The Ratty started as an idea between two graduate students at Brown University in the fall of 2019. When it launched in February of 2020, we had no idea what was in store for the world starting just one month later. It is only in hindsight that we know starting a blog in 2020 almost certainly meant it was doomed, but we struggle to call it a failure.
The idea for The Ratty stemmed from our shared love of writing for non-academic audiences. Not only is it genuinely fun, but it is an incredibly valuable skill to develop as a graduate student. But, it can be really hard to enter that space and make that case for yourself without guidance. We wanted to be that guidance.
We assembled an awesome team of students, some with editorial experience, some without. We worked together to build a training process for PhD students in both writing and editing for non-academic audiences. We thought a lot about what our name would be, what our name would mean, how we would move a piece through the editorial process, how we could leverage existing networks for visibility, and how we could best serve graduate students. We also dreamed big.
We’re big fans of platforms like Contingent, Lady Science, and Eidolon. We dreamed (and so badly hoped) we could elevate voices like they do, produce fascinating pieces like they do, and support writers like they do. So, we got to work.
We lined up writers and we started publishing pieces in February 2020. We even had a little launch party. We don’t need to tell you what happened just a month after our launch. With a staff of entirely grad students who were in the midst of finding out just how badly they could be abandoned by their institutions, The Ratty took a huge hit. But really, we felt like we had been abandoned by our institution long before.
Originally, The Ratty was meant to serve only Brown grad students. We figured we would start small and expand from there. Before we got started in earnest, we met with a variety of campus support centers, some of whom had reached out to us. We didn’t leave any of those meetings feeling particularly good.
The pandemic raged on and all of us focused individually on keeping our heads above water. We published here and there, but we couldn’t justify asking more work from students who were already struggling. We back off on our publicity and on our calls for pitches.
By July of 2021 we started to feel like maybe we could put more effort back into The Ratty. We opened up pitches to all graduate students, regardless of institution. And we got pitches! Some really awesome ones. We published pieces. Some really awesome ones. We put together a workshop for grad students on pitching their research to non-academic venues. We were joined by editors and writers for non-academic venues, and they were phenomenal. The pitches resulted in more really really cool work.
Some of these pieces got the attention of staff and faculty at Brown once again. Some professors even indicated that they would create class assignments for their grad students that involved writing for us and going through our editing process. None followed through. And so, The Ratty just kind of sat there.
We are definitely sad. The Ratty is a good idea, a good project, and worth so much more time and support. But, it’s hard not to be angry. Angry at the pandemic, angry at those who said they would help but didn’t, and a bit angry at ourselves. Could we have done more? We don’t think so. But we can hope the short life The Ratty had was still a good life. We always talk about the sunset stage of digital scholarship projects at work, but it’s different when it’s your own and you were still dreaming of what it could be when you had to say goodbye.
So, The Ratty is no longer accepting pitches. We will continue to keep the website up as long as we can afford it. Thank you to all of you who shared our calls for pitches and read all of the amazing work our students did. Thank you to our staff most of all. We love and appreciate you.