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Former Consultants Reflect on Their Experience

In Summer 2013, the Writing Studio conducted a Writing Studio Alumni Research Project, which involved distributing a questionnaire to all former studio consultants, in order to assess the learning experience of the undergraduate and graduate students who work for us.

Our project was based on the model of writing center scholars Bradley Hughes, Paula Gillespie, and Harvey Kail’s Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project (PWTARP). Below is a selection of the responses we received.

A Greater Sense of Connection with their Education and its Purpose

“The Writing Studio was by far the most important activity for me in college. I felt so fulfilled by it and it gave me a sense of confidence as a student. Of course my training improved my writing technically, but I think the more important thing was that working as a consultant gave me a sense of purpose and a drive behind my own learning. It made it easier for me to engage in my coursework when I thought about how my learning can influence others. At the writing studio, this relationship was very direct and obvious. In other areas of learning, though, I began to think that my work could also someday be helpful to other people.”

“I learned the value of dialogue and discourse in teaching and learning. […] I realized how much there is to learn from peer tutoring and discussion with a ‘more knowledgable other’ that students might miss out on from just a class lecture. I learned the value of collaborating with other tutors to learn more about what we do and how to do it better. Being a peer consultant wasn’t just about sharing what I knew with others. I think I learned more about the writing and learning process from the spirit of inquiry at the writing studio.”

“Without a doubt, one of the most important things I learned from WS work was the value of one-on-one attention in higher education, especially at the graduate level. I loved working with graduate students and benefited immensely in my own graduate studies from having previous exposure to high-level research writing. In terms of pedagogical skills, I learned how to ask ‘teaching questions.’ I often found that simply asking a student to map their argument for me, or to explain why they organized their paragraphs the way they did, produced revelatory moments. I learned how to be a guide.”

“Many of the things that have stuck with me came from the discussions I had with the staff and with other consultants, both during meetings and during free-time at the Studio.  In many ways, my time at the Studio was the most “intellectual” part of my time as an undergraduate at Vanderbilt.”

A New Relationship to Writing

“I don’t think I actually understood the process of writing until I worked as a peer consultant at the Writing Studio.”

“My work greatly influenced my own academic writing, particularly during the revision and invention stages of the writing process.  I don’t think I really understood what revision was until I began working at the Studio. […] I came to recognize that revision is really 75% of the process, that it involves the critical evaluation of one’s own ideas. That’s another great epiphany that came out of my work: writing is thinking, not something to be done post-thought. Revision is a process of change and development, and I fully appreciate that now.”

“I am infinitely more likely to give my writing to someone else to read, and more willing to make drastic changes to my own work than I was before I worked as a consultant.”

“My time at the studio showed me that I was not alone among ‘talented’ writers in finding writing to be heart-wrenching.”

Improved Analytical Abilities

“I’d say most of my gains were as a reader and analyst.”

“The most significant skill I gleaned from my work at the Writing Studio was an ability to evaluate and synthesize arguments. […] by viewing literally hundreds of papers — hundreds of approaches — during my time as a consultant, I gained an appreciation for the many possible routes we can take as writers to establishing an effective argumentative stance. My own argumentative writing, and indeed my ability to read others’ arguments critically, has benefited tremendously from the consultation work I did at the Writing Studio.”

“I would have made adequate, even good academic arguments in my papers, even had I not worked at the Studio. But I never would have made great arguments because I wouldn’t truly understand what makes a great argument. I didn’t learn that in any of my many English classes, nor did I learn it in my social science classes.  I learned it at the Studio.”

“most significantly I learned how to develop plans of attack quickly. I had to assess weaknesses and determine what game plan would help the most in a short time frame.”

Improved Ability to Listen and Respond to Others Professionally and Personally

“Much of consultant work involved doing more listening than talking in order to gain a greater understanding of the writer’s ideas. Therefore, I would consider the greatest value I developed through working at The Writing Studio is learning how to be a better listener and to actively care about others’ thoughts.”

“I am much more sensitive to reading and responding to the anxieties of those around me than I used to be. It might be an effect of age and experience, but I think working at the Writing Studio accelerated my growth in that area. When I went back to graduate school, it made me more generous in my interactions with classmates.”

“I do think that the improvement in listening skills and in my empathy that resulted from my consulting work has improved my social relationships.”

“my listening and responding skills improved tremendously”

“improved ability to be an active listener/reader (listen/read/ask questions first; inject thoughts later); improved comfort in intimate & professional conversations”

Skills, Values, and Abilities Vital in their Professions

“Though I worked in the Writing Studio for only a semester, it has continued to shape my professional and writerly life in ways that few other experiences have.  When in doubt, I always come back to an article, consulting experience, or writing strategy that I can trace back to that semester.”

“I am able to revise my own work to a level where partners often let me send final work product to a client with minimal or no further editing.  I can also review the work of my secretary, paralegal, and student associates for quickly and effectively.  That is a skill I will need as I advance in my career and begin reviewing work of junior attorneys.”

Comparison of Numerical Scores: Vanderbilt Writing Studio and the Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project

Vanderbilt Writing Studio (n) PWTARP (n)
How would you rank the importance for your occupation of the skills, qualities, or values you developed as a writing consultant?

(1=unimportant; 5=highly important)

4.67 (24) 4.39 (102)
How would you rank the extent to which your writing been influenced by your training and/or work as a writing consultant?

(1= not influential; 5=very influential)

4.09 (22) 4.32 (103)
Would you please rate the importance of your Writing Studio training and experience as you developed as a university student?

(1=unimportant; 5=highly important)

4.57 (23) 4.48 (102)