Creating a Community of Learners: Affinity Groups and Informal Graduate Writing Support
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Graduate school, especially for students like us who are pursuing Ph.D.s, can be a tough and lonely place made more difficult by criticism and self-doubt. Without an adequate community or supportive network, graduate students attempting to access the realms of academia, especially those who constitute the first generation and are pursuing advanced degrees, may be at greater risk of failure and attrition. Failure to complete the dissertation, and the program itself, can be damaging for both the individual and the institution, particularly for those students who are capable of completing extended and involved research projects but need guidance through the terrain of higher education. Graduate students may lack understanding of institutional expectations, which can compound inequities in terms of access to resources, mentoring, or support. According to David Litalien and Frédéric Guay’s study of dropout intentions among doctoral students, those who don’t finish their degree risk a lack of employment opportunities and decreased selfesteem, largely because their efforts could have been redirected in other ways. Additionally, “doctoral attrition reduces resources and at the same time incurs costs for faculty members who have invested considerable time in research projects that will never be completed” (Litalien and Guay 218). Affinity groups and writing support networks like the one we formed (and which we discuss in this essay) may help to not only decrease attrition rates, but foster collaboration and professionalism well beyond the dissertation.