New initiative supports graduate student writing


The ability to write effectively and with timeliness is an essential skill for success in graduate school. At various stages of their education, graduate students are expected to produce a variety of scholarly writing including a research proposal, a thesis or dissertation, and journal articles. For all these, graduate students are expected to apply the conventions of academic writing to engage in discipline-specific conversations. Graduate students are also expected to effectively manage their writing projects so they are completed at expected deadlines.

As upcoming scholars who are still navigating the learning curve, graduate students often find scholarly writing lonesome and/or overwhelming. To support graduate student writing, the Michigan Tech Graduate School—in partnership with Andy Fiss (HU) and Sarah Isaacson (ELI)—has introduced Write-D (Writing in the Discipline), a “Write in-department” project that provides dedicated time, space and support for graduate students in specific disciplines to get writing done.

Write-D participants are formed into write-in-department writing groups to help graduate students work on major research projects such as qualifying exams, research proposals, manuscripts and dissertations so that their writing skills are enhanced progressively throughout the program. They are not writing classes, grammar editing sessions or replacements for one-on-one faculty advising sessions. Rather, the sessions provide an environment in which graduate students can focus entirely on their writing.

Participating departments currently include Civil and Environmental Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Biological Sciences. Write-D sessions have also been previously organized for graduate students in Physics and Chemistry. Groups meet for about three to four hours every week. Some sessions may begin with a faculty guest speaker giving a ten-minute talk on discipline-specific conventions regarding research, proposal writing and/or publishing after which students spend the rest of the time writing. Other sessions may be entirely dedicated to writing.

Each group has facilitators, who are also graduate student writers. These facilitators, who are trained for their role, help to organize Write-D meetings and report on the activities of their groups. Sessions run for the entire academic year, and groups begin meeting as early as the first or second week of each semester. For students, Write-D sessions provide a community and structure that can help them avoid delays with their writing. It also provides an opportunity for students to learn together about writing in their specific disciplines.

Commenting on the usefulness of Write-D sessions, a student said, “We received many suggestions from multiple professors and postdocs in our department regarding the best way to begin and finish writing our research papers, proposals, thesis’s etc., and how to deal with procrastination, feelings of being overwhelmed and writers block.”

Another indicated, “It is nice to have other people to help motivate you and who you know are available to help respond to questions and concerns about your writing. It also facilitates discussion about research topics which helps improve overall clarity in writing.”

The initiative has also received positive feedback from advisors. One advisor said, “I got more regular writing drafts from the student, which I was able to edit and correct. In the past, when I would get the whole document from a student, I’d go through 5 or 10 pages, then essentially give up. The fact that we were working in smaller chunks enabled me to guide the structure of the writing more as well.”

For more information about Write-D and how to start Write-D sessions in your department, contact Dean Pushpalatha Murthy or Associate Dean Will Cantrell.