Graduate women develop emotional support group over a glass of wine

In the heat of academia and the stress brought upon by coursework, graduate women have found an informal support group to try to unwind and offer emotional help.


Katie Goodale

Graduate students (from left) Anna Williams, Laura Hayes and Lydia Maunz sit down for a drink in Brix Cheese Shop and Wine Bar on March 25, 2019. All three began as a reading group and have since continued to lean on each other for support through writing their dissertations. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

Alexandra Skores, News Reporter

“A carafe of the red and three glasses” were the key elements to this graduate-student women’s support group.

Five women writing their dissertations in the UI English Department use the three essentials in supporting each other’s long and stressful programs: friendship, good conversation, and a glass of red wine.

At a table at Brix, a wine and cheese restaurant on the North Side, sat three UI grad students: Anna Williams, who will defend her Gothic dissertation in May; Lydia Maunz-Breese, who studies grief narratives of World War I; and Laura Hayes, who has just begun her dissertation on the Victorians and the body.

They came together for a reading group that essentially stemmed from a class taught by UI Professor Florence Boos. The women agreed that Boos was the sole reason for their informal groups and how they came together.

“She goes above and beyond her job,” Williams said. “She’s the reason that a lot of people are Victorianists. She has always had a following with graduate students who had wanted to work with her.”

Hayes and Maunz-Breese noted that one of the reasons they came to the UI was Boos and her work. The three owe their friendship and continual collaboration to Boos.

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Alongside this, a large part of how the women support one another when they meet is their own little sharing circle called “Gratitude.”

“Every time we meet, we’ll go around and share things that we are excited about,” Hayes said. “It is so easy to fall into the pattern of, ‘I have this one chapter that is taking forever,’ or other stressful conversations. We have to remember that there are things to celebrate.”

Williams said their gratitude circles have helped her personal well-being and also her career.

“It is important that we recognize being grateful for things, but also being able to be excited about people in my life who are also grateful for their own things,” Williams said.

The women have used each other in times of stress and other elements of their life.

“There are a lot of forces in popular culture that try to pit women against each other,” Williams said. “I think that having a group of women that supports one another is not just important for the immediate benefits but the larger significance of overcoming this patriarchal force that tries to put women in competition with one another.”

Hayes said academia can be often measured heavily by achievements, but she believes there’s so much more to it.

“It’s the people who say ‘I got this fellowship’ or ‘I got this grant,’ ” Hayes said. “This group allows me to celebrate other people, but it also celebrates me when there is a reason for me to be celebrated.  It creates a system in which it doesn’t need to be competitive.”

Hayes recalled a time when she was really stressed with her dissertation and needed some support. Williams sent her a small quote reminding her she was doing just fine. Hayes said that made all the difference.

Maunz-Breese also said the informal group provides a safe space for the women to talk about anything in their lives.

“The fact that we are all women creates a safe space in a way that would not exist for me in other contexts,” Maunz-Breese said. “It is a huge deal for what we all get out of it.”