The SUBgroups Handbook

The way SUBgroups works is pretty straightforward. Each participant is a first-year graduate student in the mathematical sciences. Each SUBgroup is made of three to five participants, all of whom are enrolled in different graduate programs. A group meets regularly over the course of a semester for a video chat that lasts approximately an hour, once every two weeks on a fixed day and time. (Be careful about time zones!) The goal of these chats is for everyone to have a chance to share their grad school experiences and to be a part of a helpful support network.

The SUBgroups organizing team does the logistical legwork of getting groups set up and provides a basic framework for the meetings, described below. Ultimately, though, a SUBgroup will be as successful as the participants make it using their energy, attention, empathy, preparation, openness, and care.

The format of a video chat session is that everyone brings something positive and something negative that happened in their math grad school life in the past few weeks to share, along with some piece of math that they’ve encountered. The participants take turns sharing and listening, and chatting about whatever comes up—sharing similar experiences, offering advice, or just venting a little.

The meetings are regularly scheduled at the start of the program—it’s good to start with a solid plan! But a SUBgroup is in charge of supporting each other and rescheduling as necessary. For example, it’s possible that you have a big one-time conflict with your SUBgroups meeting, like a religious holiday or a comprehensive exam. That’s okay! Reach out to your group to let them know, and work together to find a time to reschedule. You can have some backup times in mind, and you can always look back at the when2meet for your SUBgroup.

The regularly scheduled meetings are the backbone of SUBgroups, but your group is certainly welcome to find other ways to connect. Having a group chat is one good way. Maybe you’ll find that you want to do some studying together, or decide to have a game night together. That’s all great!

We’re committed to making SUBgroups a positive, inclusive, and helpful experience for all participants. Every SUBgroups participant has signed a participant agreement and has affirmed the following four statements:

  1. I am committed to taking an active, patient, and generous role in my SUBgroup meetings. 
  2. I will work to make my SUBgroup a comfortable space for everyone, and I will not harass any of my groupmates.
  3. I will attend scheduled SUBgroups meetings, except in extenuating circumstances, even when I have other pressing commitments.
  4. I will keep private the personal information that other participants share during SUBgroups meetings, unless given explicit permission to share it.

In all of your interactions with your SUBgroup, it’s important that you keep these principles in mind.

Here are some guidelines and norms to help your meetings to be welcoming and supportive spaces for everyone.

Before each SUBgroups meeting:

You will receive a reminder email about your upcoming meeting. This will happen over the weekend prior to the meeting.

To get ready for a meeting, take time to reflect on the past two weeks: what’s gone well, what’s been a bummer, whatever is important to you. To help you reflect, you can print out and journal on copies of this nifty sheet. Again, each week you should come up with at least one of each of the following, regardless of whether or not you decide to bring it up during the chat.

  • a recent positive experience, bright spot, or success. Examples include: a breakthrough in understanding a concept; a good result in a class; a positive interaction with a professor, a classmate, or one of your own students; a talk you gave that went well; or even an act of self-care.
  • a recent negative experience, frustration, or failure. Examples include: struggling fruitlessly with a concept; a poor result in a class; a negative interaction with a professor, a classmate, or one of your own students; a talk that you gave that went poorly; or whatever you’re feeling bummed about.
  • a piece of math that you’ve learned recently. Something that you could share briefly—not a whole lecture! Just enough to give a flavor.

In the reminder email, we’ll also mention a broad topic along with some related questions that you can use as an additional conversation starters during your chat. Here are the topics for the weeks for the semester cohort (the quarter cohort is shorter):

Week 1: Classes and comps/quals/prelims
Week 2: Managing workload
Week 3: Cohort and classmates
Week 4: Taking stock and making plans
Week 5: Connecting with faculty
Week 6: Personal well-being
Week 7: Social well-being

During each SUBgroups meeting:

Your group will establish a recurring Zoom meeting. This will give a link that you can click in order to join each of your meetings at the agreed upon time. Please be at your computer (or other device) and ready to start on time!

At the first meeting, take some time at the start for everyone to introduce themselves.

Then everyone should take a turn sharing one of the recent experiences (positive, negative, or mathy) that they brainstormed ahead of time. Whichever one they want to. The groups are small enough that you don’t need to rush during your share.

Listen actively when someone else is sharing. Don’t multitask and check your email during a meeting. Ask questions to better understand the person’s anecdote, but don’t interrupt frequently, or be dismissive, or jump to offering advice. Listening is primary; if they want to hear your suggestions or advice, they will ask for it. And the other way around: if you would like some advice, ask for it!

Once everyone has had a chance to do a first “share”, participants can do a second share or the conversation can evolve in whatever way is natural. It’s important for everyone to keep aware of whether everyone is getting a chance to share. You can also spend some time discussing the suggested broad topic of the week.

Each meeting should last approximately one hour. It’s important to wrap up in a timely fashion so that participants can move on with their schedule for the day. On the other hand, if your meeting comes to a natural end before the hour mark, it’s okay to end the meeting early.

After each SUBgroups meeting:

After the first meeting, there will be a short reflection survey.

After the final meeting, there will be a wrap-up feedback survey about your SUBgroups experience.

If you ever have any questions or have any negative experience in SUBgroups, please get in touch with the SUBgroups organizing team of Justin Lanier and Marissa Loving: