Links: Attrition and Writing Support, Effective Job Talks, Understanding Journal Boycotts

Here is a recent piece from The University of Venus blog on graduate students and attrition. The author, Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, begins by allowing that some attrition is probably beneficial: some people will inevitably decide that graduate study isn’t right for them. But she argues that even those who are in the right place would benefit from additional support from sources outside their departments. She divides that support into two types of ‘services’: psychological support and research and writing advice. This notion of additional support is great, and Segesten provides a helpful list of suggestions for managing the writing process. But I think it is worth noting the implications of treating writing as a problem in need of a solution. In this framework, writing is treated as a problem—akin to other life or organizational problems—to be solved rather than as an activity at the heart of the academic enterprise. Treating writing difficulties as mere matters of organization (or approach or determination) can lead students to feel that their difficulties ought to be more manageable than they are. When writing is treated more as a life skill than an academic skill, a student can be left in a difficult position: their weakness is characterized as minor but their experience of that weakness can be extremely unpleasant. Being a weak writer is rarely a ‘minor’ problem for a graduate student, and the solution to such difficulties are rarely simple.

This post from The Professor Is In blog discusses delivering effective job talks. Kelsky’s post is full of great advice, all of which would be helpful to anyone preparing for an important talk. In particular, I wanted to highlight her discussion of the text necessary to support an effective talk. Her advice is ‘read but don’t read’, and most people can only achieve that apparent paradox with a well-designed written text. Nothing gives polish to a formal talk better than a prepared text: most speakers cannot achieve the necessary level of articulacy off the cuff (especially in a high-stakes situation when nerves are more likely to be an issue). At the same time, nothing weakens a talk more than seeing nothing but the top of the presenter’s head as a paper is read word-for-word from the page. As hard as it sounds, we all need to find a perfect blend of textual support (to avoid inarticulacy) and rehearsed confident delivery (that doesn’t appear to rely on a written text). Here is an earlier post that suggests some ways to create a text that will support a sophisticated and fluent talk without the appearance of reading.

We all know that we can’t read everything and that we can’t follow every story that comes along. When a story is new, we all make decisions about whether a story warrants immediate engagement or not. Sometimes, inevitably, we guess wrong and end up feeling as if we’ll never grasp all the nuances of a particular story. I thought (or maybe just hoped) that the boycott of Elsevier was one of those stories that I could ignore. Then, of course, it wasn’t! So I was very happy to find this helpful post from Barbara Fister writing at Inside Higher Ed. She starts at the beginning, documents the important steps along the way, and draws valuable conclusions. The comments on her post are also surprisingly constructive and interesting.

Every other week, this space is devoted to a discussion of things (articles, news items, or blog posts) that I have recently found interesting. I choose things that are connected—sometimes closely, sometimes only tangentially—to academic writing. Responding to other people’s ideas allows me to clarify my own thoughts and to draw your attention to other approaches to the issues central to this blog.


3 responses to “Links: Attrition and Writing Support, Effective Job Talks, Understanding Journal Boycotts

  1. “But I think it is worth noting the implications of treating writing as a problem in need of a solution.”

    if you have a moment, i am super curious how we might treat the subject and act of writing in academia…so as to frame it more accurately (and helpfully?). i agree that dwelling on the problem-solving side misses the point, so i am hopeful to hear alternative conceptions.

  2. Great comments in writing as a problem. Recently I have come to see how writing is an embodied practice and is at the very heart of the academic process. Bourdieu refers to ‘habitus’ as a regulated improvisation built over time. I think the habitus of writing converts our analogue ideas into digital outputs therefore it can never be solved, only refined.

  3. Ari, I think Sean’s approach to the question is the right one. In an academic context, writing can’t be seen as an obstacle to be overcome: it has to be seen as a core activity to be embraced. The struggle of writing isn’t something that will go away; the struggle is an intrinsic part of the necessarily complex relationship between sophisticated thought and syntax. I think once we acknowledge that a certain amount of ‘pain’ is inevitable, we can stop pathologizing the writing process and start recognizing its value.

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