University Academic Advisor

Education, uncategorized

Speaker 00:02     Would you please state your job title where you currently work and how long it’s been since you graduated college.

Speaker 00:08     I work at a university near Washington D.C. I’ve worked there for two years. My title is Associate Director and Transfer Coordinator. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in December 2004 and my graduate degree in May 2010.

Speaker 00:28     And how long have you worked in your current field?

Speaker 00:32     I’ve worked in my current field since January 2006. And with a three year pause during graduate school.

Speaker: Can you provide a very brief description of your primary job functions?

Speaker: So, I work in admissions which means that I review applications and I counsel and advise prospective students through the application process; If they want to come to the university, I communicate with them about our requirements, about the status of their application and then I am involved in developing our recruitment materials and working on recruitment initiatives and participating in events on campus.

Speaker 01:13    Can you please give an estimate in an average week what percentage of your job requires writing from 0 to 25 percent 25 to 50 percent 50 to 75 or 75 to 100 percent?

Speaker 01:28    I think it varies by season because like for right now I’m out of the office a lot I have to go do recruitment travels at other universities, have to go to college fairs and or just literally go and sit at the table at a community college and hope students approach me with questions about the university or applying or the admissions process or whatever. So if it’s if that’s going on that’s a lot of my job. But if I’m in the office 50 to 75 percent of my time is spent writing and that is mainly the emails that I send to colleagues or prospective students. And also sometimes working on the written content for publications or website.

Speaker 02:14    So you mentioned a few of these but what forms or types of writing or kinds of documents do most often complete your job?

Speaker 02:22    The document I complete most often is e-mails. That is how students we can spend hours and we have spent hours revising the content on our Web site. Revising our publications hiring people to help with those things and ultimately it has very little impact as far as no matter how finding will you make the information. Students will always contact you and say I mean I’ve had students who contacted me to say what is your website address. Well I don’t know how they found my contact information if they didn’t find the web site but they really like to just have you reiterate that the email becomes almost a text message because they’re saying when is your application deadline.

Speaker 03:04    You give them that piece of information and they write back and say Can I have the link to the application. Then they want to know the mailing address to and it becomes more like a text conversation and a lot of ways. But anyway that’s the primary method of communication with these students. And that’s my day is taken up by communicating in correspondence with these students through that through that way. But I would say the other large portion of the writing duties that I have to do with anything or publications on our Web site or print publications on our Web site.

Speaker 03:39    So you’d say them that your primary audiences typically are students and then students absolutely.

Speaker 03:45     And mainly prospective students because once they’re admitted to the university, immediately upon admission as transfer students, they are connected with the faculty adviser and they are basically handed off to the faculty adviser to the orientation office. We, our communication with them is actually very minimal. So, the large population of students that I’m working with are students who are increased or their applicants or they’re admitted and in some cases, they are denied, but not many.

Speaker 04:17    So you’ve talked already about the sort of factfinding email responses. Are there other primary purposes for these kinds of communications maybe particularly non e-mail the publications and things.

Speaker 04:29    Yes certainly. I think to guide it sometimes … sometimes with the fact finding yes a student is emailing me ask one specific question and what I have learned is that the best way to respond to with an answer to one question is to provide an answer to the 10 you know were coming. So what I’m sending out I’m responding to their fact finding and then developing templates to use when corresponding with students based on the questions that I know that they’re going to come up with apps when I see that first fact finding I know what else is coming so I’m writing them a larger e-mail with the questions that I can anticipate about what questions about they have about our programs, about the financial aid process, about that sort of thing. But I would say that in the job that I have now and in the position that I had previously the more challenging writing tasks have to do with communicating with student by email when I’m telling them difficult news that primarily has to do with students who have not applied but don’t meet the admission requirement at that time. And they oftentimes will argue with me and I have to explain why we’re standing by our requirement. And then in both my current position and my previous position I dealt with a lot with nursing students who have no idea how competitive nursing is to get into, because that’s much more rigorous than getting into just the general University. So, I’m writing e-mails explaining why these… I’m speaking in general terms about our policies. But what I’m actually doing is this general information sharing about the policy, is actually something that pertains to their personal qualifications because they don’t meet the requirement, but instead of making them feel bad and saying this is your GPA or these are the classes these are the grades you’ve gotten your science classes, I’m speaking to them generally about our requirements and why nursing back members look for strong grades in science classes. So again, beyond just factfinding it’s sharing a wealth of information with them based on their interest or coaching them through certain situations if I have to share bad news.

Speaker 06:42    Could you walk us through the process for one particular research project or type of assignment that you’ve had moving from the way that these reading tests are given to you in the kind of preparation you do to write it and then the steps you take until the process is completed.

Speaker 06:59    Well for me so recently I worked with one of my colleagues to redevelop the transfer web pages on our Web site. And people who work with me understand that I was an English major or that I went to graduate school for writing. So, they’re like oh you’re a writer. We’re really excited to work with you on this project. However, my experience working on these websites or  the decisions I make about how to work on the website and what I think needs to be on the website is not informed by … is not necessarily I don’t look at it as OK I’m choosing what should I put on that page because I’m a good writer and here’s the well written things that I would like to develop five paragraphs about this. ,but this piece of information I’d like to share. My decision about content is going up there is based on the questions for us that I’m getting from students and the way that they are processing the information that or the confusion that they seem to come up against a lot when they are looking at content on our Web site, and actually too much content confuses them way too much and they lose it. So I basically sat down with the person or the transfer pages who said oh you’re a great writer so we’re going to write things so I said No I think we’re basically need to remove everything and just have bullet points and we need to put information in the simplest way. And I said I do not care what you put on them or what they say. I just want it to say you don’t need to have your associates to transfer, here are a minimum GPA requirements to 2.0 and you don’t need to pass specific classes ; and if you have anything else other than that I am happy to work with you on developing that content. But rather than thinking about you know how can we make a page about the GPA requirement, I just want to make information accessible and clear to students so as to get it going against some of my you know writerly inclinations too because I would love to write pages and pages of information and show off my writing skills, but instead I’m like nope just put this thing that’s barely a sentence to indicate information. So in that situation it really truly became a project that started as let’s write all this lengthy content and me actually sitting down and saying I have bullet point information that I want to put on these pages. Here’s some bullet points for a student who is in the process of applying. Here’s a bullet point for students who are admitted. Here’s bullet points for students who have questions about the financial aid process and basically just making that information easy and accessible rather than loading down the pages with text.

Speaker 09:43     And maybe to go back to a little bit some of the skills you talked about and respond to e-mails and sort of considering the audience and their feelings and things like that. How did you kind of know how to navigate these issues and how do these kinds of writing do?

Speaker 10:02     Well that’s a hard question because I so often do think even as someone who has studied writing and taught writing, I have these absolutely fundamental beliefs in me that part of it does come… it just it’s like a talent that you have. It’s when it comes to putting difficult information into [something] easily digestible, and I would even say kind, form because I watch my co-workers struggle to do the same things through e-mail to share difficult information with students via e-mail. You don’t meet the admission requirements, or we didn’t get the document in time to complete your application; You’re not going to get in. Here’s some bad information and it was some unfortunate information about your financial aid. I see co-workers struggle to do that. Do I think that these are co-workers who failed English composition? No. Do I think that I know how to do it because I have a graduate degree in creative writing? No, I really struggle because I  so I have this belief that it’s just I don’t know. This happens to be the skill that I have people will give me e-mails are sending messages and I’ll say absolutely you cannot say that, here is the way that you need to say that. And maybe that’s downplaying or taking my education for granted and thinking like “no I didn’t really think that that”, it cant have anything to do with the fact that I can write these e-mails I’m not thinking critically enough about it.

But it’s interesting to me to watch very well-educated people struggle to share information in a concise way, particularly when it comes to e-mails that we send to students. So, I mean I really don’t know how I do it or even I can’t even pinpoint in my education what it is that taught me to do to do that. But I do believe I do it well because I know from the responses, I get from students, it doesn’t create contentious situations when I’m sharing unfortunate information.

Speaker 12:24     Can you describe a time in your career what you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

Speaker 12:33     Yes, I was asked to create in my previous position, an email to transfer students who had been admitted to the university but had not paid their deposit. So in both of my roles in the job I used to have on the job that I have now I work has a lot of admitted students.

But the moment that a student pays her deposit and confirms their enrollment, as I mentioned before, they are no longer with our office. We’ve done our work. They’ve committed to coming to the university so. So that’s again like I said before I don’t really work at the deposited population very much. My previous job I was asked to come up with an email to be sent from the specific college I worked at within the university that was to be sent to students who were going to be who had not paid their deposit yet to join our college, which was a college of Health and Human Services.

And so my director the Associate Dean said you need to come up with this e-mail that’s going to be sent to convince them why they need to come here. So I wrote in an email highlighted, kind of going back to what I was talking about before about just book points highlight here’s five reasons you should come here, and the dean the assistant dean came back to me and said, “This is not what we want. Transfer students don’t want to know about this. They want to know about faculty research.” So, I want you to go and you interview all of the department chairs find out about the research within their department and then develop an e-mail based on that.

She says what she was tasking me to do is to take a paragraph long e-mail, which is too long in general for how students read e-mails these days, five bullet points long, that might even be too long and that’s how she wanted me to take it and kind of transform it into a page and a half letter with just content about research. I’ve worked to transfer students and never once been asked about research. I’ve been asked by a transfer student “What is a GPA?” I’ve never been asked what is the research that your faculty does.

And in that particular situation I felt unprepared because I didn’t know… it almost felt like someone had it like I’d been given a prompt for an essay and then I felt I was responding exactly the right way and someone was saying no the way that you’re responding to this is completely incorrect. You have to write this entirely different essay; even though I know that my response to the prompt was correct. And because I felt that what she was asking me to do was so not in response to the task we’ve been given. I really really really struggled to do what she wanted me to do and to come up with something… I don’t know how to pitch research to transfer students because I don’t believe it’s something they’re interested in. So, I felt just very unprepared to know how to do that and ultimately very unhappy with what we came up with.

Speaker 15:43     So what would you do in those situations where you feel the difficulty in reconciling like maybe your expectations  and those of someone else?

Speaker 15:51     I think that that ultimately it feels like to me what I come up with is is like catalogue copy that would be in a university catalog. It’s like a course description. No, I don’t think people would say that a candidate that catalogue a course description of your composition course is marketing copy. Like sure someone could read it and maybe want to go take that course, but it’s not marketing and so what it felt to me was this that we were coming up with… I just went in a mode of, because I didn’t feel like we were responding to the prompt quote unquote that we’ve been given, I then had to think about what does this person who has been asking, who is at the end of the day going to sign off on this, what does she want? So OK. What I think that she wants is very dry catalog copy so how can I go against my instincts to come up with something that is selling a program and instead provide catalog copy?

Speaker 16:53     So who officially is anyone overseas you’re writing?

Speaker 16:59     It used to be…Well the only e-mails I write we have absolutely no oversight. And I think honestly in an office like mine that is a problem because I’ve seen e-mails that my colleagues write, and it is unbelievable.

And I love my colleagues. I think my colleagues are wonderful at working with prospective students. The e-mails that they sent, I absolutely cannot believe whether it’s they’re sharing difficult information or the e-mail just the tone of the e-mail looks like again like a text message or maybe there’s no salutation it. And again, a lot of my co-workers are young so they are a lot of the time if an 18 year old is writing an e-mail, there are 22 year olds responding to that e-mail and so some I think just some etiquette stuff is lost. And I think that because there’s no oversight on the e-mails you can basically do whatever you want and no one is telling them this is not appropriate, what you’re doing. So, sometimes I would say we previously …we no longer we no longer have a director in my office. That person was terminated, and the position is open. So, before she left though sometimes if an applicant called with a question there would be questions about what has been the communication with this applicant beforehand and you would have to provide, “here is a document of what this applicant was told” which happened a lot. Thank goodness. Any time I’m communicating with the student I put things… even if I’m on the phone delivering information to them or giving a significant update… I say I’m going to follow up by an e-mail because I know my boss may company some time and say “what is that what was this applicant told?” And so that is really, that the person overseeing my writing would be my director when someone’s in that role. But it does not happen on a regular basis. And then I’m in the role of overseeing other people’s writings and I will edit a lot of the publications that are developed by our marketing agencies that we work with or someone will come up with a mass e-mail that we’re going to send to transfer students I’ll edit that.

Speaker 19:16     So maybe even in the room with the publications of the university, does anybody double check that before goes live?

Speaker 19:27     So how it really works is someone else is creating that copy and then I’m double checking it before it goes live. That’s really what ends up happening. And that’s actually as far as who’s responsible for why in terms of our publications, that’s also a huge problem that my office is trying to address because we’re working with two marketing firms— people in our office who are responsible for different things and it’s very confusing who is responsible for what in terms of a lot of our publications and that’s creating some problems.

Speaker 20:02     So some of the e-mails have a pretty quick turnaround time for other writing projects. Typically, how long would you have to complete the project?

Speaker 20:10     Well sometimes if we have like a brochure or something then the office working on the brochure or one of the marketing agencies will send it to us and want a turnaround time of two weeks or something. But again, that’s not if they’re sending me a PDAF of the documents so it’s a completed document and I’m just copy editing it. So I’m not responsible for coming up with pages and pages of new content, I’m just editing their content. I’m trying to think right now if I again, if I’m doing content for our Web site maybe the turnaround time is a week or something. But I have never had a project in this specific job that I work in I’ve never had a writing project that I’ve worked on over the course of many months.

Speaker 21:09     What kind of writing do you remember being asked to create as a student particularly undergrad and in what ways do you think your college writing experience has prepared or did not prepare you for the kind of stuff you do?

Speaker 21:22     Well maybe this gets back to why I don’t think of my education as contributing to my writing skills I have at work, because the writing that I was doing as an undergraduate was… you know my co-workers were saying oh you were an English major, and I’m like well I was a creative writing major. So, what was I writing? A Will and Grace spec script. And then non-fiction article about adult fans of Harry Potter and a short story about god knows what. So so I can’t… That’s what a lot of people when they say you were an English major and you’re a writer, they don’t really understand that I wasn’t a marketing major I wasn’t doing…. But I do believe that my genuine my interest in writing of course has to do with the skills I have now. But it’s funny because I did not take any classes that had to do with marketing copying anything like that and those were all offered at my college and I was like No I’m going to do Intro to Comedy 1 and then Intro to Comedy 2 and then Magazine Writing 1 2 and 3 and then Fiction Writing Intro and then Advanced. That’s what my schedule looked like. So I think that, you know, when I look back on the research papers that I wrote, those are certainly helped me to prepare for times in my job when I had to do projects that involved talking to a faculty member and coming up with a publication about their program.

Sure but in some ways I wish I had taken more classes that had to do with marketing and things like that because I wish that I had a portfolio of my work because nobody at my current job is asking to see my Will and Grace spec script although it was so good! And so and even with my graduate degree I … It’s very difficult for me to think of here is a thing that I learned or an assignment I was given in graduate school and that has made it so that I feel I can excel in this this realm of writing it in my current job.

And that’s why it goes back to what I was saying before, which is so… which is again not very maybe intelligent thing to say or very interesting thing to say but, just the idea of like yes it’s something some people inherently know how to do. I can’t add two and two was really never really good at that. But I can write in e-mail and share some information and have it be, you know pretty effective, so I don’t know.

I really I honestly I know that my education helps me and I struggle to identify exact examples of what I did that helped me.

Speaker Do you think at all that your sort of extensive experience in like writing workshops may have helped you with the kinds of softening language that you use as such?  

Speaker 25:01    That’s I guess what I’m talking about. Like I don’t know. I would feel that I brought that to the workshop that I already knew how to do that. I don’t think the workshop gave me that. I think that you know … and I’m just giving an honest answer to the question. Absolutely. Do I think that an end to be teaching writing to students learning how to help them think through something has that made me better able to think through things? Absolutely.

But I just have difficulty thinking that, feeling like to be very very honest, that the skill level that I have brought to email writing is in me.

This is so ridiculous to say, but the skill level that I brought to writing an email as a freshman in college pretty similar probably to the skill level I would bring now, just because again when I talk about like what I feel to be inherent skills that people have; that’s just the way that I think because that’s always been something that’s easy for me that I’ve always gotten good feedback on like “Oh you’re really good at writing.” And again not good at math; You can’t add two and two. So, I just I don’t know if that’s again a simplistic way to look at it? Absolutely. At some level my abilities as a writer or the way that I perform work have to be informed by the education that I have. It’s just not always clear to me because when I think about my education, I’m thinking about the Will and Grace spec script rather than the actual useful assignments I was doing.

Speaker 26:54     Can you talk a little bit about and you’ve already talked about you know the feelings of your prospective students and also a little bit like the sort of tone of the university at large, that you present in these e-mails…What do you feel like most at stake in your writing/what will be positive or negative outcomes?

Speaker 27:16     What’s always at stake is that every single student that I have…What’s at stake is a loss of the student’s interest in the university because I need to keep them in engaged and interested so that they will come to the university at which I work and pay the tuition. It’s a tuition driven university, and they can continued to grow as a university. So, every interaction is maintaining that connection with them even if you’re sharing difficult information,  I have to be able to share that difficult information and  say “You do not meet the requirements now but we would love to have you next semester.” So, that’s always what’s at stake. Their interest in engagement, because we struggle to find students. We are not like the large university in the area that gets the majority of transfer students where if you go to community college you ask them where they’re going to transfer, they say that local state university. That’s what all of them are going that’s what they tell the counselors. That’s what they tell each other. So, trying to get another university, a small tiny private university, on their radar is very difficult. So if a student emailed me and says “I’m interested; Tell me more.” Literally I just received an email  and the subject line was “Admission requirements” and the body the email said “admission requirements.” That’s all that the email said. That’s an engaged student right there that’s a student who might …. So I have to say “Thank you so much for your e-mail. I appreciate your interest in the university. Could you tell me are you interested in undergraduate or graduate studies at the university?”

Even though I don’t represent graduate students but a lot of times students will just contact the first person they see. So that, whereas I think maybe in some businesses you could delete that email because it doesn’t even read as a real email, that’s an engaged student and I have to follow up on that. So, it’s always what’s at stake? They’re interest in the university and on their interest now in their potential interest in the future.

Speaker” What do you think is the most difficult thing about writing your field or your particular position would be?

Speaker     Sharing difficult information and a lot of times you are dealing with students who are very sensitive. You’re dealing with students… I deal with a lot of students who are not academically successful but do not want to have a conversation in which they actually address that. I’ve had multiple students tell me “ I know I’m really I’m doing well this semester; you know I’ve done really well I’ve gotten a 2.3.” That in my experience would not be a great GPA but they…to get a 2.3, you obviously have to have some grades that aren’t that great and they don’t. They’re very sensitive. Because I also know that many of these students, they are working full time and they’re also going to school. That is a great GPA, with all that they’re balancing. So, I think that the hardest thing in the writing is to is to not offend them or belittle them or you know… because you already feel like you are…You don’t want to come at it from… We do not have the luxury as a university of being like a high tier university, who is turning away students at the door all the time. We don’t have the luxury of turning away anyone. So even, so when I’m dealing with a student who I have to kind of talk to about … you know example: student maybe has a 2.3 GPA and has emailed me to find out why that doesn’t qualify for them for an academic scholarship. How do I keep them interested, let them know they haven’t met the terms for a merit ship based on their GPA and not have tone of the e-mail to be, Your GPA is actually unsatisfactory?

You want to make feel like “I know you’ve done work. You’ve worked so hard and we would be happy to consider you for financial aid if you submit the FAFSA you can’t win this scholarship though.” So, I think that’s what’s really difficult is to walk that line and make the student feel seen and appreciated, while also not wanting to mislead them and say I’ll look into it and see if you can get that three point that academic scholarship when they’re not going to get it.

Speaker 31:34     Sounds like a kind of a difficult balance to strike. How do you navigate that? You know get that information across and maintain that tone like this and interest?

Speaker 31:50     I would say that you do it by… I once remember someone telling me who worked with elementary schools school students you have to sandwich things, you just start with the compliment and you give the criticism and then you get that compliment and that sort of applies in this case like, “Thank you so much for e-mail it’s so wonderful to hear from you again. Insert difficult information here, again.

It was wonderful to hear from you and I really enjoyed corresponding with you! I’m so enjoying working to you.” It becomes… that’s kind of what I was talking before about seeing some of the e-mails that my colleagues have sent where they share difficult information. You realize that is a skill that people some people have no idea how to share difficult information and you can see… because we recently adopted a system where our basically Prospect Management system, we can go and e-mail applicants through the system; so I can go look in and see if another counselor has emailed you through that system I can see what they wrote, so I can see the e-mails that my colleagues are sending to students and they’re not being successful and balancing that act of being open and considerate and also sharing the difficult information. So, I often think “how can I teach them how to do this?” And I don’t know … Right now it’s at the point where I literally have to sit next to them and say “Here is something that you could say.”

So I think that’s a question for myself that I’m still wondering about how do I… I know that I can walk the line. Well how do I do it or how can I teach another person to do it? I don’t know. Because what is also translated [into] for me has been, especially my last job, learning to also do that in person because in my last position I dealt with students all of the time, sharing extremely difficult information as their adviser and they were crying all the time and it was always a challenge for me. How can I make this student feel seen and heard while also sharing difficult information?

Speaker 34:07     So after school, has anyone helped you with your writing in a formal or informal way?

Speaker 34:24     I would say no. I mean sure maybe getting another set of eyes on things. Yes, but I’ve never felt like I’ve gone to someone and said I’m really struggling to come up with how to do this specific task.

Speaker 34:40     How would you say that you’ve evolved or improved as a writer, if at all, over the span of your career?

Speaker 34:48     I think that the biggest thing that I’ve… because what I think the biggest thing that I’ve gotten better at is that notion about sharing difficult information.

I think that from the time that I started my job it was something that I could do but I was always when I hit send on the email a little bit uncomfortable because I thought oh no. Now I stand very strong in e-mails I sends students when I’m sending difficult information or something and I think they might disagree with and I think that that’s also made it so that I’ve improved as far as sharing criticism or difficult information with my colleagues, that has gotten easier to do.

And I would say that because I’ve worked on more publications, my skills that copy editing have gotten better because like I was saying, I do think I had to write that something that I naturally know how to do. But there weren’t a lot of opportunities in school to do that. So now I get more opportunities and can further refine those skills.

Speaker 35:59     To what extent do you think writing is valued in your particular organization or in your field?

Speaker 36:06     I do not think in my office that writing is valued enough. And I feel that was what I overheard someone in my office recently… I was walking by someone’s office and I heard them say to someone else about someone else in the office, “Oh that person is someone who has such a good writer” and I remember thinking “No that person is not a good writer at all.” But the fact that that person was saying that that really to me shows where people’s expectation as far as writing skills in our office they heard they saw that person and they’re like that person is so good at writing even though I think the writing was ineffective had so many problems associated with it. But that’s just not how people see it in my office.

I think …if a piece of writing communicates the message in a minimally effective way then it’s effective. I don’t think we’re always very good at saying how can we do this even better. I think that we don’t do a good job about thinking of our audience. When I was saying before about just putting bullet points on the web site rather than full paragraphs of content, because our audience is a bunch of 18 and 20 year olds, I just don’t think we always do that. And when I think about the fact that we are supposed to bring in new students and yet going back to your earlier question, there’s about oversight , no one oversees our e-mails or trains us. That is crazy to me, because our primary connection with students is through e-mail. That’s how we’re getting the students interest that’s how we’re maintaining it, based on the e-mail they may get. That may keep them interested to come to campus for a visit or decide they don’t like us at all. So, where’s the oversight on that? Who’s training the people in my office? Who… this is their very first job; who’s training them how to write an email to a student after they come to campus and come for a visit?

What should we say the student who just came …what is the template? how do we keep them engaged? So, therefore I feel like there’s not enough writing… there is not enough value at all placed on writing in my office because the thought is: we’re not receiving complaints about the e-mails from the staff so therefore it must be working. But when I think about the impact that those e-mails actually are having on student interest, I cannot believe more value isn’t placed.

Speaker 39:03     Do you think or do you feel that at all that affects your writing or performance or the way you conceptualize your job to not have that environment be more sort of proactive in improving writing?

Speaker 39:16     Well it’s made me think lately about the fact that I don’t do a good job of saying to people here’s something I think I’m good at how can I help you? Because if someone shares an office with me then they are always turning to me and saying “how can I do this?” And sometimes people come to me with things. But I think that it’s I think that it is… in terms of the way that I think about the environment, it’s me it’s kind of made me a defeatist about my skills and abilities to be like “well I can send out this email and it  can be effective and maybe I’ll come across somebody else’s e-mails some day and be unhappy with it but oh well” you know there’s not a high priority placed. And I think it also makes me have a defeatist attitude about the whole enterprise of writing in general in the office because no one’s held accountable for what they’re writing. So, so I wonder about how you change that culture if you’re not the leader of the office. How is it that these e-mails to our students we’re not trained on at all about how to communicate with them … but that also lets you know that the thing I was sharing before about walking by someone’s office and hearing them say oh so-and-so is a great writer. Also, I work in an office where what people’s definition of a great writer is, is or what it means to be a good writer is just universes away from what my idea of good writing is. So, I that’s something I struggle with. They are hiring right now, at the university, a writer, I think to assist with the president to  help with some other things and I am going to be so curious to see what they come up with.

Speaker 41:20     How did you define what successful writing was when you were a student versus how do you define being a successful writer now?

Speaker 41:31     Well so if I… so when you’re thinking about being like an undergraduate successful writing, I was writing fiction so I honestly… like I think a lot about, here’s something happened to me an undergraduate workshop that I think about a lot and how absolutely ridiculous this was. This person who was teaching my advanced fiction writing seminar, I think it was their first time teaching ever, but she was a published novelist, she published a book and you could tell that she was generally unimpressed with most of the writing that we came into that room with; and I went and I was at an art university so theoretically like these are supposed to be the students who really can bring a lot to the table as far as their interest and their abilities or whatever. And this creative writing thing, it’s not… they’re not taking creative readings and elective, this is what they’re studying and so she would have us come into the room. We wouldn’t read people’s stories beforehand. They had to read them out loud to people and then we would discuss them or whatever. When I think about that and the way that she ended the workshop that semester she was like “we need to vote on who had the best story.”

And when I think about writing as an undergraduate I think about that. Because that that’s the headspace that I was in. Of like not what am my learning? How were we workshopping?

Which is which is then of course we’re more of the probably graduate… the graduate school thing but I’m actually taking that back because there was that same environment in grad school of just not this thing that we’re all taking discussing but this this like this idea of “who is the best.”

Now I happened to win back then, so I was very pleased! But then and then actually when I went to grad school the same thing happened, which was in my first workshop, the professor said we’re all going to write the first page of a story and then we’re going to choose one of these first pages to be the story that we continue on with throughout the whole semester. I won that contest as well. However, in both situations, what does that get you to do to be in an environment of like we’re going to choose a winner? That is just so I don’t know how… that’s not helpful.

But that when I think about the environment than I was and as far as like as a student or as a writer, I sort of think back on that on experiences like that as in terms of like, how people were competing rather than what we were learning I guess.

So that’s what I meant I think about my undergraduate writing or writing in college and thinking about like that’s what comes to mind. Like that’s a weird contest that we had with the stories that I was writing; but if you’re asking about research essays that I wrote in college, I think that the fundamental the fundamental thing that I learned that stays with me now that does help to inform my writing is when I was given an assignment in college, I knew that the way to excel was to be genuinely interested in the topic. And so when I do get involved with projects at work, I try to come at it from an angle of what is what about this generally interests me.

Speaker 45:29     And so how do you judge your success now, particularly like in the sort of person to person responses?

Speaker  How do I judge my success? By the relationship that I ended up developing with a student, by you know,  here’s the here’s a student that I’ve been communicating with by writing and when I see them in person is that relationship there today? Do they say thank you so much have you heard from me a lot? I know I’ve not bothered you a million times. That makes me feel like OK that if I’m supposed to maintain their interest OK I’ve done this. But I would say the other way we measure my success is if I’m developing content for the website or coming up with text for a mass e-mail,  are we getting phone calls about it? And it’s hard to judge your success because students call them out or what you send. So I guess I also judged my success by the level of confusion that I see in students.

Speaker                 Do you consider yourself been successful as a workplace writer.

Speaker 46:35                    I do. I do because I because… I know that being able in the realm of admissions or academic advising, it is so much about sharing difficult information and when I say difficult information I do not mean that just the fact that you’re denied.  In my previous position that’s a lot of what it was you’re denied, you’re not getting iN whatever. In this position the difficult information can be the price of the of the university, the tuition.

So I consider myself successful because I know that I still maintain relationships with students and don’t lose them. Typically, after sharing that difficult information and that they constantly, I see my success and that they come back to me with their questions. They will at my previous office students were always coming to us and saying I heard from so-and-so I had a difficult conversation, got a mean email, did this. I don’t feel I’ve received too many complaints from students so based on the feedback that I’m getting, I feel like I am successful and also if success is judged by… if difficult situations are created at work and I need to have a document that I can share with people to say “oh we’re wondering what this dude was told,” I never hesitate to share with my supervisor, “Here’s what I told them and I know that I did it in an effective way.” That’s never. Some people get really nervous that they have to share something they wrote with somebody, but  I stand strong in knowing this is what I told them. Here you go.   

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Special Collections Librarian


Special Collections Librarian



Q: Would you please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated from college?


A: So my job title is special collections librarian. I work at Marymount University main campus in Arlington, and I graduated from my master’s degree in 2010.

Q: Okay, and from undergrad what year?


A: From undergraduate in 2007.


Q: Okay, great. And how long have you been in your current field?


A: Um, so since, what would it be? About 2008, yeah.


Q: Okay, perfect. Could you just give me a brief description of your primary job functions?


A: So my job is part time, as I said, as a special collections librarian. So Marymount is a very small university, so a small library, and quite small staffing, which means I pretty much in my role do a little bit of everything. So I sort of liase a lot with teaching faculty to get suggestions for like, new acquisitions of special collections materials that they might be interested in us buying, that then they’ll use in teaching. And then all different aspects of collections stewardship that would go through that, so it’s kind of selecting, working with book sellers, purchasing, cataloguing, doing any basic preservation, materials like marketing and promotions, so, like small exhibitions, and occasionally events. And, oh, and then I’m also responsible for the sort of disaster planning for all the physical collections in the library itself. So that’s just sort of like an add-on task, really. So yeah, I think I’m rambling, but that’s about it.


Q: Excellent. No, no, that’s great.


A: Oh, and donor relations. Yeah we have one main family that are donors, and then seeing any other potential donors, to where their donation would fit into special collections comes through me.


Q: I see, okay. That is a little bit of everything.


A: Yeah. ‘Cause I’m a one man band, so yeah.


Q: Right, right. So in a given week, could you estimate maybe the percentage of your work that requires writing?


A: Um, good question. So, [interviewee talking to interviewee’s child] Um, I would say that almost–  I would say that yeah, actually probably a really high proportion involves writing in some form of another, because the amount of work I do that’s actually practical, like doing some preservation or something is very, yeah, five, ten percent of my time. So I would say yeah, probably some form of another, it’s like 90 percent of the time is some form of writing. So yeah, I don’t know.

Q: Great. That’s okay, a ballpark is fine. So, could you tell me a little bit about the forms or types of documents that you most often write?


A: I think that’s more of an overestimate actually, but let’s say it’s over 50 percent, yeah, because there’s a lot of reading as well. But let’s just say yeah.

Q: Sure, sure.


A: So the types of things I write – so let’s see, a lot of emails, I suppose there’s things like meeting agendas and minutes, what else? Oh, I was saying about the, what do you call it? The disaster plan, so some, oh and something that, so that’s– yeah kind of like policy documents, like internal policy documents that I write, and then, yeah like contributions to like the collection fund or [inaudible 4:27], cataloguing policy, or, you know, annual reviews, so those sorts of documents. And then other writing, I guess it’s not prose, but let’s see, if I’m cataloguing, or I’m doing the metadata that’s associated with that, and then so a little bit of writing in terms of, for promotional outreach so, submission that involves writing captions, you know, a bit of advertising material like Facebook, and Twitter posts to promote what we’re doing, so yeah, sort of various aspects–


Q: Yeah, really various. Yeah, and it seems like it’s a pretty good mix of internal and external audiences, is that a fair–?


A: Yeah, I mean I think– so it’s pretty much all sort of what we call– mostly all around the Marymount community, however, I suppose it’s internally intensive, library employees, like working documents or policies, and then an external audience would be, for sort of start with faculty but still part of Marymount, and then yeah, and then a sort of little bit externally if I’m going to– communicating with book sellers, or other libraries, or staff at other libraries that are part of the WRRC, the Washington Research Libraries Consortium.


Q: Right, okay, perfect. Could you walk me through the process, sort of start to finish, of a typical project or a recent project? Maybe the disaster plan, since that’s an annual writing project usually?


A: Um, yeah. What aspects of it?


Q: So everything from planning, to any research that goes into it, to drafting feedback revisions, anything that sort of happens along the way, from the beginning of that document, and it sounds like you probably starting with something, a draft, each time, but, to how it’s considered sort of final at the end there?


A: Okay, umm, I suppose it’s just a very small thing, but something I was doing very recently is we just changed the name of the room where our special collections are kept, and we’re changing the, so there’s lots of bits and pieces to do to sort of update that on everything, but one of the things to do is rewriting the policy for the room itself. It’s very short, like very short document, and I suppose what was involved with that– well I was looking at what it was existing, how it was originally, and then updating it how the room could be used now, so I [inaudible 7:32] a draft, [inaudible 7:33] my supervisor, who’s the collection manager, and then it also went to the university librarian to check. So what tends to happen is my manager tends to spot occasional grammatical errors, as well as content, and then it’s sort of sent for final approval and feedback from those two librarian, and then it sort of be sent back to me for edits, and [cross talk 8:10]–


  1. Perfect, okay. How did you know how to perform these types of writing? Everything from writing that metadata, to writing a disaster plan, to writing a caption for an exhibit – it’s a lot of different forms.


A: Ah, okay, yeah, I suppose– um, yeah I mean, I suppose I look a lot of how other people have done it. And so sometimes I look– so particularly with caption writing, I’ve looked at sort of style guides– there’s one I remember that I still occasionally refer to now, books produced by the V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK. And that was incredibly slow, because it just kind of, um, yeah, took me through each stage of the information that I was trying to like– oh yeah, because the caption was short, so it’s really important that what you’re putting into an audience and everything, so, yeah, so looking, yeah, examples elsewhere, and then, yeah, looking for yeah, writing guides if they are available.


Q: Is that V&A guide a public document?


A: Yeah, it is publicly available.


Q: Oh interesting, that’s cool.


A: And then, one thing I’ve found is the style– you know, obviously American English is different to British English, so it’s almost like, when I was first here, I made a really, really conscious effort to look at how things are written here, and try and write in that style, even though I didn’t kind of look at a style guide for American english. But then, I’ve sort of now being here long enough, by that it starts to come naturally because I’ve spent, because you’ve been here more than two and a half years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading American English, and then I started to pick it up and use it in my writing.


Q: And did you– sorry to interrupt, did you go to library school in the UK, or?


A: In the UK, yeah.


Q: In the UK, okay, right, right.


A: So yeah, can you repeat the original question? I’m losing track.


Q: Absolutely. How did you know how to do these types of writing?


A: Um, yes, I suppose looking, yeah, as I said, at examples as were, and then, guides if possible for writing a type of document. ‘Cause one thing I did find when I started working is that even basic things like, “How do I take minutes in a meeting?” I was like, “I don’t know how to do this!” So if there’s ever been any kind of like internal training offered, which sometimes there has been by previous employers, then I’ve done that. But normally it’s just looking at what’s been done before, and how it’s done, yeah.


Q: Perfect, yeah. You sort of just did, but if you don’t mind, describing a time in your career that you felt unprepared as a writer at work?


A: Yeah, this happens quite [inaudible 11:30] [laughter], like because it’s new, I don’t know, like a new style of um– yeah, I’m thinking of an example– I suppose I should say I’m also dyslexic, and this was just picked up when I was at university, so it’s also made me, perhaps like not particularly confident in my writing ability. But I suppose, as I already talked about, in terms of like writing captions, as it were, that’s something I need to do a bit of research about. So let’s see, cataloguing, there’s particular protocols for you know, how you should write things. In a way that’s easier, ‘cause that’s kind of set out in a kind of guide, yeah, cataloguing guidelines.


Q: There’s a specific form, okay.


A: Sort of like format and [inaudible 12:25].


Q: I see, okay.


A: And then, but yeah like also, just recently doing a policy document at work again, so just looking how they’ve written them elsewhere, and then ask for feedback, as well.


Q: Yeah. Have you found that you’ve gotten useful feedback in your current position?


A: Yeah, I have.

Q: That’s great, good. You mentioned the sort of head of the university library – is that the person who would typically oversee any writing that you do?


A: Um, no, it would normally be– [interviewee talking to interviewee’s child] Thank you! Um, it would normally be my supervisor, who’s the collections manager, yeah.


Q: I see, okay, perfect. And do they see everything you write? Or just certain documents?


A: No, it’s more, yeah, key things like for instance, recently I was making updates to the special collections pages on the university library’s website, so that would definitely have to go by my manager, just to okay that. So it’s those, yeah, kind of policy documents, and anything going on the website–


Q: So more formal?


A: Yeah, more formal.


Q: Yeah, okay, that makes sense. Um, I’m sure this varies a lot from project to project, but how long would you say you typically have to complete a writing project?


A: Um, oh gosh, yeah it varies a lot. It depends what it is, because it could be something that’s, you know, quite concise and it’s done in a Word draft, it’s done in a few hours, or it’s something that I’m chipping away at over a few weeks. So, but generally it’s quite short, like in the workplace, it’s usually quite short timescale that I’m working on something.


Q: Yeah. So now sort of looking back toward your undergraduate days, what types of writing do you remember being asked to do as a college student?


A: So I did a joint honors degree, which it may not be called that here. So I studied psychology and sociology, so I did notice that the, yeah the type of writing we did was slightly different. So the essays were, kind of came up in both. In psychology, there was lots of short, sort of small experiments we do, so they’d be written up as a sort of, yeah, report, like a very miniature research paper I guess. And then, I’m trying to think. Other writing– and then presentations, so writing for that, and obviously writing in exams, and then it would tend to be either essays in exams, or long questions, yeah.


Q: And in what ways do you think that writing prepared you, or it didn’t, for the kind of work that you do now?


A: Um, yeah, I don’t think it really prepared me at all [laughter] for the writing I did after university. I think I got a good basis of like, how the written style that those– ‘cause I was sort of aware of the differences between those two academic subjects, the writing style, and I think I had a good basis for how to write in those fields, and got familiar through reading journal articles, and you know, and the rest, but I don’t think it prepared me for workplace writing. ‘Cause again, you know, it’s usually quite, it’s not exactly technical, but it was academic writing, it wasn’t applied as in the workplace.


Q: Yeah, exactly, okay. What are the types of things that you wish you had learned or done as a student that you think would have prepared you better?


A: I think, so, I suppose like the different styles of work, covering some of the different, maybe different formats of writing that you could be asked to do in the workplace. So, you know, from the basics of, you know, how to, you know, format meeting minutes, and how to record that, to how to, yeah, different styles of ways of writing reports and writing like concisely, or, you know, writing in a way that, what am I trying to say, it’s I suppose like in plain, not like simple language, but like in plain language, because it sort of is– academic writing is not how, you know, you kind of, um, not that you’re writing for a lay audience at work, but you don’t need to overcomplicate it, you want to make it easy for people, not oversimplify, but make it understandable, so yeah.


Q: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.


A: So I think there was a lot of support at university in terms of writing for, you know there was like, like very good career center, in terms of like writing CVs or resumes, and like application letters. So that I had lots of support with writing on, so writing to get a job, but not so much the writing once you were in the job, yeah.


Q: Excellent, yeah. What would you say is at stake in your writing at work these days?


A: What do you mean by at stake?


Q: Why does it matter and what would be the consequence if you weren’t effective?


A: I suppose, one thing I suppose is being understood clearly, and I think I’m more aware of that because I’m British working in American culture, so I’ve become quite like, “Am I using the American way of writing something so there’s not confusion?” What’s at stake, I suppose– it’s not so much where it’s kind of like a dry policy document, but I think I am quite aware when I’m writing something, like for social media or a you know, a promotion for a little exhibition, I kind of think, I see other people’s examples, and I think, “Oh they’re really good at writing that in like catchy or like fun way,” and I’m like, that does not come naturally. And I was like, I don’t know if they just do it more easily, or whether they spend more time on it, but I’m kind of like, “Okay, I can write this dry policy document no problem,” but like actually experience in writing something entertaining or drawing people in, I don’t, yeah, that’s hard.


Q: That’s interesting, yeah. That actually leads into my next question, which is, what is the most challenging thing about writing in your position?

A: Yeah, I suppose that’s what I’ve just described. So when it’s not just kind of laying out the information but trying to present that information in a particularly appealing way in a written format.


Q: Yeah, that makes sense. You mentioned, in previous jobs, like training and workshops and things like that – has there been any other writing help that you’ve gotten, either formally or informally?


A: I suppose formally, I did have a bit of help at university, not really so much my masters but my undergraduate, ‘cause they sort of picked up on the dyslexia when I was at university, and there I had some one-to-one support, so I could go and talk to someone about, like, you know, essay plans, and they check some of my written work, then, you know, was it clear, was it, you know, kind of, yeah, not so much content, but looked at my main argument [inaudible 21:10] and that sort of thing. Other– and then informally, I suppose just, yeah, I ask people occasionally just to sort of check over what I’ve written.


Q: And is that usually for clarity too, not for content, or the other way around?


A: It’s normally actually for– yeah, it’s normally more for, that it’s clear, not that it’s, not so much content, because I just sometimes, even with you know, using like Microsoft or whatever else to write things, I’m sometimes, like I don’t see, I have sometimes difficulty seeing my own mistakes, so I often, yeah if it’s something important, I’ll ask someone to just quickly flip through it.


Q: Yeah. How do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?


A: I suppose I’ve– good question. I think it’s like, I still feel like it’s very much like a work, like I’m still working on my writing at work, it’s something, ‘cause I feel like there’s often this new thing, new audiences or something that I’m writing for, or in a new format, so I’m sort of, I feel like I sort of teach myself along the way of how to write for it. I don’t know particular report or for a particular audience, um. I think I’m a lot less shy now of just sort of saying, “Hey, I’m dyslexic, please, I don’t see my own mistakes, will you just like have a look?” And people being very receptive to that, and being helpful. I suppose not being shy, [inaudible 23:15], you know. Where it’s like, “Oh God, if I make a mistake, I’m going to get caught out!” And then, you know, you like not really care– I suppose as you get older, not caring so much being judged for how you write, so yeah.


Q: That makes a lot of sense, yeah. I think a lot of people have that, the older you get, like, no matter whatever you see is your writing failure, it seems like almost everyone has some way that they’re worried about everyone seeing this thing that they don’t feel like they do well, yeah. To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization?


A: I think, um, yeah, I think writing is, I’d say it’s quite highly valued, because it’s so much about the work that the university– and it has both in the teaching, and then all the sort of support side that goes alongside that. It’s amazing, I mean, I almost find it surprising they don’t offer more guidance, even if, for writing styles, because it is so fundamental to people’s jobs, that there isn’t, I mean my last employer in the UK was very good, and they had lots of other resources that you could use for guidance in all sorts of aspects, you know those kind of like soft skills of having the work of whatever it be.


Q: Was that a university too, your last employer?


A: No, it was a not for profit, it was called the Royal College of Nursing, so it’s like a professional membership organization.


Q: Okay, okay. Interesting. And our last little set of questions: so how would you have defined successful writing as a student versus now, and would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?


A: Um, the first part of that question, I suppose yeah, it was slightly different successful writing as a student, because that was focusing on the– [interviewee referring to interviewee’s child]… It was almost like, yeah like the content was very important, not that it isn’t now, but you know, had you found the most recent, most relevant research, that you put into essay, so you really, you know so they’d almost like, not that, you know, spelling, punctuation, and grammar wasn’t important, but that was just like one aspect in lots of other criteria that then could form your writing. I suppose you get that feedback, you’d get a detailed grade of the different, you know, how you’ve met each requirement, um. And then repeat the rest of the question?


Q: Sure, and how would you define successful writing in your current position? And would you consider yourself a successful workplace writer?


A: Um, successful writing in the workplace I suppose does what it intends to in that it’s understandable for the audience that is intended to read that, whether that’s internal or external. Something I was trying to use to be, without leaving information out, but to be as concise as possible, and not put any unnecessary information in if it is needed. ‘Cause I’ve come across that a lot,  at my current job, some incredibly lengthy documents that no one’s ever going to read because they’re so long, and there’s not even a decent summary at the beginning, so, and the last bit was am I a successful writer?


Q: Yeah.


A: Um, I’d say yes and no. I think, I think I can write well, I just think it takes me, it just takes me quite a bit of time, and this is the same as when I was a student at undergraduate or masters level. It was like I, you know, I could get very good grades on assignments, but I really had to put the time in. I can’t kind of just rush to complete it. So if I’m under a lot of time pressure, there’s [inaudible speaking to child], I mean like with anyone, it’s not going to, yeah, it might not be as good. But I think given the time, and like I was saying, like if I can go away and research a particular style of you know, how to write a particular thing, and look at examples as well, and look at how they’ve done it before, and then drafting, and get someone to check it, and you know, make final edits, I can do a good job. But if it’s something we don’t have time to do that, then it’s harder to write as well.


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