Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Finding a Room of Their Own: Programming Time and Space for Graduate Student Writing

Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Finding a Room of Their Own: Programming Time and Space for Graduate Student Writing

Article excerpt

In 2005 the University of Connecticut implemented general education reform that included more emphasis on writing-intensive courses and generated a reboot of the writing center. The new University Writing Center, housed in the Institute for Teaching and Learning, was mandated to support writing-intensive courses across the disciplines. Once new directors were hired, we got to work expanding tutoring, forging an array of campus partnerships, delivering teaching workshops, piloting a writing fellows program, leading writing assessment efforts, and conducting research. By 2010 the Center had earned a CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence, and the selection committee praised us for "running a rich, complex, and ambitious program touching multiple aspects of students' writing lives.... The Center has forged many partnerships--on campus and off--with sustained evaluation and reflective practice.... The Center is very busy, very diverse, very pro-active." Yet despite the productive ways we expanded during those first five years, we hardly gave a thought to graduate writers.

Still, they found us. During our years of rapid growth, graduate students, mainly international doctoral students, comprised 10-15% of our individual tutorials. While graduate students were a presence at our Center, their numbers were not enough to nudge us to make structural changes to our undergraduate-focused model, although we did offer stand-alone ESL workshops, hire at least one international graduate tutor each year, and train staff on how to tutor graduate student writers. One reason we focused on undergraduates is that our entire funding came from undergraduate tuition dollars. As long as the Graduate School didn't contribute to our budget, we reasoned, we shouldn't commit more time and resources to graduate students. We wanted to resist the habit of writing centers doing ever more with less; we also wanted the Graduate School to support programs for their students.

A new Graduate School dean arrived just as the Graduate Student Senate began advocating for writing support, and as retention and time-to-degree were cycling back in as institutional concerns. The dean responded to our modest request for financial support with a yes, funding a 20-hour weekly assistantship for a graduate coordinator. We, in turn, promised to develop a range of graduate programming. Yet this new source of funding forced us to reflect on a key tension in working with graduate student writers on longer projects: how much should our programming focus on creating structured time and space for writing (e.g. retreats, writing groups, boot camps), versus delivering direct instruction (e.g. individual tutorials, formal courses)? In this article, we trace our path toward finding a balance between the two.


We began by offering a semester-long, non-credit-bearing course on academic writing for graduate students, taught by an advanced doctoral student on our staff. More than 150 students applied for 20 slots. We learned, however, that though students valued the course content, attendance dwindled as their teaching, lab, and family demands intensified. Only a dozen participants persisted to the end. To deal with that attrition problem and to reach more students, we altered the course and added a variety of programs. We shortened the course from 15 to 5 weeks and began offering it 3 times a year, which allowed us to enroll 60 students and gave our graduate coordinator time to organize other programs:

* Three 4-day dissertation boots camps (January, Spring Break, May);

* Graduate writing retreats one Saturday each month and 2-hour Monday morning retreats the first 4 weeks of each semester; and

* Thirty-minute workshops on topics relevant to all graduate students, (e.g., personal statements, introductions, abstracts), which replaced sparsely attended, hour-long workshops intended for second language writers. …

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