The SUBgroups Handbook

The way SUBgroups works is pretty straightforward. Each participant is either a first-year math PhD student or a first-year math master’s student considering a PhD. Each SUBgroup is made of three to five participants. 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. (Times are always given in Eastern time.) 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, care, etc.

The format of a chat 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.

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 three 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.

Here are some guidelines and norms to help your meetings 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 this nifty sheet. Again, each week you should come up with 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:

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:

For each meeting, one group member is assigned to be the person to start the video chat. 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.

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. The person who was in charge of starting the video chat should in particular ensure that everyone has a chance to share.

The 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.

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: