Understanding US Higher Ed and Grad Writing

Script of this video (also found here with integrated quiz to help you review).

SHYAM: My name is Shyam Sharma,

CYNTHIA: and My name is Cynthia Davidson

SHYAM: We are professors in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University.

SHYAM: In this video, we will highlight some of the key features of American higher education, including highlights about writing and communication skills as critical requirements for success in graduate education here, especially with international graduate students from educational backgrounds from other countries in mind. Some of you may come come from countries where the practices involved with writing and reading, research and presentation, classroom conversations, use of similar resources like the writing center and subject specialists at the library, academic advising and career development support are very different than they are in U.S. higher education.The ways academics view knowledge and education, teaching and learning, and teacher-student relationship in different countries and contexts differ in subtle–and not so subtle-ways. For example, many of you may have studied the course materials such as textbooks and articles after professors covered them in lectures in your home country, but most professors in the US expect students to read the texts before coming to class. You can read more about these practices in a blog post that we’ve linked from Module 1 both on Blackboard and you.stonybrook.edu/maslow.

CYNTHIA: If we just focus on writing at the graduate level, you might encounter different expectations than you are used to in your home country. For example, you may not take a lot of tests in graduate school here, but you are going to write a lot. You will need skills for writing emails to a variety of audiences, and for writing seminar papers, literature reviews, reports, proposals, journal article or book chapter manuscripts, and maybe even content for websites and social media initiatives. The scope of this writing extends far beyond the “academic” prose required for this particular class. If you’ve thought of good writing as limited to constructing  grammatically perfect sentences, we will present to you a very different outlook.

SHYAM: To adapt to this writing-centered style of learning that you’ll encounter here, you might also need to adopt a different approach to the writing process. Independent research and developing an independent position on complex topics, rather than writing on topics specified by the instructor, is typical. Your instructors may ask you to write “responses” to the texts you read before class, challenging you to come to class having developed and written down your intellectual position in relation to the author or authors. The task may also be used as a bridge between reading (others’ ideas) and writing (your own ideas), which could help with the development of your larger research agenda. We encourage you to think about WHY, as well as HOW,  you should engage in a writing task in your graduate studies.

CYNTHIA: No matter how confident and skilled a writer you are, writing can become difficult when the subject of study or the academic, professional, social, political, or cultural context behind that subject is unfamiliar to you. When this happens, it’s easy to blame your language proficiency or your writing skills, but this happens to native writers too. When possible, use your past experience as the subject of inquiry or perspective to share with others. Make sure to share your challenges with the professor and ask them to clarify what you do not understand; it is okay to ask other students for help.

SHYAM: Building on prior knowledge and seeking to understand the broader context behind issues you study here is a useful approach to learning. At the same time, keep an open mind about the new experiences, situations, and ideas that you encounter. It is important for everyone to regard generalizations and stereotypes with skepticism. For instance, when I was new to American culture, I used to ask questions like, “What do Americans eat for dinner?” It turns out that there is no easy answer for that! Also keep in mind that  when you are confused, when you seem to read too slowly, when you feel overwhelmed by tasks, you should remember that you are undertaking a highly challenging process of academic and social transition or adjustment. Be patient with yourself.

CYNTHIA: This course focuses on graduate-level writing skills for international students, but the writing and reading activities that you will do are designed in mind that you are also tackling a broader process of learning about these new cultural environments  and a new system of higher education. So, we have tried to provide you a glossary of terms and concepts, including academic terms that may be used differently in the US than what you are accustomed to. Our video lectures and the quizzes integrated within them will clarify new concepts and practices, and we have created practice exercises and discussion forums that will take you through the process of writing and research, reading and presenting of your ideas in graduate school in the US.

SHYAM: If you have questions about writing or related work, within this course, or even outside of it, please do not hesitate to seek our help. Please ask questions in the discussion forums, and also help other students when you can. Our goal is to help you improve your writing in the broader context of your transition into graduate school in the US and your academic success and professional development.

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