Humans of Hume

Heidi Hirsh

Heidi Hirsh, Humans of Hume

Affiliation?  Ph.D. Candidate

Program? Environmental Earth System Science

Q: Why did you initially come to the Hume Center?

I started coming to Hume, actually, I think it was almost exactly a year ago—I just saw a reminder pop up from the first time I signed up for a Dissertation Boot Camp. So I first came to Hume for the Dissertation Boot Camp when it was offered on campus. My first one was actually one of the really early ones from 7am to 11am, and I was in the middle of writing a manuscript, which is actually the first chapter of my dissertation. I needed some accountability to spend my time on writing and protect myself from meetings and chit chat with labmates—you know, any of those distractions. I heard good things about the Dissertation Boot Camp and figured I'd give it a try. I also heard there were lots of free snacks, which was highly motivating for me.

So that's what brought me to Hume, and actually, that paper that I was working on during my first Dissertation Boot Camp just got accepted for publication! So it's been like a nice full circle year. But I did a couple of the, I think two or three, of the on-campus Dissertation Boot Camps over at Hume, and I had signed up for the spring break boot camp, which was supposed to be on campus and then, Corona. So that one kind of went online and we were all kind of flailing our way through it together. I think it was like the first week of quarantine, or something. It was really early in the whole process. So yeah, that kind of started the whole online adventure.

Q: What made you want to come back to Hume?

I had a really good experience with that first boot camp, and I met some good writing buddies. Actually, one of the first people I met during that was Cindy Lam, who I think is an Oral Communication Tutor (OCT), and she was actually doing her Dissertation Boot Camp there, too, and working on some papers. She's actually defending November 17 and I'm defending December 3 and so that's been a cool thing to track as well. So yeah, I met some cool people there, people outside of my department who were closer in my actual writing stage, which was kind of nice.

And I like that I was physically removed from the rest of my dissertation and dissertation distractions and that I had like a physical place to be that was not in meetings. It was really easy to be like, “Oh, nope, sorry, these four hours are protected for writing; I'm making this time for myself. I can meet you after 11am for the next two weeks”. So having a reason to protect that time was really nice. Also, the second Dissertation Boot Camp I did was from 9am to 1pm, which really appealed after having done the 7am. Suddenly 9am seemed really late like, “Oh, I can sleep in! This will be great!” I just really enjoyed that time and being able to selfishly only focus on my own work for that period was really nice.

Q: You later signed up to be a Dissertation Boot Camp Monitor. Why, and what was that like?

I mentioned that the spring break Dissertation Boot Camp ended up being online, and I think there were around six of us who ended up going to it online. It was kind of a trial and error situation of “Okay let's start a Zoom meeting and we'll try to do check ins on Zoom,” and then that turned into, “Hey, we can keep Zoom on during the call if people want to work together during this period,” and that was really nice to have that kind of camaraderie online and accountability and other people.

It also just allowed me to see that other people are experiencing similar situations to what I was experiencing, like that isolation at home where you're still responsible for getting a lot of work done and expected to be really productive while craziness is happening in the world outside. So again, it was a way to almost selfishly protect those four hours and be like, “All right, for this time online, I'm only going to focus on my dissertation and then afterwards I'll find out what's going on with coronavirus or climate change or everything else. So at the end of those two weeks, Norah asked if anyone was interested in monitoring, and I didn't really know what that was about.

I think I did sign up to monitor the on-campus one before we did the virtual DBC, and then the virtual DBC happened and monitoring wasn't a real part of it. So I considered starting to monitor. And again, kind of selfishly, I was like, “If I monitor then I will definitely be there and be even more accountable to being online at nine o'clock in the morning and really spending those four hours working on dissertation work.” So it kind of started that way, and I don't know how many of these virtual DBCs we ended up doing or are doing. I lost count. But I really enjoyed monitoring them because it gave me the opportunity to see familiar faces and new faces and to give other people, hopefully, the opportunity to have that same escape and community that I experienced during that first spring break virtual boot camp.

I feel like I look back to those first ones and it was such a struggle fest for me with being online and figuring out Zoom and then figuring out how to build a Slack channel. I feel like I can't take very much credit because everybody else who knows DBCs contributed so much to building up the format and how to actually make it work. I hope other people benefited from it as much as I think I benefited from that time together online, but I give a lot of credit to all of the participants in each of those boot camps for making them an effective, productive atmosphere to work together, even though we weren't together on campus.

Q: What would you say to someone who thinks tutoring is remedial ?

I think that you don't have to have a reason to go see a writing tutor or an OCT. Maybe that's what I need to use because my dissertation defense is coming up… you know, I’ll look into that. But I never thought to go see a writing tutor. Hume always seemed kind of far away from my building. I'm over in Green Earth Sciences, which is not that far away from Hume, so not really an excuse. But there always seemed to be some kind of activation energy keeping me from doing that. Or like, “Oh, I should just talk to someone in my field or someone who's easier to access.” And so I just really didn't know about those resources. I found through signing up for some of the writing consultations during these boot camps that even if I didn't have something really specific to work on with a tutor or even if I didn't have a piece of writing complete that I wanted feedback on, it was really helpful to get another perspective, to just get some support or to talk through what’s worrisome about starting to write something, even if I just had an outline. It’s like, “Okay, what mentally can I do to get in a good mindset to write?” Not necessarily evaluating my writing, but still helped me make it better and helped me put words on the page. And I really appreciated that.

Then the other thing that I've used the tutoring for that is helpful, in addition to dissertation work, is when I scheduled a consultation to work on a cover letter. That material and it is a lot more accessible to someone from any background, so I felt like I could get really good feedback on something like that. And it actually ended up being really useful to talk about a cover letter with the person that didn't know me so they didn't have any kind of previous understanding of what I might try to get across about me and they were able to point out,”Hey, you don't say a lot of personal stuff about yourself here.” People who already know you already know what makes you an individual and you can kind of get that across in a conversation, but for this you want to put in more of your personal character in there.

So I thought that was valuable feedback that I wouldn’t have gotten from a friend or an advisor who is reading this already knowing me and not coming from a pile of unknown applicants. So I thought that was helpful, but I don't think I’ll ever use it again, regrettably. Like I said, I'm later in my PhD. I had a lot of opportunities to use these resources earlier and I wish I had known about them because I think it would have jumped started that writing process and, if not made it easier, made it feel like there's more support along the way.

Q: What is your favorite memory of the Hume Center?

Two things come to mind. The first is from one of the boot camps that I was in. We got locked out of the Hume Center because I think the monitor was late. Something happened and when it was like 15 minutes after the hour, we were like, “Where do we go?” and this was 7am one so it was freezing and pretty dark. Cindy, who I mentioned, let us into the Education Building or somewhere across the way, and it was pretty funny because all these people from the boot camp were all together, working in a totally different space that thank goodness we had access to, but I think it was like the second week, so we'd all figured out our vibe to get working and get started. So as soon as we had a place to work, it was kind of cool to just start working in a different place, and then we ended up kind of transitioning back to the center. So that for some reason comes to mind, which is not a memory in Hume.

And then the other thing that comes to mind from the virtual boot camps, and some of the more fun interactions with people online, were around like pets or people's little kids are other things that you don't see in an in-person camp. I think it's really important to see other people's lives through Zoom because we don't, or at least I don't, escape my apartment very often. So it was nice to see things, like how one of our participants’ cats was one of the most frequent participants in the virtual DBCs. (I think they deserve a t-shirt.) We would even have plant show-and-tells because some people, like myself, don't have any pets. It was nice just kind of coming together in ways that weren't necessarily talking about your dissertation or stressing about your dissertation or stressing about writing and just kind of finding common ground beyond work. We could take advantage of the fact that we were all in our own spaces, and sharing that, if we wanted to, was cool. People were growing a lot of cool vegetables, a lot of tomatoes this summer. Not the typical like Hume experiences.

Q: How did your experiences at the Hume Center change your approach to writing?

Whoo, boy, that's a really good one because I have learned a lot of things from fellow participants. Again, which I think is one of the big benefits to having the virtual boot camp, is that I ended up knowing a lot more participants, or like getting to know a lot more people. Whereas during  on-campus ones, I usually like to pair myself with a writing partner early on, and that was really the only person I interacted with for those first two weeks or until the end session. So it was a lot more individual versus the online boot camps. You see the same faces each day, and one of the benefits of that is that we'd share writing tactics or questions and kind of do these morning group brainstorms about different topics.

And one of the things I really got out of there is the “good enough” approach to writing, and trying to learn to be okay with something being imperfect and getting a draft on paper to begin with and then working from that is really important. I’ve noticed in our “check-in” channel in our DBC Slack, where we just share goals during the boot camps and also now, one of the things that people started including in their goals was doing “shitty first drafts” of writing or SFDs. So I'd be like, “SFD of chapter one,” or, “SFD of this talk that I have to give later.” So really embracing this idea of not good writing from the start, just getting something on paper.

One participant suggested a website called where you can set a timer for five minutes or longer (but you probably don't want to because five minutes is anxiety inducing) and you just write for that full time and if you stop writing it will delete everything you've written. So it really promotes just getting words on paper and accumulating some text on the page. Usually that text as a whole is really bad, but that's okay because that's not the goal. So I'll use that to generate a big chunk of text and then go back into that and there's usually a few gems sentences or something to build off of, where I'm not letting my quest for perfection stop me from actually putting those words on the paper.

So yeah, I think I've become more forgiving of my writing process and realized that you have to start somewhere and it's okay if that somewhere is not good. At least for writing… that should not be a motto for life… but writing doesn't have to start good. So I think one of my biggest takeaways from working together with people over the last few months is being proud of the little steps too. It's not always about the final draft or a full written piece of work.

Q: Any last thoughts?

I'm just really grateful for the opportunity to have this community of people to work with over the last several months. It's been really important, I think, in keeping my spirits up and keeping myself productive, especially when this time can be so isolating. I've really enjoyed getting to know people online, and it's been important to meet people who aren't in my department or aren't people that I would normally be exposed to or work with, because it was really eye opening to seeing how similar people's Ph.D. experiences are across the board. You can really find that camaraderie, and I'm also really happy that that community seems to be an ongoing thing. I mentioned the DBC Slack channel, and we've kept up unofficial Zoom check-ins beyond the DBCs.

We have a check-in channel that I mentioned, for sharing goals and a kudos channel for if someone's going to defend or if someone publishes a paper or if someone bakes a really good cake. Again, the little goals and achieving the smaller things really matters too. Actually I think, if that could be linked in this article, the DBC channel shouldn’t be restricted to just people who are currently in a boot Camp or have been in boot camps [the Hume team is looking into this!]. It's a totally open channel and I keep an eye on it. I think anyone should be able to access and sign up with it, but I'm also always available if people are having issues with that or questions about it. I think that's a really cool virtual community while we're kind of working from all over the place right now.

And I also really encourage everyone to sign up for the Dissertation Boot Camps. I don't think I'll be monitoring anymore because I'm defending in December, but there's some really good monitors lined up, and even the 7am one is worth doing. I did the 7am one on-campus where we had to commute and be on-campus by seven. For the virtual one, all you have to do is get to your laptop by seven!