Author Joanna Nissel presenting document

Joanna Nissel explains her contributions to the National Creative Writing Subject Benchmark.

For those of us still studying, we might not know —I certainly didn’t until I started teaching— that the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) issues a benchmark for each subject taught at university level. Benchmarks describe the nature of each discipline and what graduates might reasonably be expected to know, do, and understand at the end of their studies, which academics use to steer their teaching practices.

The benchmarks are revised over time to ensure they reflect the latest changes in the discipline. In 2022, Creative Writing academics and industry figures from across the UK came together to produce the new edition of our subject benchmark. I was delighted to be asked to be the advisory group’s student representative, drawing on my experience completing a BA and MA in Creative Writing, as well as my current PhD.

My PhD-in-progress focuses on education for poets in the UK today and so my role in the advisory group was a particularly rich opportunity for my research. I had the chance to apply my work to a document that actively influences the teaching of Creative Writing, nationally. I was also able to hear from experts in creative writing education, resulting in a further interview for my PhD project.

Since my research represents contemporary issues and concepts in poetry education, I hope the benchmark was strengthened by my contributions. For instance, I drew on my research to challenge the extremely common premise that students should ‘write what you know’, pointing out that, given the rise of literature on trauma, this can lead to the writer, their peers, and potentially staff being triggered when difficult subjects arise and are not properly handled. Therefore students may benefit from, firstly, the option to not write from experience, and, secondly, from educators designing their provision with the potential for damage in mind. My fellow advisory group members supported and deepened my argument and a section on this is now included in the benchmark document.

Document cover with pink and purple design.Subject Benchmark Statement: Creative Writing Publication date: 11 Apr 2024

Detail of Subject Benchmark statement cover

My role on the advisory group has also given me valuable experience to support my future career endeavours after graduation. For example, we wrote the benchmark collaboratively, with subgroups assigned to draft different sections, rounds of feedback and editing, and finally a whole-document-edit to ensure the benchmark worked as a cohesive document.

I took on an organisational role for my subgroup and moved our allocated sections through the editorial process. I often settled decisions on which wordings to use, which initially felt strange seeing as I was by far the most junior academic in the room! But it soon became apparent that the group was highly democratic and my role was very much appreciated. I feel being treated as an equal by experts in my field has lessened my sense of imposter syndrome, which many PhD students battle against.

In short, I am extremely appreciative of the opportunity to contribute to the QAA Subject Benchmark in Creative Writing. It has made me feel more confident on a number of levels —in my thesis, in my position as an academic, and in the collaborative, team-working skills that will benefit me in any academic or industry-focused role that awaits me after graduation next year.

The full benchmark has now been published and is available via the QAA.

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