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HEAM PhD Candidate Steve Syoen’s Virtual Writing Retreats Create Global Community

Steve Syoen

Steve Syoen, Organizer of Virtual Writing Retreats

How do extroverts and social learners cope with the loss of community during a pandemic, which only intensifies the oftentimes lonely dissertation stage?

Well, if you’re ELPS PhD candidate Steve Syoen, you don’t struggle with the loss of community, you just create a new one.

Syoen began organizing his Virtual Writing Retreats in the spring of 2020 after passing comps and entering the dissertation phase of his degree: “I do best with others around me pursuing similar goals. COVID-19 struck, they closed libraries on campus, and I started working from home. My other go-to used to be McDonald’s for free WiFi, but then restaurant dining rooms closed. I needed SOMETHING… so when your natural community isn’t available, I decided to make one.”

Syoen builds community with guided chat between writing sessions.

Most of Steve’s Virtual Writing Retreat attendees are “working folks” with full lives outside their PhD pursuits, so each event usually runs from 9:15am-3:30pm EST. Syoen describes what to expect: “We start with people getting settled in, we write for 75 or 90 minutes, we take 15 minute breaks (30 for lunch), and then we write more. Before each writing session starts, participants are offered an opportunity to either speak or chat their goals for the next work period into existence. At the end of a session, participants are invited to share what they accomplished. The goal is progress, and whether that is one paragraph, one article, or an entire chapter – we celebrate it all.” Between sessions, participants chat with questions guided by Syoen about everything from favorite snacks for focus to favorite productivity tools and writing implements. “I was able to complete my detailed outline for my section! This was terrific, Steve!” one attendee reports during a break.

The goal is progress, and whether that is one paragraph, one article, or an entire chapter – we celebrate it all.

Steve Syoen HEAM PhD Candidate and Organizer of global Virtual Writing Retreats

Since beginning his Virtual Writing Retreats, Syoen’s new community has gone global. “We have people from India, China, and the Netherlands who’ve joined each of the last two sessions. The person in India has asked me to help start coordinating these for her program so she can do them in her time zone (they are 8.5 hours ahead of us) instead of attending ours in Eastern time.”

Students interested in joining one Syoen’s Virtual Writing Retreats can either send him an email or stay in the know of future events by joining the Working Folks Guide to a PhD Facebook group.