Revolution Lullabye

January 3, 2013

Simpson, The Problem of Graduate-Level Writing Support

Simpson, Steve. “The Problem of Graduate-Level Writing Support: Building a Cross-Campus Graduate Writing Initiative.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 95-118. Print.

Simpson explains that graduate writing instruction is a growing area of need in American universities, and he argues that writing programs should take the lead in addressing this need.  Graduate students at American universities, especially those students in the sciences and engineering, are under more pressure to publish before graduation, and there are more and more international graduate students who need better writing support aimed at NNES (non-native English speakers.)

Simpson describes a graduate writing initiative he helped establish in 2010-2011 at New Mexico Tech through, in part, a Title V grant.  The initiative at NMT showcases Simpson’s claim that the “problem” of graduate student writing is systemic and requires a systemic answer – the burden cannot fall solely on individual departments, a writing center, or a writing program.  The writing initiative at NMT involved cross-campus partnerships to create linked writing/communication courses with individual departments, a course specifically designed for NNES, and a week-long dissertation “boot camp.”

Simpson argues that WPAs and writing studies scholars should look at scholarship in higher education, second language writing, and at work done internationally (especially in Australia and Canada) to help develop sustainable solutions to meeting graduate student writing needs.

Notable Notes

systemic solutions don’t have to be huge: Simpson draws on Donella Meadows to explain how through identifying “leverage points” in a system, change can happen through a ripple effect (104).

Graduate student education is different than undergraduate education, and graduate student writing needs are also different: graduate education more heavily relies on mentors (so writing help needs to not compete with that mentor-mentee relationship), graduate education is more solitary (but writing help should encourage graduate students to seek each other out for peer writing and support groups), graduate education is more individualized (so writing help needs to be flexible, available when graduate students want and need it.) (101-102)

the audience for graduate students (especially STEM) is increasingly the field, with the pressure to publish.  Writing is no longer a heuristic for learning – it is the path to publication and a job.  (99)

Graduate student writing education is an institutional problem – one shared by all (103).

Quotable Quotes

nice “hot potato” metaphor: “At many universities, graduate writing support is a hot potato passed between university departments and advisors, writing centers, ESL departments, and writing programs” (97).

“Frankly, any university department or entity – including writing programs and writing centers – would have difficulty shouldering the weight of graduate writing support independently. Thus, this dilemma’s solution lies in cross-campus partnerships involving writing programs, writing centers, and ESL and other university writing departments” (97).

“The problem of graduate writing is a systemic problem in need of a systems-based solution” (104).

“Graduate writing initiatives have the potential both to build our writing programs and to enrich the research in our field considerably” (113).


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