university of chicago

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Every day, procrastination threatens dissertations around the world. Another class, another paper, another experiment, another workshop – something is always getting in the way. Recognizing this, the University of Chicago has created a commitment strategy known as a Write-In to help students be productive. Designed after similar writing “Boot Camps” at schools like Princeton and Columbia, the Write-In is a week-long workshop in which 20 students pay a $50 “motivational deposit” and commit to showing up at the library each morning and writing for four hours. (There’s also an optional afternoon session.)

In exchange, they get a designated space to work, coffee, snacks, and lunch with other students who choose to stay after the morning session wraps. If students show up everyday and work, they get their $50 back at the end of the week. They also get a shirt that reads “I write, therefore, I finish” in Latin. Sssshhhhh about the shirt, though. That’s suppose to be a surprise at the end.

Started last spring, the Write-In is becoming a quarterly occurrence at Chicago’s Graduate School. (The next session is in June). Now Chicago’s Law School is starting its own Write-In for students working on final papers. The Law School Write-In requires students to show up from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. for three straight days.

Graduate students tell staff it has helped them push projects forward. One student came from as far away as France for the Write-In. (She left her two young kids at home). Meghan Hammond, who coordinates the Write-In program for dissertations, says staffers have been surprised when students say they wished the program was offered more than once a quarter. In essence, they’ve asked for more commitment strategies.

Different parts of the program appeal to different students. Some like paying and getting the money back, which they use to go out and celebrate. Others like the informal writing groups that form after the week is over. Others just like being able to roll out of bed and go straight to a desk with a fresh pot of coffee, rather than having to stop by Starbucks and wait in a line on the way to school.

Says Hammond: “We (people) have certain patterns of behavior that we have to do before we start doing a task. We all have our rituals. If we (at the University) can take away some of those barriers, they can jump right in.”

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1. Foreign Policy traces the history of behavioral economics with this timeline in the latest issue.

2. One hundred and twenty six of the richest 300 colleges (based on endowment size) have curtailed cafeteria tray use. According to the group rating the environmental policies of colleges, the University of Chicago’s dining practices earn an A.

Dining Services purchases 20 percent of its food from local suppliers and contracts with a local dairy. The university is currently changing its dining hall format so that all meals will be served on reusable dishware. The university also offers reusable cups, mugs, and shopping bags.

3. A Mac application, Freedom, that disables networking on an computer for up to eight hours at a time, freeing you from the “distractions of the internet” and allowing you to do something better with your time.

Hat tip: Chad Valasek.

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