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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / April 2018 / My Experience As A Writing Consultant

My Experience As A Writing Consultant

News Article by Janelle Veazey, PhD Candidate

A student walks into the Writing, Speaking and Argument Program waiting room. "Hi, are you here for Janelle?" I ask. She answers yes, and we walk back to a tutoring room. "So, what are we working on today?" I ask. "A draft for Writing 105. I really want to focus on clarity " she replies. I ask for the prompt and discuss the thesis and general outline of the paper before reading the essay aloud. We stop after every paragraph or two to discuss the main point of each paragraph and how it relates back to the stated thesis. Other times, I write down an outline of the current structure on scrap paper and spend 5-10 minutes discussing other possible structures. The goal is not to peer-edit, but to help the student become a better and more confident writer. And I find myself becoming a better writing through helping others develop their writing. 

Writing is an important skill for a scientist, and yet, as grad students, we don't always get to practice it much. Yes, in the first year there are rotation reports and the second year there's the qual doc, but after that we often times have to actively look for opportunities to write. So when another grad student told me about Writing Consultants on River Campus, I was eager to learn more. Writing Consultants are graduate students who provide writing assistance to primarily undergraduate students on River campus. I've been tutoring since last Fall and for most sessions we work on essays for a class, or on application essays. Most of the time is spent discussing clarity, organization, word choice, clear thesis statements, and conclusions.

Sometimes I get really interesting assignments that stretch my creativity and improve my ability to think on the spot. For example, I once worked with a student on an assignment requiring her to summarize the key points learned over the semester into a dialogue-style essay. Neither of us had written a paper in that format before so we spent most of the session just brainstorming how that essay could take shape. She came in feeling lost and confused and left with a game plan for moving forward and finishing the essay. Another time, I was working with a student on an application essay. After each paragraph, I asked him to underline where he used one of the keywords from the prompt in that paragraph. By the end of the session I was excited to find he was pointing out where the key word should be before I had a chance to ask.

I loved writing in college and was excited to help students think about what makes a good essay or application. I was also looking for ways to improve my writing as it is such a critical skill for scientists and always has room for continued improvement. Even though I don’t typically help with scientific writing pieces, my own science writing has benefited. For example, after talking through dozens of application essays, my salesmanship is enhanced and my cover letters and grant writing are strengthened. Similarly, discussing several Writing 105 essays has improved my attention to organization, clarity and focus and so elevated my manuscript-style writing. Finally, learning to skim a 2-8 page document in under 5 minutes before discussing it with the author, has shown me what reviewers are looking for when skimming my work. I look forward to continuing to grow as a writer and help others grow in their own writing through my position as a Writing Consultant. 

More information on the Writing Consultant position can be found here:

Tracey Baas | 4/5/2018

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