CONFERENCE TALK: Mentoring Into the Discipline: Graduate Writing Support and the Subterranean Ecologies of Academic Belonging
In April, at the 2019 Pacific Northwest Writing Centers Association / Two-Year College English Association-Pacific Northwest joint conference, I presented a theory of the identity formation processes that graduate students are expected to master around and through their research writing, offering voice as a way to understand the development of scholarly identity and disciplinary belonging through the production of text. Here’s the abstract:
Even beyond the considerable rhetorical and intellectual challenges posed by most academic writing, graduate student research writing carries for its writer the additional burden of being the primary medium for the development and articulation of professional and scholarly identity. The high-stakes processes of identity formation by which student becomes professional scholar are deeply embedded in the practices and expectations of graduate research writing and graduate education more broadly, and their weight can be felt by the many graduate student writers who experience their writing as a profound reflection of self. As graduate students proceed through their programs, moving out of early coursework stages and into thesis- and dissertation-writing, they are expected to achieve not only mastery of content knowledge and discourse conventions but the self-determination to enter into and contribute to the conversations comprising their disciplines. Success in graduate research writing, then, requires both a deep familiarity with the knowledge-making codes of a discipline and an identity distinct from those codes—an ability not only to iterate and reproduce disciplinary norms but to innovate, push, and transcend them. As budgets shrink and academic hiring constricts or dries up altogether, these demands only intensify. This presentation will explore the potency of graduate-specific writing support to facilitate these processes of identity formation, by which graduate research writers enter fully into disciplinary communities. Specifically, it will explore the ways graduate writing consultants, if attuned to the social and institutional forces shaping the formation of scholarly identity, can help graduate student writers achieve a sense of disciplinary belonging. I will argue, ultimately, that graduate-specific writing support is uniquely positioned to help writers navigate these subterranean ecologies of disciplinary knowledge-production—and to empower writers to reshape those ecologies in more just and inclusive ways.