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 Alexandra Asche
Alexandra Asche. Photo by Kari Adams.
Alexandra Asche is the Student Assistant Director at the Writing Center of the University of Minnesota, Morris, a public liberal arts college. She works with Director Tisha Turk, who served as a UW-Madison Writing Center instructor and Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program while earning her PhD. Alexandra has been a consultant in UMM’s Writing Center since 2014 and the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper since 2015. In her spare time, she studies English and Psychology.
When I first started planning this post, I intended to write about the UMM Writing Center’s formal outreach to faculty. However, as I looked through the previous posts on this blog, I found that others have already written about how to plan this sort of outreach. I also noticed, though, that I was in the peculiar position of being a student consultant and administrator attempting to educate professors who, to say the least, vary highly in their degrees of interest and investment in our small campus writing center.
By Leah Pope
Leah Pope has been a Writing Center tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since fall of 2014. She is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies, writing a dissertation that explores representations of disability and bodily difference in Anglo-Saxon England.
Alexandra Gillespie opens her essay in How We Write: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blank Page by confessing that she only writes when she has to . “Because reasons” (19). She writes this casually, as if she’s not breaking my mind by using Internet diction. But it’s not just her delightful, playful writing style — shared by many of the essays in this collection — that is revealing. Gillespie describes anxious and determined binge writing, fueled by deadlines ranging from a DPhil advisor’s note asking to have coffee — how terrifying! — to a paper promised to a friend/colleague for review. She describes writing 6,000 words in one day to meet a deadline — not drivel, mind you, but a conference paper and later the core of a book chapter. (more…)
By Jessica Citti
Jessica Citti, Ph.D., has tutored in the writing centers at UW-Madison and the University of Iowa, where she also taught composition, rhetoric, and technical communication. She is now the Writing Skills Specialist at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where she provides one-on-one writing consultations for students and coordinates the HSU Writing Studio.
I remember learning the word “volition” in college. A friend used it over the phone (a phone with a cord, attached to a wall) and I was impressed. Volition. A word from the medieval Latin: volō, I wish, I will.
Later, after tutoring in writing centers at large public universities in the midwest, I came to think of this word in relation to writing center visits. While an occasional referral might be appropriate, students should come of their own volition. Stephen North sums up the problem with mandatory visits in “The Idea of a Writing Center,” suggesting that such requirements—while well-intentioned—don’t carry lasting impact: “Occasionally we manage to convert such writers from people who have to see us to people who want to, but most often they either come as if for a kind of detention, or they drift away” (440). (more…)
By Emily Hall
At a large university we are regularly exposed to the original and sometimes groundbreaking research that takes place across campus. Mostly, this research comes from the work of professors and graduate students, many of whom have grants, research funds, and laboratories to support their endeavors. Less frequently do we have the opportunity to learn about the innovative research produced by our talented undergraduates.
By Rob McAlear
Rob McAlear is an Assistant Professor of English at The University of Tulsa, where he also directs the Writing Program. He is a former Assistant Director of the Writing Resource Center at Case Western Reserve University and UW-Madison Writing Center consultant.
“The aspects of things which are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something –because it is always before one’s eyes.)” -Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
KimMarie Cole, Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Composition at the State University of New York at Fredonia works with students when she’s not wielding a hammer. A 2002 graduate of UW-Madison (PhD, English), she taught in the Writing Center from 1999-2001, Photo by Fredonia Marketing and Communication
By KimMarie Cole, State University of New York at Fredonia
My thanks to Brad Hughes for the invitation and opportunity to share these ideas with you and to my colleague Heather McEntarfer who provided helpful comments and insights on early drafts of this post.
My family and I are building a house. For more than 2 years, it’s been at various times our hobby, our passion, our albatross, our marathon. The house sits a quarter mile off the nearest road at the end of a dirt driveway that may prove our undoing in winter.
Digging the Pond
A few weeks after we closed on the property, excited and eager about the possibilities and ridiculously naive about all things construction and rural, our neighbor came back and offered the insight that we needed a pond. We nodded. Seemed like a good long-term project. Two days later we arrived to find him and his tractor excavating, digging the pond.
Our initial gratitude and befuddlement in equal measure have faded as work on the house progresses. We were glad to get the pond, yet it felt weird not to have any say in its location or its timing. Today, it’s hard to imagine a time when the pond wasn’t there, first a big dirt hole and now full of water and frogs who croak loudly when it’s about to rain and in the evenings as we try to finish one more task. Certainly, though, as the photo record shows, it has changed a lot in the past two years. (more…)
Picture of the author in Madison, WI.
By Leah Misemer
Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she has been working as a Writing Center instructor for three years. She served as the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison for the 2013-14 school year.
Usually, we think of a writing center appointment as a collaboration between two people, the tutor and the student. If there are more than two people in an appointment, we frequently assume that there are more students working with a single tutor. In the Spring of 2014, my Skype team, in a professional development activity modeled after a previous in-person paired tutoring experiment, discovered that there are many benefits to sharing the task of instruction, both for instructors and writers. Jessie Gurd and I had complementary skills and working together showed us not only the gaps in our knowledge, but also offered strategies to help us fill those gaps.
By Rubén Casas
Rubén Casas is a Ph.D. Candidate in the English Department’s Program in Composition and Rhetoric. In addition to his Writing Center teaching, he teaches for the English 201 Program.
Two weeks into the spring 2014 semester I worked with a student in the Main Center who, upon asking her what she was working on, identified herself as a foreign student and asked, quite directly, “How do you write in the U.S.?” She explained that she knew what writing was “supposed to do” in Korea, “but not here, in America.” This must have been one of the clearest questions I’ve gotten as a Writing Center instructor, but it also caught me off-guard. Most students come to the Writing Center to get help with some specific element of their writing—often they talk about “flow,” or “development,” or “cites,” terms that somewhere along the way they’ve learned to use in relation to writing, and that I take for granted as evidence of their knowledge of the writing process and their own issues with writing—but it this actually the case? (more…)
By Leah Misemer @lsmisemer
Leah Misemer is a graduate student in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center there. While her dissertation is on serial commercial comics, she is also interested in media specificity and technology in writing centers. This is her sixth semester working as an instructor at the UW-Madison Writing Center.
Photo of the author taken by Nicole Relyea
When I first trained as a peer tutor at Washington University in St. Louis, I was trained to look at paper drafts. During my first shift as a Writing Center instructor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, a student brought in a draft on a laptop. I was a bit flummoxed about what to do. While it was great for the writer to be able to make changes to the draft during the session, it felt less collaborative than sessions with paper drafts. I had to ask the student to scroll down and up because I didn’t want to touch her expensive electronic equipment, and this felt awkward, like I was shut out of the draft in some way.
This is my sixth semester on staff at UW-Madison and I continue to have a moment of irrational anxiety every time I see a student pull out a laptop during an appointment. This is not to say I don’t have productive appointments with students toting laptops; when I can get students to cut and paste large sections of a draft, the computer facilitates actual draft work the student can take home. But appointments with laptops aren’t all like that. (more…)