Day: November 14, 2018

Drafts and Guts

jls asks: 

I would really love to hear your (further) thoughts about writing drafts with students and in particular how you go about teaching students to write. I know this is a subject you’ve touched on often, but right now the work I need to get done is almost 100% editing student drafts, and let’s just say I can’t help feeling that there must be some ways to improve this process.

Writing with graduate students is a perennial challenge. I have written extensively (and I mean EXTENSIVELY) about it, probably more often than about anything else, yet it never ceases to be a problem. (Check out Academaze, where a whole chapter was devoted to this particular circle of hell.)

Dear readers, there are no static solutions for anything in life, at least not for anything that means anything. Or at least no solutions that guarantee you will always be at peace and not, you know, blow your lid with some regularity at the hopelessness of your predicament.

I spend a lot of time editing students’ writing. And I know the only way for them to improve is to practice.

But, holy $hit, if it isn’t annoying as all f*ck!

I feel that working with students on their writing is the canary in the coalmine for my general grumpiness about work (can’t wait for sabbatical next year, honestly). When I am grumpy about work, editing the messes that I am usually given becomes completely unbearable.

There’s a book chapter that a postdoc and several of my students (one a native speaker) have drafted together. I have been sitting on this draft for months. I have picked it up and put it down dozens of times. I hate this goddamn document with a passion usually reserved for my flesh-and-blood nemeses. My hatred toward this document stems from a combination of: a) not wanting to look at that bloody material ever again; I’ve written so many papers and proposals on it, and if I have to now write this stupid intro for the millionth time, someone will lose their head; b) the fact that it really should look better than it does, considering I have a postdoc on it and I provided them with a ton of raw material they could work with (papers and proposals).

Today I talked with a colleague who says he and his collaborator write most of their papers; they don’t really have students draft them. I understand why they do it, but it still constitutes a failure of an aspect of graduate education.

On the other hand, so many students don’t want to write or don’t improve fast enough or don’t particularly care to improve (just do it to appease advisor and get out of here) or maybe they have limitations or for other reasons find it hard to write to the standard that I expect, that I worry the whole process of teaching them how to write (read: forcing them to write and me to edit) is not very helpful and instead just extremely frustrating for everyone involved.

Still, teach them how to write I must.

This is what I have always done: A student  drafts a paper on the work where they’re the lead junior researcher. I pull hair over it for days or weeks until I manage to get through the whole thing. The student and I will go back-and-forth several times (I mark up a hard copy, we discuss edits, the student enters them) but eventually I take over and clean up. This ensures the paper gets out in a reasonable time and the student gets writing practice.

People have suggested hiring external editing help; that’s not for me. First, I have been unimpressed with the input from the university editing resources and I am too cheap and distrustful to pay for external work. Second, I want the papers from my group to look a certain way; I would just end up rewriting everything regardless.


My big issue with people (some of them in my family) is that most aren’t as intense as me. I feel like they move slowly through the stress-light molasses of their lives and I wonder how they don’t just explode with the pressure that built up from boredom. In turn, they probably think I am downright nuts; I know many in my family do.

Same with work. I will never understand how someone just doesn’t want to LEARN EVERYTHING JUST EAT EVERYTHING UP JUST GIMME GIMME MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE!

I mean, obviously I understand all this intellectually, but my gut rolls its gut eyes and rejects — as guts do — that there is any other way to be than how it itself is.

Guts, man. Guts.


In far awesomer news, lyra211 just had a baby! Go say congrats!