Penn writing group offers support for women Ph.D. students

Writing a dissertation may be a marathon rather than a sprint—but that doesn’t mean the process of sitting down to write needs to be the equivalent of a solitary run.

In the Women Who Write group, the process is more like a cross-country team experience, explains Andrea Kauffman-Berry, a Ph.D. student studying sociology in the School of Arts & Sciences, with members supporting one another throughout the lengthy writing and rewriting process.

The group is open to any doctoral student at Penn who identifies as a woman and who is actively working on her dissertation. Women Who Write provides accountability, a quiet, structured environment conducive to writing, and a collaborative, supportive team spirit.

“Many people really like that they can get together with a group regularly to work on something that is considered by most to be an individual intellectual pursuit,” Kauffman-Berry says. “Just having others with you along the way keeps your momentum up, keeps your emotional energy up. Many of us have found it makes us much more productive.”

Women Who Write started after a group of women completed the intense, two-week “Dissertation Boot Camp” program from the Graduate Student Center and wanted to continue meeting as a supportive network.

“Many of us felt it worked exceptionally well as a way to jump-start work on a chapter or continue moving forward after completing a dissertation proposal,” Kauffman-Berry says.

Women Who Write meets in a sunny, second-floor room at the Penn Women’s Center (PWC) on Mondays through Thursdays anytime between 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Some doctoral students spend all day in the room, while others may come for a couple hours of quiet, intense writing. Attendees are asked to turn phones to silent and take breaks and lunches outside of the space, keeping the room a dedicated writing environment.

“It provides a community of people who are doing the same thing. But more than that, compare this to sitting in a café and trying to concentrate … or sitting by yourself at home which is at times very productive, but at times very isolating,” says Kauffman-Berry. “Many people like that they’re on campus. They’re with people that they know, and that provides an inherent benefit, being around other people who are working toward the same goal.”

The Trustees’ Council of Penn Women provides funding for the group to hold events at the PWC, including lunch workshops on turning a dissertation abstract into an elevator speech and discussions about navigating the academic job market while completing a dissertation.

Kauffman-Berry adds they’re grateful for the support from the PWC, as well, which offers not only a quiet space to write, but a kitchen in which to make lunch, and a lactation room for the participants who are also new mothers.

In addition, group members meet for lunch once a month to discuss their work, and network with doctoral students from other schools at Penn.

“It’s been fascinating to find out what’s cutting-edge in a completely different field,” says Kauffman-Berry.

Those interested in learning more or joining the group should contact Kauffman-Berry at

Women Who Write