Academic Ladder: An Extraordinary Resource

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

I've got an extraordinary resource to share with you today. Academic Ladder is an excellent website that helps academics (including graduate students) with writing, coaching, and academic productivity. I wish I'd known of them when I was finishing my dissertation. FINALLY, help is available, at all levels!


Academic Ladder


A resource as well as a community, Academic Ladder was started by Gina Hiatt, Ph.D.. She's a clinical psychologist, tenure coach and dissertation coach.  Gina received her Ph.D. in 1978 from McGill University, in clinical psychology. Her research was in the area of learning and memory, working with the noted neuropsychologist, Brenda Milner. While testing patients for her dissertation research, Gina realized that she liked working with people more than doing research on them. After graduating in 1978, she did a post doc at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. She also had the opportunity to teach two psych courses at UCLA. Since then, she has been in private practice for 25 years.  In addition to being a psychotherapist, Gina is a coach. She enjoys working with academics at every stage of their career, from grad students wondering about their dissertation topic to faculty members who want to maintain a high level of research and writing.  In particular, Gina has found that faculty concerned about promotion and tenure are helped immensely by the structure of coaching. She has worked with a number of tenured professors, also.  


Gina Hiatt


We were lucky enough to sit down and talk with Gina about Academic Ladder, writing tips, tools for success, and more. Here's what she had to say...



WE: Please tell us about your site, Academic Ladder…

GH: I founded my business, Academic Ladder, LLC, in order to provide graduate students, post docs, and professors with the help they need in order to survive academia.  Shortly after, I created in order to provide articles, advice, and self-assessments, with the intention of helping my readers understand their place in academia and optimize their careers.  Of course, the site also showcased the coaching that I offered.  I learned a lot from working with my coaching clients.  In particular, I found that these academics frequently needed help in maintaining productivity in their long-term writing projects.  I had begun by doing individual coaching, over the phone, usually once a week.  Then I began running coaching groups for both graduate students and for professors, also on telephone bridge lines.  I noticed how much the group participants got out of interacting with each other about the difficulty that they had with writing, the competitiveness of academia, the feelings of isolation, and other issues that academics have in common.  Each group has their own private listserv, and I noticed that the support that they gave and received on the listserv was a significant help.



WE:  What was the genesis of the Academic Writing Club, and how does it help academics? 

GH: Once I saw how important it was for academics to interact with others that shared their issues, I started to wonder in what other ways I could help them connect with each other.  I noted that my clients often wanted and needed daily accountability, support, guidance, coaching and interaction with others.  I realized that the only way to provide all of this at a price that would be affordable was to do it online.  I decided to bite the bullet and create a database membership website, the Academic Writing Club (see  Club members are placed into groups according to whether they are professors or grad students, and by discipline – humanities, social sciences, or STEM (science, technology, engineering or math). The groups each have 10-15 members, and their own coach.

There is a wealth of advice on the site for how to be a productive writer, plus we provide a “Startwrite” teleclass and a one-time telephone coaching group meeting.  But a key component of the site is the progress log.  This is a calendar page, where all group members have their own square for each day of the 4-week cycle.  When they click on that square, a series of simple questions open up, which ask them not only about how much time they spent writing (a key concept) and researching, but about the negative thoughts that are interfering with their writing and the positive thoughts they could replace them with.  They are also asked to write down their specific writing plans for the next day.  Once they fill in their responses, they get a nice green check mark in the square (don’t laugh – it’s very reinforcing!)

Of great importance is the fact that there is space in the right-hand column for fellow group members to respond to what they have written, by encouraging them, giving advice, or commiserating.  The coach also writes in their log 2 to 3 times a week.  It’s this interaction that builds up a sense of community, which aids immensely with being able to maintain their writing over the long term.  There is also a message board and a chat room.  Both are used to have longer discussions, and the chat room is frequently utilized for “coffee shop” meetings: planned get-togethers where each person states what they will be working on, then they each write for a specified period of time and get back on and announce what they have accomplished.  Some groups swear by this technique!

The amount of time spent writing and researching is automatically graphed, both for each individual and for the group as a whole, cumulatively and on a daily basis.  Some club members like to monitor their graphs in order to try and stick to or improve their performance.  On top of this, there is a special resource -- an extensive wiki that contains information about surviving in academia, with a special emphasis on writing.  It grows daily as members and coaches add more information to it.

We find that the Academic Writing Club is so popular that clients often prefer it to individual coaching.  It meets all of their needs and more.



WE: What are your top writing tips for academics?

GH: Most of the tips I have are for people who are struggling to write enough, some of who have a serious writer’s block.  For those people, I suggest aiming for a short writing session (15-30 minutes at the most; even 5-10 is good enough for starters), most days of the week.  Use a timer to help yourself get started, and STOP when the timer goes off.  Focus on free writing – that is writing without editing, or stopping to put in footnotes or look up an exact reference.  You can do those activities in later writing sessions.  The key is to let go of that inner critic by writing badly.  Remember, you can’t write well until you write it badly.  Another way to think about it is: you write in order to find out what you think.  You don’t think first, have it all solved, and only then start writing.

You can build up your writing muscle over time, adding more writing sessions, but always taking a break between sessions and being sure not to burn out with long writing sessions.



WE:  What tools do you use for your clients to succeed?

GH: When working with clients individually, I often have to help them prioritize and figure out what their next tiny little step is.  Often clients are so overwhelmed by all that they haven’t done that they can barely focus on what’s next.  Once clients understand some of the basic principles of productive long-term writing, and can consistently apply them, I find that they are then ready to move on to either a group or the Academic Writing Club.



WE:  Who are your writing coaches?

GH: They are academics who have Ph.D.s and who usually have been members of the Academic Writing Club themselves.  They have learned first-hand how well it works and are savvy about what to do and say to help others.  Some are tenured professors who are planning on retiring, but would like to stay connected with helping other academics.



WE: Is there anything you'd like to share with us?

GH: I believe that anyone who has gotten into graduate school can write a dissertation, and that anyone who has gotten a tenure track job can achieve tenure, if they follow basic principles.  But academia is not an institution to bumble and stumble through – it’s good to get all the help and support possible, from peers, colleagues, more seasoned students and colleagues, advisors, mentors, and professional help if needed.






WE: Thanks so very much, Gina, for sharing Academic Ladder with us. I can't help thinking of the lives you've changed with this extraordinary organization.

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