Finding My Niche

I’ve had graduate student writers on the mind lately, and writing in general. Since my last post, where I wondered out loud where my career is headed, I have been made full-time at my school, and now have a joint appointment at two different campuses. If I was in charge of programming for the graduate population at two campuses before, I am now splitting my time at two campuses, and providing services for three. I have almost double the number of students to think about, traditional and non-traditional, from arts and sciences and health professions. It seems a little scary…but so far it’s been exciting.

As a result, I have gone from thinking about the dissertation all the time to thinking about graduate student writing all the time, not just because of work but because I was, until last May, a graduate student myself. As someone who finished her dissertation long-distance and depended a lot on the support of fellow writers/dissertators/graduate students/mentors, I try to put myself in the shoes of every student who comes in and help them achieve their writing goals. It is not my role to get them to question whether they should be in graduate school or not, but to support them in their writing endeavors. If they want to talk academia, let’s talk. But if they want to talk writing, I’m happy to do so.

I’ve also been able to put to use a skill that I developed throughout graduate school. I am the queen of scheduling—and this is something a lot of graduate students and writers may not be good at. I have had several students come in and tell me “I want to finish my dissertation soon” and I have sat down and helped them figure out deadlines for their work. Sometimes those deadlines come as a surprise, and sometimes it helps them focus. My advisor was excellent with deadlines, and so I learned from her to push myself, even when I thought I might fail.I may not have liked those deadlines, but I wasn’t about to whine and ignore them. Deadlines have fueled my writing all throughout college, especially through graduate school. I think I have a knack for taking a big project and breaking it down into parts, and so I am happy to share that with students who come to visit my office.

Another thing is that I really enjoy writing. I had a moment where I fell out of love with writing because the dissertation made writing feel so unpleasant; the process was bringing out my biggest insecurities about myself as a writer and as an academic. I tried to rescue my love for writing by finding other creative outlets. Something I didn’t know about myself is that I enjoy talking to people about writing, and I love reading about writing and writers. Once upon a time I thought I was the last person who should be teaching writing (and my Instructor of Record for the first course where I taught writing exclusively will tell you I made that clear to her, hehe). But now it feels like second nature, and I think I have found my niche, or at least a niche I am comfortable in for now.

Anyway, all this to say I have been thinking a lot about graduate student writers and writing. I have a lot of ideas (Speakers! Writing groups! Workshops! One-on-one scheduling meetings!) and I’m glad I have the time and the place to explore them. A year ago I would not have thought I’d be here; heck, a year ago, I was new at this job and mentally transitioning from graduate student to staff. Until recently, I was still mourning my not being able to teach. But being able to dive into my job and not split my consciousness between the dissertation and work, I am excited.

Lastly, I’d love to hear/read from you: what writing support do you think graduate student/academic writers/writers in general need? What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked for you?

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  1. I think that the thing I needed help remembering when I was doing all of that – and that I will need to remember if I ever get around to going back – is that whatever document I produce is supposed to be me. A thesis or dissertation, or even a 3-page essay for freshman comp,
    is not meant to be an exercise in showing off how well I can do research. The research is supposed to be there to back me up. I would often lose site of that, and I think things would have turned out much differently if I had not. Too often, I think these grand documents that we are producing turn into glorified book reports.

  2. great post! as a new faculty transitioning from grad student mentality, grad students need help recognizing that grad school is not their job, finding a career after grad school is their job. grad students need mentors, not just advisors, who can help them navigate grad school and sometimes have a meltdown.

  3. I agree with Cassandra–I too struggled a lot with “hiding” behind my research, and was often “scolded” for this by my faculty mentors. That sense of authority and confidence in ones own ideas is a difficult thing to master, and we sometimes have to be pushed a bit to come out from behind scholars we think are so much further along. Good luck with all of your new gigs!

  4. Wow, I truly wish we had someone like you on my campus. I’m just getting to the writing stage now. The proposal took me far to long, according to my own sense of progress (though my faculty was disturbingly unconcerned). I’ve been working full time (and over time) the past year while desperately sneaking in reading where ever possible. I have only now reached a stage where I see the ‘big picture’ and have started mapping a way towards the end of a dissertation.

    I’ve always found faculty supportive — but they are not always skilled at turning support into useful advice as if the dissertation is a big adventure that requires no guidance, just editing and the occasional reading suggestion. Whereas I understand that it is part of our proving ground, that is, a place where we learn how to construct a large project, create our own parameters and own frame of analysis, I think most dissertators feel entirely lost until suddenly, they have a finished product. Even a talk about “approaching a dissertation,” “steps to organizing a large research project,” or even “just start writing” would be beneficial. Sometimes I think they forget, we’ve never written anything nearly as large as a dissertation (for my program, 250 word minimum).

    Though this turned into a bit of a whine-fest, I do wish to return to my original point: wow, your advisees are lucky to have someone like you!


  1. […] to write regularly and write in bite-sized bursts. If you read this blog regularly, you know I work with graduate student writers and help them work toward their writing goals. When I work with graduate students, I try not to […]

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