2019 Consortium on Graduate Communication Summer Institute
Terry Myers Zawacki
Professor Emerita, George Mason University
“‘Transing’ Practice(s): Research on Academic Writers and Writing Across Levels, Languages, and Disciplines”
My presentation features the voices of graduate students, many English L2, and faculty across disciplines talking about expectations for “good” writing, largely hidden in the normalized discourses of disciplines and sub-disciplines. My focus will be on dissertation writers, who, like the undergraduate students that were the focus of my earlier collaborative research, reported many of the same challenges related to the generic or vague terminology their advisors used to describe the writing they expected. Also similar to faculty in the undergraduate research, dissertation advisors, for the most part, assumed that the writing itself was something that should have been learned at some prior point in the students’ educational background—“the myth of transience”–and also tended to see writing as separate from thinking—the “transparency of writing” (Russell). Using examples from my co-authored research on dissertation writers and writing, I will show how the writing often became visible to advisors in transdisciplinary communities of practice where students are crossing from one way of knowing, doing, and writing to another, and in translingual contexts where differences disrupted expectations of a “smooth read” (Turner). Whether transparent or visible, transdisciplinary or translingual, many of the faculty advisors felt that the “writing” itself should be handled by others who have the expertise and have been charged to do this work. I will be interested, then, in what rhetorical and writing expertise outsiders to a community of practice are able to bring to the table, whether in their tutoring practices or in courses developed for graduate writers. Drawing on recent publications on graduate writing support (Simpson et al; Lawrence & Zawacki), I’ll describe practices that seem most promising in helping advanced graduate students acquire—and transfer across texts and contexts—the specialized discourse, writing, and linguistic knowledge they need to succeed in their programs. Given the key role explicitness plays in transfer, I’ll focus in particular on those practices that involve making the tacit and implicit visible to both students and faculty.
Finally, all of these “trans” concerns lead me to consider what new lines of inquiry we might pursue related to transfer in the context of graduate writers and writing. For example, studies on undergraduate student writers posit that they progress through “stages” (Thaiss & Zawacki) or pass through “thresholds” (Wardle et al) along the way to acquiring—if they do–disciplinary writing expertise, while it is largely assumed that advanced graduate writers have already acquired that expertise. For both undergraduate and graduate writers, however, we don’t know what might be happening in the liminal, the “transient,” spaces between and across academic levels as they integrate (or not) local writing knowledge with global (generic/linguistic) knowledge (Carter). I want to think aloud with CGC participants about questions we might ask about that integration/transfer process and the fields we might need to cross as we seek answers.
Professor of English, Northeastern University
“STEM Graduate Students and Writing Center Collaborations: Processes, Products, Concerns”
In addition to the commonplace of seeking feedback on their writing, graduate students in STEM come to our writing centers for multiple purposes: to find some solace in their at-times overwhelming academic lives, to seek intervention in potentially fraught relationships with their major advisors (and often primary gatekeeper of their writing progress), to get a non-technical point of view on their technically challenging writing tasks. While these purposes might seem well within the purview of writing centers, they are situated in the reality that many graduate students in STEM are international students, non-native or bilingual English speakers and writers, and students of color in majority white institutions. They encounter a writing center that is both a source for inclusive pedagogies and a gatekeeper for dominant practices. I explore this conflicted role in a qualitative study of STEM graduate students’ use of the writing center, exploring how the writing center operates as part of students’ overall processes of writing, and how we might position our writing centers to best support graduate students’ social, intellectual, and emotional needs.
Graduate Centre for Academic Communication, University of Toronto
“#AcWri Blogs: Building Professional Communities”
Graduate students receive varying degrees of support in academic communication from their institutions; to supplement that support, some will consult academic writing blogs. These blogs, a subset of the larger world of academic blogs, cover a range of writing issues, everything from punctuation to proposal writing to productivity. For many students, such online support offers a valuable form of autonomous capacity building: away from the strictures and pressures of their departments, graduate writers can seek out the expertise that they need, deciding for themselves what advice to take. As these blogs become a more established part of the landscape of writing support, it makes sense to ask what role they might play in the professional lives of those who teach graduate writing. Engaging with the world of academic writing blogs, however, requires a consideration of the tension implicit in such blogs. On the one hand, blogs exist outside the peer review framework, offering their authors the chance for unmediated self-publishing. Looked at in that way, we can see reasons to be wary of their claims of expertise: anyone can say anything on a blogging platform. On the other hand, they offer access to the pedagogical practices and experiences of other graduate writing instructors. Looked at in this way, we can see reasons to welcome this chance to learn from other practitioners: blogging offers unique access to the lived experience of far-flung colleagues in a relatively new field. This tension—between the absence of traditional scholarly authority and presence of relevant pedagogical experience—is a crucial one to explore if we want to understand blogs as a source of professional connection. In this talk, I will argue that writing blogs can be a valuable professional space because this tension allows for dynamic interactions: blogs are a unique opportunity to hear about the rich pedagogical experiences of our peers in a manner that allows us to decide, through a highly informal type of post-publication ‘peer review’, what we think is helpful. This argument will be rooted in my experience creating my own academic writing blog and in my involvement with the community of academic writing bloggers.
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