Editor's Note, by Chris Gerben

Plasma Screens as Portals to the World, by Alyssa J. O'Brien

Tutoring Graduate Students in the Writing Center, by John Peterson and Joel Burges

PWR awards outstanding student work with IRAs and OPRAs, compiled by Wendy Goldberg & Chris Gerben

Students Publish Work in New Anthology: Official Book Introduction with Preface by Wendy Goldberg

Stanford Library Honors Boothe Prize Winner in Podcast

PWR Instructors Leaving the Farm


From the Writer:
A dissertation is many things to many people: a final example of student work, a first draft of a book, a stepping stone towards an academic job, a complex argument about a subject you care deeply about, a series of signatures. For me, it has also been a rhetorical mystery. The dissertation amounts to what is arguably one of the most enigmatic and elusive of academic genres, rarely defined to those who must write them. For some, this is not a problem; for me, it was.

This is why I turned to the writing center in order to finish my dissertation, for there I could approach my project as a compositional problem--an issue less of arguments and archives, the realm of my committee, but of rhetorical strategies and weekly writing. This is what SWC has added to my experience as a dissertator--on the one hand, the eyes of a reader and "coach" whose role has been to help me move forward with the writing on a regular basis; on the other hand, a way of breaking down the process into manageable compositional tasks, of giving me practical clues to solve the dissertation mystery.

From the Tutor:
Most undergraduate writers come into the SWC expecting immediate feedback. They want help to finish a project – now. Once they get feedback, they (theoretically) revise the project and turn it in -- often within a week. The cycle of writing and feedback resolves quickly. While a writer might return to me, the assignment is different, the cycle begins anew, and, again, the writer expects resolution – the sooner, the better. The outcome for the undergrad is quickened momentum toward a completed paper, another project to dispatch in the course of a busy quarter.

With Joel and other graduate students, I see the same project repeatedly. In one case, I’ve helped a writer turn her dissertation-in-progress into several conference papers. In Joel’s case, the dissertation has come in pieces over the course of several months, as he composes and recomposes chapters. We usually cover about 15 to 20 pages per session. I use an hour of tutoring time to read, and, when we meet for an hour, we really don’t expect to resolve the project within that sitting. The reading cycle is long, our discussions steeped in the context of Joel’s previous material, and the outcome is Joel having constructed another piece of the puzzle that is becoming a dissertation.

From the Writer:
John is absolutely right. I have recently started working with an anthropology grad on her proposal presentation for her dissertation. She and I immediately realized this work would mean meeting more than once because the complexity of what she was trying to accomplish required a more recursive process. But while the tempo of tutoring grads is different, are the sessions themselves? As John notes, and as other tutors have also mentioned to me, reading more is often necessary. But while this is a difference from the undergrad tutee, the guiding insight of the writing center—teaching, not editing—still informs the practical look of sessions with grads as much as undergrads.

I referred earlier to how SWC has helped me turn the dissertation into manageable compositional tasks: so as with undergrads, John and I often spend a lot of time talking through areas that I as a writer feel are problematic, creating solutions at the level of sentence, structure, and argument. But in this, John adds to the writing of a dissertation—the nuts and bolts of rhetoric are often not at the heart of meetings with advisers because larger issues of argument are at stake. Indeed, having a regular presence outside the committee serves important purposes: a regular way to be social about your work that only SWC institutionally provides, the chance to work closely with someone not deeply entangled with your professional future.

From the Tutor:
How different is a grad student tutoring session? Pre-reading, long term immersion in the material, long sessions that end with a fuzzier conclusion than with the swift moving undergrad. I get to deal with more complex rhetoric that stretches its argument over the course of several hundred pages.

But tutoring grad students has significantly helped the ways I tutor undergrads. For me, when I am in the typically fatigued mode of a lecturer squeezing appointments between being a full-time teach, I don’t automatically use the same methods to engage with undergrads. I quickly explore how assignments fit within the context of students’ learning, because that context sets up an efficient way of understanding how the student work.

Work with Joel and other grads rejuvenates my tutoring life. When I have repeat visits from the same undergrads – which is common – I can see their work as having continuity, and put the work within the context of their careers at Stanford, not just as a one-shot effort to reach rapid resolution.