Dudley House’s airy second-floor offices overlooking the Yard will be filled with students and writing fellows next fall after the creation of a new “Center for Writing and Communicating Ideas” for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
A director and three writing fellows will staff the center, which will specialize in the sciences, the arts and humanities, or the social sciences respectively. GSAS Associate Dean of Academic Programs and Diversity Sheila Thomas said in addition to these fellows, who likely will be postdoctoral fellows, current graduate students might serve as tutors.
Before the Center’s creation, students seeking writing help could reach out to Suzanne E. Smith, a writing tutor for over 4,000 students in GSAS who will direct the new center. She currently works as a writing tutor half-time, dedicating the rest of her time to her position as a History and Literature lecturer.
“I can’t really accommodate the demand most of the time,” Smith said.
Smith regularly shoulders a bag packed with sheets of student writing. She has worked as the writing tutor since 2006 and said working with a team of fellows trained in different disciplines will be “wonderful.”
“I’m actually, at this point, comfortable reading anything by anyone, but having said that, my background is decidedly in the humanities rather than in the natural sciences, or quantitative disciplines, or social sciences,” Smith said.
Although she primarily works with dissertators, Smith said a significant number of first-years or international students have sought her help.
Weichu Wang, a Chinese master’s student in the Regional Studies East Asia, voiced concerns about her perceived lack of graduate level writing support to her representative on the Graduate Student Council, fellow master’s student Jannis Chen.
"As an international student, I (as well as many of my colleagues across disciplines) found Harvard’s writing resources disappointedly limited for graduate-level non-native speakers of English,” Wang wrote to Chen in a February email.
In the 2014-2015 academic year, 34 percent of GSAS students came from international backgrounds. Chen, who is also an international student, said some internationals seek grammatical edits, which the current writing services do not provide.
“In order to correct the grammar and things like that for an international student, they have to engage services from an outside proofreader who is not really affiliated with Harvard. That definitely will incur extra cost,” Chen said.
Smith said she tries to help international students become more acquainted with the sound and prose of English. She added that she once worked with a student from rural China studying biochemistry who reached out to her for help with his memoir.
“Does it present a particular set of challenges? Yes,” Smith said. “Can those challenges be addressed very effectively? Yes, as evidenced by this student who not only developed his English to the point that it was functional, but to the point that it was literary.”
Before the announcement of the new center, Chen said GSAS lagged behind writing resources that exist at the undergraduate level. Undergraduates have access to the Harvard College Writing Center, which matches students in need of help with trained peer tutors in addition to providing appointments and drop-in hours.
“In the perfect world...there would be some kind of integration between the undergraduate writing center and the graduate writing center, but I think initially the focus has to be on how to serve the graduate students,” Thomas said.
Smith said that her positions within the College and GSAS have given her a unique lens to help other students.
“I constantly ask myself what’s working in the College that is also working or maybe not working so well in the context of the Graduate School,” she said.
Thomas said GSAS Dean Xiao-li Meng prioritized “professional development and communication in the broad sense—both from the writing side, as well as from the oral presentation side.”
Administrators planned the Center nearly two years ago and repurposed its current space on the second floor of Dudley House around that time, according to GSAS spokesperson Ann Hall.—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.
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