As director of the Centre for Writers, I have the best job in the world: with my tutors, I get to provide support to students of all academic backgrounds (from English to Nursing, from Business to Biology) and of a wide range of skill levels, first languages, ages, cultures and abilities; we get to cheer writers who love to write and to encourage writers who struggle; we get to read lab reports, grant proposals, research papers, personal reflections, theses, application letters and a lot more; and we get to create and deliver workshops and class presentations, and meet students and instructors from across the university.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Few people realize what else is involved in writing centre work. First, I teach credit courses to undergraduate and graduate students — future tutors — and I love to see them fall in love with writing centre work. I see them improve as writers, develop as mentors, grow as future professionals and learn communication skills that will serve them their whole lives. And through mentorship and collaborative work, I can give my tutors multiple professional development opportunities: publications, conference presentations, leadership opportunities, grants and award applications, teaching opportunities and much more.
Second, this rich environment provides me with countless opportunities to conduct small and large research projects. Conference presentations, publications and work with scholars from across the world have allowed me to become a leading expert in writing centre scholarship, pedagogy and administration, nationally and internationally. For example, a few years ago, I investigated students’ writing struggles and their revision process. Last year, I studied international students’ complex development as academic writers. This year, as chair of the Canadian Writing Centres Association, I am organizing our annual conference and seeking funding to invite as many writing centre tutors as possible from across Canada.
Third, I get to collaborate with other writing centre colleagues at the U of A — with Stephen Kuntz on North Campus, Sheena Wilson at Campus Saint-Jean and Craig Peterson at Augustana — and with programs that need tutors, like the Bridging Program sections of Writing Studies 101, a collaboration that was recognized with an international Certificate of Excellence for 2014-2015.
Finally, and most importantly, I get to be creative and to organize inspiring events. One year, I invited five of my tutors to a writing centre conference in Florida so they could talk about their own research projects and meet other tutors from across the world, and I was beaming with pride. Last year — and this year again (on November 19 in Rutherford Library) — I organized a gigantic event for all students, the U of A’s version of the international Long Night Against Procrastination, so that students could learn about healthy study habits, use services that might be difficult for them to access during regular business hours, participate in engaging activities, attend a multitude of workshops, get started on their final papers early, share healthy food, and belong — even if only for one night — to a supportive and exciting community of writers. Last year, over 600 students participated, and the event was supported by a total of 22 faculties, U of A Libraries, student groups and organizations, and university offices and programs.
Most people think of writing as a lonely and painful activity, but as you can see, writing can open the doors to wonderful teaching, mentoring, research and even administrative opportunities — and a lot of fun!