For the over 8,000 doctoral and masters students enrolled in programs overseen by the Rackham Graduate School, writing is both the means by which they have gained admission and also an instrument of their graduate work. This fact remains constant across disciplines even as each field and speciality maintains its own conventions, norms, and scholarly expectations. When we think of graduate school, it’s often the focal intellectual intensity of scholarship itself we imagine. This focus can make it all too easy to overlook the degree to which scholarly and professional practice requires not just what can feel like endless writing, but also an endless education in writing itself.
This points to a central paradox of the role of graduate school: the way you write your way in doesn’t automatically prepare you for the way you have to write your way through and out. The first graduate seminar is often radically unlike the undergraduate senior seminars; the techniques that make for a successful grant or fellowship application rarely make themselves transparent; no one knows how to write a dissertation until they write a dissertation, a task most will (one imagines) only complete once and which has no direct precedent and no exact antecedent. The challenges are many, and potentially compounded by the suspicion many graduate students have that they should know how to do all this already, that making the challenge of writing visible and explicit is somehow tantamount to admitting a flaw.
However, the flaw isn’t with the students; it’s with an academic culture that values writing without making the process of learning about writing legible and offering community, instruction, and exchange. In recognition of this need, the Rackham Graduate School is partnering with the Sweetland Center for Writing and the English Language Institute to offer support to graduate students at all levels and of all disciplines. This last summer four Sweetland faculty members, led by Louis Cicciarelli (longtime coordinator of Sweetland’s Dissertation Writing Institute), met to assess student needs and develop workshops and programs to meet the diverse array of graduate writing occasions and tasks.
For the 2018-2019 academic year, we will offer four group workshops and presentations, focusing on topics as narrowly vital as how to approach grant and fellowship applications in STEM fields to those as broadly applicable as how to achieve lucid and direct academic prose, as well as workshops that address the role of argument at the level of a dissertation, and how to structure and manage the writing of one. Additionally, Sweetland faculty member Cat Cassel is facilitating weekly graduate Write-Together sessions and soliciting feedback from the session participants to help us customize workshops we will subsequently offer. These conversations will enable us to make sure we and our partners can turn the centrality of writing to graduate life into an occasion for celebration, community, discussion, and deliberation as we continue to seek new ways to best serve our graduate writers.