Writing Support Group launches with school
Debbie Ward knows all too well the difficulties of getting research published. While trying to attain faculty tenure at the University of Washington in the 1990s, Ward remembers trying to write about her research in a way that would attract the attention of prominent publications – a task critical to her career as a nurse educator.
"I remember the angst, the nights of worry and the endless edits," Ward says. "It's one thing to be a nurse researcher analyzing inefficiencies in the health-care system which cause real health problems and even fatalities. It's another thing entirely to translate data into compelling words to be published. In-depth support for writing and mentoring are uncommon in many research-focused institutions."
Now associate dean for the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, Ward has established a writing group with Associate Vice Chancellor for Nursing and Dean Heather M. Young to support postdoctoral scholars and researchers. The Writing Support Group also will support future doctoral and master's degree students. Inaugural classes begin in fall 2010.
Once a month in the quiet conference room overlooking the UC Davis Sacramento campus, the Writing Support Group gathers.
"The energy is palpable as each participant shares her writing that may represent months, if not years, of scientific inquiry and sweat," says Debra Bakerjian, one of the school's postdoctoral scholars.
"Getting manuscripts out of your head, into final form and out the door can be challenging."
The group began meeting last October. Although small, the group continues to grow and become more diverse as research projects get under way and others join the school's team. Even though the group is expanding, it is structured to ensure members gain support for their own unique challenges to writing.
"For some, it is making time to write or learning the painful truth that the first draft is always lousy and is always followed by numerous drafts," Ward says. "For others, their struggle might be finding the right words or a paralyzing dread of sharing their writing with others."
The stress of how to write well is intensified by the pressure to get published. Writing is a skill that could make or break a career, mainly because publication leads to further research funding and adds another rung to a faculty-career ladder.
Young has long recognized common writing struggles and developed solutions to help nurse researchers in particular. Earlier in her career, Young created a three-day writing camp for gerontological researchers funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation who were in need of peer review, coaching and encouragement while working separately in rural settings.
"I enjoy encouraging up and-coming researchers whose future careers hinge on getting published," Young says. "Even experienced researchers need support with writing."
Ward and Young have long lists of national and international publications on their respective Curricula Vitae, resulting from extensive research projects. Those lists continue to grow as they lead the founding faculty and researchers for the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis.
Taking scientific information and shaping it in to lay-person language for publication is challenging in any field. The Writing Support Group meets monthly to demand steady progress of its participants and offer peer review, two essential elements to successful research writing.
"Getting manuscripts out of your head, into final form and out the door can be challenging," Ward says.
Ward's motto for the group is: "On to publication!"
According to the school's postdoctoral scholars, the Writing Support Group is already benefiting from their research, which encompasses the delivery of care at assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, nutrition programs to help certain populations improve health and the impact of nursing research on policy change.
"The writing group does more than motivating each member to get things done by deadline and improving papers as they develop over time," says Tara Sharpp, the school's first postdoctoral fellow. "We brainstorm which journals fit each particular research area and discover ways our research fits with other areas of specialty we might not have considered. It is eye opening to hear that my research in geriatrics fits with pediatrics or nutrition research and that I could be more widely published than I originally thought."
The group is also helpful in considering particular audiences, such as whether a paper should have a policy piece or a section on patient rights, depending on journal readership. Participants help each other when a journal requests revisions. Authorship issues are smoothed over. Scholarly writing techniques are honed. Without other perspectives, it is often difficult for researchers to ensure a method is clearly articulated or whether certain concepts and phrasing terminology make sense.
"The energy is palpable as each participant shares her writing that may represent months, if not years, of scientific inquiry and sweat."
"I feel invigorated each time we meet," Bakerjian says.
With the realization that the new school offers the first doctoral degree in nursing in inland Northern California and the Central Valley, school leaders opened the doors of the writing group to other nurse researchers.
"We hope nurse researchers from our extended community will join us, particularly the joint nursing program between UC Davis and CSU Sacramento Division of Nursing," Young says. "Together, we are an important resource for our community by offering the full range of graduate-level learning opportunities in nursing. The Writing Support Group will be one way we strengthen that partnership."
Publishing research is critical to the school's success, including securing future grants, attracting top faculty and students, and elevating nursing research and its influence on health care.
"It seems like a great deal of pressure for a small group of innovators and a fledgling school. We are unabashedly bold," Young says. "We want graduate students who embrace the unique opportunity to be the inaugural classes of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. We want faculty who inherently understand the value of nursing research and how urgently our society needs more studies from the nursing perspective to help transform health care. We need partners who understand that UC Davis has needed this school for a long time to help the community it serves."
Both Ward and Young agree the Writing Support Group is an important part of establishing strong research and education programs at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.
"Launching a new school is not unlike getting research published – on a much, much bigger scale," Ward says.
Spring / Summer 2010
UC Davis Health System is proud to be home to medical, nursing, family nurse practitioner / physician assistant, public health and health informatics students and to also be the internship site for pharmacy, nutrition and other programs. Improving the health of our communities requires that we bring together these perspectives, and UC Davis is well positioned to do so.