Best Practices for Supporting Graduate Students Remotely

Below are some suggestions for working with graduate student writers online and from a distance. These suggestions are based on both online writing pedagogy best practices and on scholarship on graduate student writing support. We've also provided some further reading at the end of this document.


General Best Practices

  • Provide explicit and clear structure/expectations. This is important all of the time and for all students, but especially now when graduate students might face changing geographic and emotional stability in both their own studies and their work/teaching. A rupture of routine can make students very anxious, and explicit statements about (and clarifications of) expectations are helpful. For students in your seminars, open a dialogue about how much reading/writing is expected and what differences they can expect, as well as how you plan to grade them/interact with their work. Start a Q&A discussion post on Canvas to further learn about your students’ concerns/needs. For students you are advising, reach out and relay your expectations for the work they produce during this time and ask them what they need from you to support their continued learning and writing in this new context. Provide a mechanism for them to ask questions/request clarity as well. Students will feel better if you are clear and open in your communication with them on what you expect. As we’ve talked about during our other workshop sessions, graduate students want to do well. They are good students. They care about their education and their field. So they might be extra anxious.
  • Adjust your expectations. Many graduate students–and faculty–feel displaced in their writing at this moment. Their headspace is not there. They are likely not physically able to write in the spaces they are used to doing so. Graduate students may simply not be able to write and perform at the level they are used to doing, and it’s important for them and for you to remember the social and affective nature of writing. It’s important now more than ever to meet students where they are and be kind and generous.
  • Go asynchronous as much as possible. Experienced online writing instructors suggest asynchronous assignments and activities are easier for students to manage and is especially true given our quick switch to online operation (see social media threads linked below). Students may have the class time already set aside, but they may struggle to engage in conversation via video, feel anxious about this situation, or move to another environment where working conditions are limited or different than when school was in session earlier in the semester. Not all graduate students are staying on campus, and some may have family they are caring for or are returning to during this time. Check in with them and consider adding in more asynchronous assignments to facilitate your students' learning in ways that are manageable for them (and for you). More on this in the next bullet. 
  • Use writing to engage with learning. Graduate seminars are often based in extensive discussion between class participants. To continue rich discussions of texts and issues, consider using writing to lead class discussions. You can write quick prompts for students to respond to, or ask students to submit discussion questions about the week’s readings and then pose those questions to the class to write about in an asynchronous discussion forum. Students appreciate having the time and space to flesh out responses to complicated course ideas, as well as to engage with one another’s ideas by responding to one another’s responses. Writing assignments (that don’t necessarily have to be graded/responded extensively to) can help facilitate students’ learning and provide them with a sense of community as they write and expand ideas.
  • Be flexible with deadlines. As we all know, we are in uncharted territory with all instruction going completely online midway through the semester. It's hard for you, and it's hard for your graduate students, who may be facing teaching adjustments of their own. Especially during these first couple weeks, consider being flexible with deadlines when you are able to. It will be much appreciated and, in the grand scheme of things, shouldn't impact your students' learning too much if they turn in an assignment at a later date. They may be afraid to ask, though, so starting the conversation yourself would be helpful. 
  • Set and maintain boundaries. You don't have to be "on" and available every minute of every day just because instruction and advising is happening remotely. Just as you normally would, you can limit the times you check email and have a grace period for responding to student inquiries. The difference here might be articulating these boundaries again and more explicitly. Remember that your graduate students are also learning from you what academic mentoring should look like, so this can be a great opportunity to teach them about boundaries so that they can practice it themselves as instructors and academics.
  • Refer students to campus services/the Graduate School. Rose Marie sent an email to all Miami graduate students over the weekend that provided campus resources that are available to help them take care of their mental health, including the The H.O.P.E. (Help Over the Phone Everywhere) line and Student Counseling Center’s self-help videos. She also has assured students that the Graduate School is working on ways to help students finish their degrees. Understandably, graduate students who are planning to finish their degrees this semester or take exams or other milestone activities are feeling anxious. Referring them to people who can help/know information can make a difference. 
  • Encourage continued graduate community. Graduate education notoriously operates in cohorts and in communities. While some graduate students may remain on campus or in town, others may choose to return to their families. Encourage your students to maintain a sense of community during this time of social distancing and isolation. They can form writing accountability groups where they can check in with one another or write together via WebEx. (If they want to see how this works, they can join the HCWE for Virtual Friday Writing Hours every Friday morning during the semester (register at this link). Writing and learning is hard, but it can feel more doable together, and this togetherness can occur virtually.

Resources/Further Reading

Writing/Teaching Overall

Social media discussion

Lesson plans and practices

(All the above were compiled from the crowdsourced document “moving your writing class online,” which has very helpful information overall.)

Grad Mentoring

  • Mentoring Graduate Students A resource from Vanderbilt
  • How to Mentor Graduate Students: Faculty  University of Michigan’s mentoring document for faculty
  • How to Get the Mentoring You Want: A Guide for Graduate Students  University of Michigan’s popular mentoring document for graduate students
  • Below are some blogs and websites your grad students might find helpful as they are likely to feel more isolated if they are working away from Oxford (many of these are from: 40 Must Read Academic Blogs for Researchers and PhD Students by Andrea Hayward.
    • Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega has a resources page on his blog with posts dedicated to helping doctoral and graduate students read, write, and finish their programs successfully. He also posts several Tweets in academic circles that might be helpful for graduate students and advisors alike. 
    • Wendy Belcher Writing Advice for Academics "is a blog that covers two broad topics--writing advice for academics, and research and teaching about Africa. It is managed by Wendy Laura Belcher, Associate Professor of African Literature at Princeton University with a joint appointment in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of African American Studies. With respect to academic writing, Belcher Writing Advice covers topics such as writing a journal article, writing a book review, how to read journals, and how to manage a peer-reviewed journal" (Hayward).
    • Get a Life, PhD is a blog managed by Tanya Golash-Boza, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Merced. "The core theme of her blog is succeeding in academia while simultaneously leading a rich life outside of academia as well. In this blog, she shares advice that will help readers “balance life and work and attain a happier life on the tenure track.” Get a Life, PhD offers a host of informative blogposts on academic writing and publishing" (Hayward). 
    • The Thesis Whisperer blog is "dedicated to the topic of doing a PhD and completing a dissertation. It is managed and edited by Associate Professor Inger Mewburn, Director of Researcher Development at the Australian National University" (Mewburn). Full of helpful advice and resources, written in a very accessible, friendly, and supportive style.
    • Former physicist Dr. James Hayton works with PhD students to help them through the PhD research and writing process. "He aims to make the lives of PhD students a little easier as they set out on their journey towards their PhDs. His main focus is helping them develop the skills necessary for doing a PhD. In light of this, his blog offers a rich reserve of blogposts covering topics such as academic writing, PhD survival, choosing a topic for your thesis, and dealing with PhD failures" (Hayward).  
    • Making Physics Fun is "a blog managed by Dr. Jess Wade, a postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College London. Making Physics Fun offers resources on a wide range of topics such as grants and funding opportunities, science presentations and reporting, as well as links to resources on physics and chemistry" (Hayward). 
    • Shut Up & Write Tuesdays "is a 'virtual writing workshop for academic folk.' Regardless of the kind of academic literature you are writing – thesis chapter, journal article, conference abstract, or something else – their basic aim is to 'help you set aside dedicated writing time and make progress'" (Hayward). 
    • The Serial Mentor is a "blog managed by Claus Wilke, Professor of Integrative Biology, University of Texas. The Serial Mentor offers a series of blog posts on scientific writing. Each of the posts is well organized and, according to Professor Wilke, can be considered as sections of books he may have written. He covers tips and advice on writing effectively, drafting grant proposals, writing and submitting research papers, etc." (Hayward).   
    • "As one of the prominent London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) Blogs, Writing for Research provides insightful, practical advice and commentary for an audience ranging from PhD students and early career researchers to full-time teaching professionals and researchers working outside academia" (Hayward).