words on paper is a boon for the writing process; I did manage to finish editing a paper I was working on, which I am obviously pleased about.   However, for me, the best part of heading to rural Northumberland for a couple of days with other PGRs based here in Newcastle University’s Sociology department was the chance to get to know my colleagues a bit better.  Yes, we worked hard and were productive, but we also spent lots of time talking to each other about our successes, our failures and our frustrations (and about non-PhD life too of course – we are only human!). This was not always formalised – the best chats often happened while preparing meals or playing cards in the evening.  Speaking to other PhD students who are also in the midst of the struggle that is writing a passably intelligent thesis was reassuring and encouraging.   Aside from this, it was just really nice to get to know everyone – I think this PGR cohort is now much more cohesive for having spent a bit of informal time together!

But…back to the writing. There were a number of tactics we employed at the retreat which I thought worked really well:

  • We always wrote in set, scheduled chunks of time, which is something I find incredibly useful. It was good to be reminded how effective I can be when I work that way.
  • We broke up the day with different activities, which made each chunk of time feel manageable. As a result, I felt I was able to write effectively, in a focused manner, nearly every time we sat down.
  • We set writing goals before we left for the retreat, and mapped out how we were going to achieve them over the two working days. We revisited these goals each day, which kept me on track.
  • Of course, being in a room where everyone else is also focused and working hard makes it a lot easier to do the same.

Overall the writing retreat was a great experience. I am looking forward to the next one already!

Sociology PGR Writing Retreat: Individual reflections (part 1)

As described in our most recent blog, the Sociology PGR cohort went on a two-day residential writing retreat in rural Northumberland last month.  It was hugely successful: everyone wrote lots, we got to know each other a bit better, and most importantly, we all had a good time!

Once back, we each took some time to reflect on the experience and write a bit about it.  Some key reflections from Angela, Katrina and Melissa are highlighted here (stay tuned for part 2 next week!).


For me the writing retreat was really beneficial in helping me to think about the writing process and discover new ways of approaching it. I really enjoyed writing in a supportive and relaxed environment and spending time with the other Sociology PGR students.

I think taking myself away from my usual working spaces helped me to think a little more reflexively about my writing and meant I was able to re-examine some of my work using a bit of a different lens. This was beneficial in helping me to restructure my preliminary methodology chapter as I realised that during my initial writing-up phase, I’d become a little lost in writing up the specific details and had perhaps neglected to pay attention to how the different sections of this chapter could fit together.  Completing these longer sections of writing is still relatively new to me and I am finding that being able to take a bit of a step back is incredibly important in ensuring I do not lose sight of the bigger picture.

Personally, setting a specific goal for each timed session proved to be particularly helpful in ensuring I was productive during my time at the retreat. The day before the retreat I broke down my goals into individual tasks that could be completed within the one and a half hour dedicated writing blocks. For example, I spent one session re-reading my methodology section and thinking about how I could reshape it, and another writing up a reflection in my research diary concerning my methodological decisions and how these are taking shape even as I write up the chapter.

For me, the main lesson learned in taking a bit of a lead in organising accommodation and transport for the retreat has been the importance of enlisting others’ help when trying to organise this kind of event. Although setting up a formal ‘steering committee’ was not really necessary, it was only through arranging group discussions, setting up a group chat and sharing out responsibilities that we were able to finalise the most important details of the trip, e.g. deciding on a structure for the retreat; establishing a deadline for setting individual writing goals; and deciding who would contribute what in terms of food and preparing meals.


This was my first experience of a writing retreat and I was pretty unsure about what to expect and how I would feel about it.  As the dates for the retreat drew closer I became increasingly excited about, seeing it as a great opportunity to spend time with my PGR peers.  Angela spent a huge amount of time and work researching, planning and booking the retreat, which I am massively grateful for.  I think that having an itinerary really helped us to make to the most out of the time that we had away together.

Deciding on what piece(s) of work I wanted to focus on, before the trip, was really helpful, and this is something that I am going to try and use more within my own work schedule moving forward.  My main focus while away was working on my presentation slide and script for the first year HaSS conference.  I really lack confidence in any kind of public speaking/conference setting and typically put off this sort of prep work, so it was useful to set some time aside to focus on this.  It was also really helpful talking to the others on the retreat about the content of my presentation, and more generally about public speaking/preparing for conferences.  It was reassuring to hear that others feel the same way and to get some hints/tips on presenting techniques.

Over the retreat it was really interesting to find out more about everyone’s research projects in more detail. It also gave me the opportunity to talk about my own work in more depth in a friendly and supportive environment.  Spending time with others further along their PhD was also really encouraging and gave us an opportunity to talk about practical issues with interviewing/recruitment and also about teaching opportunities within the department.

Having time set aside for breaks and the walk up to the waterfall worked really well and was something that I really enjoyed.  I loved how relaxed I felt with everyone and enjoyed the evenings chatting and playing card games.  I definitely gained a lot from the writing retreat experience and really hope that there is an opportunity to go on another soon!


My goal for the writing retreat was to write a small section of a chapter of my literature review – specifically, a review of a strand of literature which looks into the prevalence and character of online sexual harassment on mobile dating sites. I had made a writing plan prior to going so that I could spend my full time writing, rather than reading and looking over the literature. In my plan I set out the beginning, middle and end of my discussion and within each section I wrote topic sentences, the main points I wished to make and some quotes from literature to support my arguments. This was extremely helpful as it discouraged me from procrastinating and made delving into the writing exercise less overwhelming. During the writing retreat I succeeded in completing my planned writing goals. A lot of it I will most likely have to edit, as I was largely writing anything that came to my head and just getting it down on paper. However, I was surprised at how helpful ‘just writing’ is. The constant flow of writing, and the ‘don’t care that it’s not perfect’ attitude it encouraged, actually served to bring out ideas and discussions that I don’t think I would have considered if I was writing it in a different context (i.e. at my desk in the PGR office, going up to get more tea every hour). I think the fear of not being perfect can actually hinder the quality of writing sometimes, and this whole process did help me get over that and appreciate that sometimes we do just have to write a crappy first draft.

Whilst the main goal of a writing retreat is to get some writing done, the real value of this retreat (for me anyway) was the ‘peer mentoring’ and discussions that were had. Whether it was over tea and biscuits during our organised breaks from writing, or whilst having a glass of wine with dinner, being able to ask questions and hearing that others were having the same concerns as me, in a friendly and informal setting, was so helpful. Having people at different stages of the PhD, and who have different kinds of experiences and advice to offer, meant that a lot of us could ask questions about things, which someone later on their PhD could give some insight on. As a first year PhD, I found this really reassuring.

Stay tuned for more reflections on the PGR writing retreat next week!  We hear from Karina, Claire and Adrienne next.