What I offer: Events, courses, coaching, and a university partnerships training program

I offer events, courses, and consultancy on various topics at the intersection of academic life, academic writing, and welfare and mental health. These draw on my experience creating and running the Baillie Gifford Writing Partnerships Programme for the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford, as well as over a decade of broader experience enhancing personal happiness and academic success amongst students and researchers.

Below you can find a sample of event and course outlines that give a sense of what I do. All can be run via Zoom or in person, and can be offered as one-offs or as part of a longer-term programme of support. I’m most experienced in working with graduate students and postdocs, but I can also tailor everything I offer to undergraduates and more senior researchers—indeed to anyone for whom writing or other cognitively difficult activities are an important part of professional life. There’s some info on my approach to designing and running writing events here.

I also offer a programme called LiveWrite that helps universities increase the effectiveness of their academic skills training and welfare support. My team train and support an internal coordinator to establish and run a peer partnerships offering for students and/or researchers at any level.

Finally, I provide academic and professional performance coaching to a small number of individual clients; see my Coaching page for more on that.

Please get in touch if you’re interested in exploring any of these options for yourself or your institution. Or you can sign up to receive my newsletter for updates on any events and courses I run that are open to individuals.

For a light-hearted taster of my approach to the writing process, you could take a look at my illustrated reflections on what repainting a 50-foot narrowboat can teach us about writing. [download: Writing-boats-and-painting-books_Troscianko-2021]

When a student is feeling anxious or low, they may struggle to get past imagined criticisms and find it difficult to find the motivation to get started with their work. This can have considerable knock-on effects on their academics and, very often, students find themselves in a challenging cycle of feeling rough, not being able to work, feeling worse, falling further behind, and so on. For the past three years, the Pembroke College Welfare Team have been working with Emily to customise Workshops that aim to address specific challenges that our students have identified through conversations with the Welfare Team and Academic Office. Examples of past workshops include “Stop Procrastinating and Get Started”, “Making the Most of Small Windows of Time”, “Midterm Writing Reset”, and “Making the Most of Your Vacation”. It is wonderful to have regular sessions to which we can direct students who seek out welfare or academic support, particularly when the students have noted challenges around mental health and motivation, focus, organisation and planning. Many students have reported that the sessions have transformed the way that they approach their work and significantly improved their work-life balance. We are exceedingly grateful to be able to offer students practical, solution-focused sessions that have such positive impact on how they feel about working and, consequently, the quality of the work that they are able to produce. 

Rebekah White, Welfare and Wellbeing Coordinator, Pembroke College, Oxford

General writing event principles and practices

On any scale from a 1-hour writing breakfast to a 2-week habit change course, I have extensive experience in creating protected conditions for real writing and thinking to happen and for working habits to be lastingly enhanced. The events centre on timed writing sessions supported by preparatory writing exercises, systematic planning and review, physical movement, and screen-free breaks. The idea is not to encourage participants to get as much writing done as possible (though people are often amazed by how much they produce); the point is to help instil working habits that are truly effective, efficient, and intentional. This requires a decisive departure from normal routines, and especially from our habits of being available to other people (e.g. via our phones and inboxes) whenever they choose. Withdrawal from connectivity and from many other default modes can be uncomfortable at first, but it tends to result in more enjoyable experiences as well as better payoffs for the projects we care about. And so the new structures can quickly become self-sustaining. Habits never really change without a hedonic payoff that makes the new version feel better than the old, so I’m uninterested in willpower and very interested in where the ‘oo, this is rather nice’ kicks in.

Environment matters; it’s one of the most often ignored aids—and blocks—to effective habit change. For in-person events, an unfamiliar venue (to heighten the defamiliarisation) and full catering (to free everyone from other decision-making) are helpful. For online formats, participants are asked to commit to minimising distractions as far as is feasible, to take the time to make their physical environments as conducive to focus as possible, and to plan food and drink in advance to help make our time together enjoyable as well as useful.

Beyond the core writing sessions, optional elements include:

  • reflective, exploratory, and practical writing- and planning-related activities
  • guidance on the principles of good writing and of successful habit change
  • more extensive tuition on mindfulness, body awareness, posture, and stretching
  • admin sessions in which we apply appropriate principles and structures to approaching all the little things that otherwise don’t get done, create stress, and interfere with longer-term writing projects
  • computer hygiene sessions to guide participants in cleaning up their virtual work environment
  • work-sharing sessions for participants to present their work in progress, in a range of formats depending on purpose (from how to give a good presentation to overcoming obstacles in thinking or writing)
  • career-focused sessions to encourage clear and imaginative thought and planning about next steps
  • structured follow-up to support learning and goal-setting for lasting habit change.

I use the writing sessions to get writing done too; one reason I love running these events is that I always come away from them with a good bit of writing done. My priority, though, is making sure that everyone else has what they need to write with focus and perhaps even some joy. If the event is in person, I remain attentive to the dynamics in the room throughout, and wander round now and then to check what’s on people’s screens (this efficiently combats any annoying desires to just quickly check Instagram!). If we’re on Zoom, I encourage participants to private message me if they need anything, and we can set up a breakout room if it helps to chat something through. This combination of facilitating whilst also partaking in the goal-setting and writing allows me to model the value of the approach and create a feeling of solidarity while ensuring participants are guided in strict—and therefore liberating—adherence to the rules.

These events are sometimes not easy for participants to adjust to, and I make clear that I am always available to step outside (physically or virtually) for a chat if following the rules is proving difficult or their relevance is seeming unclear.

I can also offer 1-1 writing consultations as a complement to group events and courses. For example, a 30-minute consult for each participant scheduled in the same week as the event or course can be a great way to ensure that what they’re learning in the group sessions is effectively adapted and applied to the specifics of their own life right now. In the consult, we identify the individual’s most important aspirations for any aspect of writing/work/life improvement and the primary obstacles (practical and/or psychological) standing in the way of achieving it. Then we work out highly specific solutions to be tried out and refined, in order to give meaningful change the best possible chance of really happening. The methods I apply during the consults build on years of experience as a coach (for both academic clients and clients with eating disorders) focused on enabling the people I work with to achieve powerful and lasting habit change in the areas they care about most.

You can find more detail on my approach to designing and running writing events here. Or read on for some examples of specific event types I offer.

Writing sprint

This is a writing sprint designed to help you bring a writing project to completion. The idea is that for one working week, all the time you have available for writing is devoted to the single project you intend to finish. Finishing by the end of the week will also require you to practise fitting the remainder of the project into the time available, rather than pushing back the end date to accommodate your shifting definitions of the project.

The project you bring to finish can be anything you want, and you get to define finished, but it must involve sharing your completed piece with someone specific (e.g. a chapter draft to your supervisor, an article draft to a colleague, a book review or job application submitted) by the end of our final session (typically 5 pm on Friday).

With a focus on addressing guilt, panic, and overwhelm and replacing them with more writing-conducive feelings, we start by identifying psychological and practical obstacles to completion and how they can be overcome. Then we specify the remaining work to do on a project, work on splitting up tasks into small manageable chunks, and get used to the feeling of setting achievable goals and meeting them. A detailed shared spreadsheet template is provided for you to track your progress and generate data on the completion process to feed into future planning.

We meet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to create and sustain your momentum for the week, and you’re assigned a sprint partner to generate extra support beyond our meetings.

You can read more about this, one of my favourite event formats, here.

Writing reset

This 2-week course is designed to help you understand and test out the power of small changes to daily routines in shaping the structures of your professional and personal life, with a focus on your academic writing practice.

Week 1 involves three meetings (on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), offering elements including:

  • the foundations of good writing
  • your real versus ideal working day, how to plan your day
  • designing an ideal morning routine, and making it happen
  • your reasons for writing (intrinsic and extrinsic), and how to optimise for them
  • principles of effective habit change for work/life habits and academic writing 
  • how to set up and perform a behavioural experiment to enhance something you love about writing
  • group and breakout exercises to prepare you mentally and physically for writing
  • timed distraction-free writing sessions with the group, each with planning, review, and screen-free breaks
  • weekly reviews including reflection and planning
  • troubleshooting Q&A

Week 2 starts with a final group meeting, offering a last shared writing session plus an introduction to writing technique focused on any one of the following topics:

  • generating and developing good research questions
  • transitioning from reading to writing
  • structuring/organising
  • generating first drafts
  • revising and editing
  • cutting words
  • enhancing your writing style
  • optimizing (inter)disciplinary framing
  • managing coauthoring
  • dealing with feedback on your writing

The rest of Week 2 offers each participant a 30-minute 1-1 consultation plus email summary on anything and everything writing- and habit-related, as well as follow-up emails to keep you on track, and contact with your assigned event partner(s), all designed to help you incorporate week 1’s learning into your everyday life, and keep writing central in your week.

The course package includes templates and resources, tailored email inspirations and reminders, and supported contact with your peers to help you experiment with changes to your writing and broader working habits in the times between group sessions. You will be encouraged to cultivate the habit of regular reflection on the learning and progress you are generating, to help maximise the payoffs for performance and wellbeing and ensure this reset makes a lasting difference.

Zooming out on your writing practice: What, why, how?

This two-part event, on two mornings a week apart, offers a chance to rethink your writing (academic and other) from the ground up.

In Week 1, we start with the “what”, by mapping out your existing commitments, testing out criteria for making future decisions about how to design future writing projects and whether to take them on or not, and practising breaking projects down into tasks: the things that collectively will result in you completing the projects you’re committed to.

Then we take a step back to the “why”, asking what this writing you’re doing is actually for. We use the distinction between extrinsic motivators (doing something to achieve a certain outcome) and intrinsic motivators (doing something because you value the process). We include investigation of two extrinsic motivators: 1) what these pieces of writing are intended to achieve in themselves (as pieces of writing with which readers engage), and 2) what they are intended to achieve as professional and pragmatic milestones, i.e. processes and/or outputs that may achieve certain desirable, or undesirable, effects on your career or the wider world. We also consider what intrinsic rewards writing as activity has for you, and how (and whether) to maximise them.

This exploration is followed by time for planned writing, as a chance to reflect, in action, on the questions we’ve raised. For the rest of the week you’re paired with an event partner to continue active reflection around your writing and the role it plays in your life.

We begin week 2 with a recap of what you learnt in the first week, followed by a deep dive into effective habit cultivation strategies to support meaningful writing practice aligned with whatever dimensions of value you have identified as primary. The rest of the second week is then your opportunity to test out the new habit change strategies you’ve created for yourself, again with mutual support from your event partner.

How to have a great summer

This two-week course offers the opportunity to learn and put into action a four-layer life design system: making a weekly plan that honours your intentions for the summer, making daily plans in line with your week’s goals, and setting session goals aligned with your plan for the day. It’s assumed that academic writing will be somewhere in the mix, but the system also works for any other personal or professional goals you may have.

Week 1 consists of two half-day meetings, one at the start and one at the end of the week. These will help you understand each session, each day, and the whole week, as part of the wider context of your summer. Building on the summer plan and weekly review you will have prepared in advance, Monday morning starts with planning for the week and the day, followed by two writing sessions and one admin session (each including a preparatory task plus planning and review and separated by physical movement and screen breaks). Thus we start to put your tiered planning into action. From Tuesday to Friday you practise making daily plans based on your plan for the week, with regular email suggestions and reminders from me. On Friday afternoon we return to take a dive into habit change principles and refine your summer plan by designing three ultra-specific habits to help you do what you need and want to this summer. We also write together again, review the week’s achievements, make a plan for the following week (referring back to your summer plan), reflect on strategies for doing a full task breakdown for a current writing project, and troubleshoot any difficulties that have arisen during the week.

Week 2 is lighter-touch. We meet briefly on the Monday morning to get the day and week started strongly, with some targeted reflection on first-thing-in-the-morning routines in interaction with the other layers of the life design system. We do a writing prep activity and make a writing session plan to be carried out straight after the group session or later in the day. Then on Friday we meet to review the week and the fortnight. We zoom out to a fifth layer—the current life phase—assessing the goals and roles that relate to what’s going on in your life right now. We again link everything back to your summer plans and how to maximise your confidence in carrying them out in full.

To help you keep your activities aligned with what you’ve decided to do, you’ll be assigned with an event partner and will decide on day 1 what kind of contact you’d like to have during the first week: anything from shared writing/work sessions to a shared spreadsheet or reminder emails. We then revisit and update the mutual support plans to ensure they’re doing what they need to for week 2.

Course materials include guidance on multilevel planning and ready-to-use templates. Individual consultations and/or additional input on writing or habit change can also be added as desired.

How to work (and live) well

Working habits tend to accrete in haphazard ways, many of which serve neither us or our work very well. This session invites you to turn a critical eye on your own routines and introduces you to ways of optimizing them. The 3-hour event includes the following components:

  1. mapping out the multiple roles our lives involve and joining the dots to explore how these give rise to goals that matter to us, which in turn generate the specific tasks and activities we give our time and energy to
  2. reviewing a pre-completed activity tracking template to generate personalized insights into the current contributions of urgency versus importance to everyday decision-making and time management
  3. learning the essentials of developing a strong personal practice in crucial work/life domains such as: scheduling, time chunking, goal-setting, rewards, distraction reduction, breaks, ruthlessness versus flexibility, and zooming out and back in;
  4. inquiring into feelings of academic failure and impostor syndrome and trying out practical strategies for transforming them.

The session can also be expanded to include elements such as:

  • imagining your ideal working day, and devising strategies for bringing the reality closer to it
  • investigating how long basic tasks (everyday and academic) actually take, and trying out methods for getting better at predicting and planning
  • diving into difficulties and solutions specific to academic writing

You’ll come away with clear appreciation of the reality that your everyday habits are 1) the prime determinant of the kind of life you lead and the achievements you’re capable of and 2) eminently adjustable through a simple process of trial and error accompanied by structured observation and systematic adjustment. In other words, habits matter, and you can change them!

Is your web presence working for you?

This workshop deals with the global strategy and practical details of enhancing your online presence. Topics that can be covered include:

  • an overview of the major forms of online content (websites, webpages, profiles, blogs, podcasts — plus a little on social media)
  • case studies of real academic and alt/post-ac websites, including insights from their creators on site design and the roles the site plays in their professional/personal life
  • the challenges and opportunities involves in balancing an academic with a non-academic online profile, or creating a hybrid
  • what happens when you Google yourself, and how to change it
  • the importance of generating valuable content, and the practicalities of monetising it
  • the necessity of patience when it comes to building up an online audience
  • the benefits of keeping things simple on the tech side
  • the potential for crafting and maintaining a tailored web presence to help clarify for yourself what you’re doing and why.

The emphasis is on professional pathways that open out from academia to alt-ac, portfolio, and other careers involving freelance elements, but the material may also be useful for other academic and post-academic routes.

Overcoming a sense of academic failure

This is the most context-dependent of the options I offer. It can be framed as a large half-day event involving small-group work connecting established academics with students and early-career researchers, as an intimate workshop for a close-knit cohort, or anything in between.

We start right from the beginning, with what the feelings of failing or being an impostor (who’s always right on the brink of being uncovered) actually are. We build up a systematic framework for doing far more constructive things with the feelings than our defaults tend to allow for.

Topics that may be addressed include:

  • why failure and impostor syndrome matter (in academia), and how they relate to anxiety and perfectionism;
  • what you want to be different;
  • how to start classifying your feelings into useful categories;
  • how to put failures into perspective (in the wider context of now, and as now relates to the rest of your life);
  • failure and fraudulence: you, your career, and other people;
  • shared and individual actions that make a difference;
  • how you’ll know when you’ve succeeded in making a difference.

Activities may also include supportive simulations in which participants can share their own experiences, and case studies of common elicitors of feelings of failure to help uncover shared themes in responses to setbacks.

The session draws on a podcast series and workbook I created after the first academic failure event I ran (find out more here), including honest testimony from academics at all career stages.

Finally, I also offer short and sweet online options including:

  • An hour-long “writing wake-up” (around 8:30-9:30 a.m., or earlier) including a 40-minute writing session with goal-setting and review as well as some targeted input around writing and daily habits, plus a little invigorating movement.
  • 2-hour “writing drinks” (best on a Friday early evening!) to make creative use of potentially dead time, with light-touch planning and review plus the fun of seeing who’s brought what drink and why, and what kinds of project and goal-setting work best for at this point in the day and week.

Unsolicited feedback from event participants

I benefited enormously from this experience. I feel like I’m slowly starting to regain my confidence in my own ability to work, and this camp and my writing partner meetings have had a lot to do with that. Thanks for putting together such a thoughtful program. I’m not terrified of my writing goals this term, for once!

The boot camp had many benefits small and larger. Many thanks for the reminder about setting a principle to follow this term. The structuring and goal setting provided both a window into my overestimation of what was achievable and the opportunity for reflection to adjust and learn. Good stuff!

Now that I’ve discovered the writing groups, I feel much better about writing in general – bootcamp changed my perspective on writing quite a lot! Thanks for running it!

I found Emily’s session over the past two Mondays very helpful.  In fact, it has helped me to restructure my working day so that I can be more productive! Her approach to studying is far more holistic than I have ever experienced before, with far more of a focus on you as a person and your motives, rather than just as a robot trying to meet a deadline! The sessions have been a big help for me in understanding my motivations and writing habits. I am hoping to continue some form of informal writing accountability with those I met over the past few weeks. (Nathan Dunn)

Comments from a first-time participant in a writing breakfast

I attended one of Emily’s Writing Breakfasts with a view to breaking a deadlock in my writing process––in this instance, the difficulty of moving from short-form, quick-reward pieces (articles, chapters) to a long-form, deferred-reward piece (a monograph). While I expected to gain value from the experience––and I did––the value very much exceeded these expectations. Re-learning what it means to write in a space that is expressly designed for it made clear to me that I had not alone been (unwittingly) sabotaging my writing, but also wasting the time that I had set aside for it by using it unproductively. A second unexpected insight came from learning that writing can be a communal process. Accustomed to pursuing writing as a solitary activity, writing in a structured way with others made evident to me how much more productive it is possible to be when participating in a collective enterprise. I have secured a writing partner from the workshop, and hope to work with them in the future to our mutual benefit. Finally, I must record that Emily’s physical exercise routines brought about a very welcome intrusion of blue skies and green grass into the stark black and white of the empty page!

An email from a participant in the How to have a great summer course (2022), shared with kind permission

I cannot thank you enough for such a fantastic course over the past couple of weeks. I feel more patient with myself, and a sense of achievement even on days when I have chosen to do just one or two things (and even including non-work-related things). I felt listened to; you were so kind and patient, generous with your time and advice, and the level and manner of engagement (the mixture of direct questions/chat responses, occasional spoken answers, and the breakout rooms) was certainly perfect for me (I don’t think I have ever attended such a well-organised online course, nor one which so seamlessly kept my attention throughout).

I refer to the handouts, and the pieces of advice from your emails, every day. The fact that I have a summer plan at all – and one which now feels like it might be achievable – in itself is an amazing feeling!

And a message from a participant in the 2-week “Writing Reset” course (2023)—Toni Schmidt, PhD student in Remote Sensing, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research

This was by far the best course I have taken over the course of my PhD through graduate school. Your holistic approach was extremely helpful to me for different facets of work and life.

See the Oxford Writing Partnerships Programme website for extensive participant feedback (both quantitative efficacy data and hundreds of quotes), as well as for further information on the philosophy underpinning what I do.

Please drop me a note me via the contact form if you’re interested in running a course or workshop based on any of these formats, or would like to talk through an idea for a different kind of event, in a university context or otherwise. I’d love to hear from you.