By Sarah Dimick
Sarah is a Ph.D. candidate in literary studies at UW-Madison, and has taught at the Writing Center since 2013. Before coming to Madison, she received an MFA in poetry from New York University.
Last winter, during a late afternoon appointment, a graduate student in the history department asked me how he might make the final chapter of his dissertation more compelling.1 We’d already discussed what I think of as skeletal concerns: the order of his paragraphs, the clarity of his topic sentences. We’d already examined his thesis and his conclusion for coherence. I asked if he was concerned that the intellectual contribution of this chapter wasn’t sufficiently groundbreaking, that other scholars in his discipline might not feel he was making a substantial intervention. “My argument’s brilliant,” he told me, “but this chapter is totally dry inside. I want to write the kind of history that makes people turn pages, to write a story where the characters come alive. How do you do that?”
A few weeks later, I met with an undergraduate student in an advanced physics course who was trying to condense the caption beneath one of the figures in her lab report. “The challenge,” she explained, “is that I’m trying to say so much in so few words. It’s like writing a haiku about a gravitational field. Each word has to be so precise.”
And this past fall, a senior applying to medical school pulled three crumpled pages of paper out of her backpack. She spread them on the table in front of us, each one containing a different opening paragraph to her personal statement. “My academic advisor said the first paragraph needs to give the admissions committee a sense of my voice,” she said. “But after writing all of these, I’m not sure any of them are me yet. And I’m worried my voice isn’t the kind of voice med schools like anyway. I guess what I’m saying is that I need to find a voice. Really soon. Before this is due on Tuesday.” (more…)
By Stephanie White
Stephanie White is an Instructional Developer at the University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence. She consults with instructors about teaching writing and communication and assists with teaching development programs for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Stephanie holds a PhD in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she taught composition, tutored in the Writing Center, and served as TA Assistant Director of Writing Across the Curriculum.
Stephanie White, back when she would spend hours writing
and taking selfies to procrastinate in the Wisconsin Historical Society library.
I’ve been reading Adam Gopnik’s ageless Paris to the Moon off and on over the last year, savouring it in small portions like a bottle of good Scotch. Gopnik’s descriptions of life in Paris for a non-Parisian family, originally published as a series of New Yorker essays called “Paris Journals,” are warm and acute. They’ve made me think again about the “outsider” perspective, about why travel writing is so powerful and why anthropologists rarely study their home cultures. And they’ve made me consider my own perspective as a Canadian returning home to Ontario after spending twelve years in the U.S. So I thought I’d invite you to read my own journal entry here about life as a Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) consultant in a university culture where WAC is rarely mentioned.
I just celebrated my one-year anniversary as “Instructional Developer, TA Training and Writing Support” at the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. My manager took me to lunch to celebrate, and we marveled that it had only been and had already been a year since I left a teaching position in the English department here at UWaterloo to take on this role. The shift to an alt-ac career wasn’t something I saw coming, but when I read the job description for a newly created position with a focus on writing instruction, I couldn’t resist applying and was thrilled to be offered the job.
I now spend my days helping run two different graduate student teaching development programs, supervising graduate-student workshop facilitators, and facilitating TA training in departments across campus. At the same time, I teach workshops and consult with instructors, departments, and even whole faculties (what you’d call colleges in the U.S.) about designing, teaching, and responding to written assignments. (more…)
By Kathleen Daly
Kathleen Daly is a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric and is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison. Her dissertation looks at how arguments are made from and with Big Data, both within and outside of academia.
For the past three years, I’ve worked in the UW-Madison Writing Center and, for the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working as Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program where I have worked with faculty members, instructional staff and teaching assistants from a range of disciplines, including plant pathology, political science, sociology, psychology, history, physics, and more.
In almost every part of my WAC work—from the writing center workshops that I teach to the one-on-one consultations I hold to the large teacher training events I co-lead with the Director of WAC, Brad Hughes—there is one question that never fails to come up. In fact, I often can’t even go five minutes without having someone ask it. Any guesses what it is? (more…)
By Matthew Fledderjohann
Matthew is a PhD student at UW-Madison studying composition pedagogy, revision theory, and apocalyptic rhetoric. He is currently serving as the Online Writing Center Coordinator for the UW-Madison writing center. He has been a writing center tutor at Purdue University Northwest and DePaul University.
Whether I’m responding to a piece of writing as a composition teacher or as a writing center tutor, my comments look similar. I plug in Microsoft Word’s two-toned comment bubbles and write things like, “Hmm . . . I’m not sure how this sentence connects to the purpose of the paragraph. Could you make that connection clearer, cut this sentence, or fit it into the next paragraph?” I use different colors to highlight lower-level error patterns. I compose a summative note about my overall impressions of the piece and recommendations for revision. I email the commented-on document back to the writer.
By Hyonbin Choi
Hyonbin is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison, writing her dissertation on modernist long poems. She has been a Writing Center instructor since 2013, and currently serves as a TA co-coordinator. She also moonlights as a translator of children’s and YA literature from English to Korean.
Writing your dissertation—or any long research project—is mostly a lonely affair. One dissertator once said to me that it feels like you’re stranded on an island trying to survive, while an occasional surveillance aircraft flies over to check on you. Or even worse, not even that.
As Rick Ness pointed out in a previous blog post, metaphors of dissertation writing are often associated with survival, climbing mountains, or pulling through a grueling boot camp. These metaphors of perilous adventures or life-threatening situations have the danger of intimidating and overwhelming dissertators. And yes, parts of dissertation writing are strenuous and even conditioned with fear. I mean, who can say they haven’t run for cover when the hum of a surveillance craft sounds from afar? (more…)
By Angela Zito
Angela Zito has worked as a tutor with the UW-Madison Writing Center since 2013 and currently serves as a TA Co-Coordinator. She is a PhD candidate in English Literary Studies working on a dissertation titled “Student Learning and Public Purpose: Accounting for the Introductory Literature Course.”
Angela, the author
This past fall I led an ongoing education seminar for seven of our graduate writing tutors called “Empirical Research in the Writing Center – What’s so RAD about it?” I cringe at the punny question every time I write it, but I find the implications of the interrogative alluring…curiosity, skepticism, maybe derision…and I appreciate how functional its readiest answers are:
What’s “RAD” about it is that it’s replicable, aggregable, and data-supported research.
What’s “RAD” about it is that empirical research is making its presence known as some hip new thing in writing center studies.
What’s “RAD” about it is that it seems radical to position empirical research within this discipline. (more…)
By Neil Simpkins
Neil is the current TA Assistant Director at the UW-Madison Writing Center. He previously worked at the Agnes Scott College writing center as a tutor and coordinator. He is in the Composition and Rhetoric Ph.D. program at UW-Madison.
Prior to attending UW-Madison, I tutored at the Agnes Scott College Center for Writing and Speaking. At Agnes, tutors generally read and annotated drafts of the paper quietly while the student read to herself, got a cup of tea, or relaxed in the center. When I moved to UW-Madison, one of the biggest changes in practice that I adapted to was asking students to read drafts out loud. It felt like such a big question to ask, especially for students new to the Writing Center! As a practice I had never used, having the student read aloud also felt strange to me. But reading aloud also externalized the piece, gave the writer a fresh perspective, and fit well with the constraints of our business-like space of separated cubicles. Ever since that shift I have had a lot of questions about this practice. How does reading out loud—or not reading out loud—shape the space of the writing center, student experiences of tutorials, and the learning that happens in our sessions? (more…)
By Nancy Linh Karls
Nancy Linh Karls
Nancy Linh Karls is a senior instructor in the UW-Madison Writing Center, where she serves as its science-writing specialist. She also coordinates and teaches the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and directs the community-based Madison Writing Assistance program.
With 2016 soon drawing to a close, many of us have been reflecting on what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past year. For staff in the UW-Madison Writing Center, that’s a pretty significant list: meeting with thousands of student-writers in one-to-one sessions at our main location and across our many satellites; responding to hundreds of writers’ drafts via email and Skype; offering a robust series of Writing Center workshops; teaching brief units on writing in courses across the curriculum; consulting with faculty to strengthen writing instruction in their home departments; and providing our own Writing Center tutors with ongoing training and support. (more…)
By Leigh Elion
Leigh Elion has been a Writing Center tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since the fall of 2010, where she has also served as TA Coordinator, Coordinator of Writing Center Multicultural Initiatives, Outreach Coordinator, and Summer Writing Center Director. She is also a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric, writing a dissertation that explores the role of the visual within contexts of gentrification.
I’m angry with Paul Silvia.
Don’t get me wrong. He seems like a very nice person. When he came to UW-Madison in 2013 to speak with our Writing Center tutors, he was funny, generous, and insightful. Silvia is a psychology professor at UNC-Greensboro. His book, How to Write a Lot, offers a number of practical strategies for becoming a more prolific, efficient writer. He encourages writers to make writing a regular habit, to plan and schedule our writing time, to make writing as much of a commitment and priority as other professional obligations, to give up our false writing idols of favorite pens/chairs/weather/moon phases and instead worship at the altar of just getting it done. (more…)
By Mike Haen
Mike Haen is a first-year tutor at the UW-Madison Writing Center and a second-year PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric. He teaches English 100 and has worked as a writing center tutor at UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University.
Five years ago, I was an undergraduate tutor-in-training at Marquette University. All prospective tutors at the Ott Memorial Writing Center are required to complete a semester-long training course, in which undergraduates familiarize themselves with writing center pedagogy and reflect on their writing processes. For me, the most memorable moments in that class required us to attend closely to tutoring interactions. We did this by (1) observing experienced tutors in sessions, (2) role-playing imagined interactions with classmates, and (3) transcribing a few minutes of tutoring talk.