As a graduate assistant for my university’s writing center, I’ve been charged with starting the university’s first series of graduate writing retreats. Writing centers, traditionally funded for and by undergraduates, have been approached by graduate students in recent years. It seems that learning good writing habits and getting support with writing is as necessary at the graduate level as it is at the undergraduate level. The problem: most writing centers are staffed by undergraduate tutors, and graduate student writers’ needs are different than undergraduate student writers’ needs.
This year, part of UConn’s response included: offering sessions of 0-credit, 5-week writing seminars where groups of 12 – 18 grad students gather and discuss writing, critiquing each other’s work under the guidance of a graduate writing tutor; offering a 4-day intensive dissertation ‘boot camp’ (modeled after Stanford University’s) where students gathered to write for 7-hour sessions; and offering monthly 8-hour Saturday writing retreats. This is in addition, of course, to the one hour writing appointments graduate students have been able to schedule at the center.
Other universities use different approaches. For example, the University of New Hampshire has adapted a system whereby graduate students working on longer projects meet with the director of the center to assess their needs and be assigned a specific tutor for a certain number of sessions in a semester. UNH is clear about its policy: the center is there to help students with the writing process–but not to copy-edit work. In a slightly different way, UConn has been trying to do the same thing with its 0-credit classes, which also foster a creative environment among graduate students and hopefully help them to get an idea for what a writing group would look and feel like. (As part of a writing group which uses the critique-one-week, write-together-the-next approach, I can vouch for the usefulness of deadlines and friendly camaraderie as you write and try to improve.)
Ultimately, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work at writing centers, particularly as a graduate assistant. While I am finishing my second master’s now and hope to begin my PhD in the fall–meaning I won’t be dissertating for some time yet–it’s useful to know what works and what doesn’t in terms of graduate student writing. I find myself not only supervising and planning some of these events but reaching toward them myself and trying to form good writing habits, at least academically.