It’s no exaggeration: Thousands of Berkeley graduate students shine brighter thanks to the programs directed by the Graduate Division’s Sabrina Soracco, Director of the Graduate Writing Center.
The Graduate Writing Center — under the umbrella of the Graduate Professional Development Program — offers highly-regarded workshops, writing groups, and courses designed to assist graduate students with developing the skills and abilities needed to efficiently tackle a wide range of academic writing tasks, from developing a funding proposal to completing a thesis or dissertation.
Soracco conducts a variety of workshops that focus on dissertation and grant writing, technical writing, time management, editing and revising writing, and developing mentoring skills. Students who attend these workshops come away with concrete steps they can take to increase their writing productivity, work well with advisers, respond effectively to feedback, and better manage not only time but even feelings of guilt that often plague graduate students. Students come away from sessions feeling more confident. As one attendee put it, “The material presented made the dissertation process seem doable.”
Multidisciplinary writing groups allow students to review papers and dissertation chapters written by students outside their own discipline. “Students find it remarkably beneficial to explain their research and receive feedback on their writing from colleagues in a range of disciplines, as making their work accessible to a broader academic audience helps them clarify their ideas and sharpen their arguments,” Soracco explains. The writing groups can help to instill good time management habits. Soracco often tells her students, “Start writing yesterday.” Students tend to strive for perfection in academic writing, which can lead to further procrastination. Students should be “very precise and accurate but control ‘the perfection monster’ so that you’re actually productive,” she says.
Emily Hellmich, a recent Berkeley Ph.D. who is now an assistant professor of French at the University of Arizona, describes the short- and long-term impacts of the writing groups: “They were instrumental not only in finishing my degree — accountability is key — but also in developing my skills as a writer. Even now, when I get stuck in a particular writing project, I call on strategies I learned in writing group to jump-start my thinking or process.” As Hellmich puts it, “The writing groups and the Graduate Writing Center are gems at Berkeley.”
Soracco also teaches a semester-long course each spring titled “Graduate Student Professional Development Program (GSPDP) 320: Academic Writing for Graduate Students.” Students benefit from taking the course at any point in their graduate studies. Sociology graduate student Naniette Coleman arrived at Berkeley “with a good amount of writing experience, but I also knew that academic writing for publication was a much different enterprise. I met Sabrina and learned about the interdisciplinary GSPDP 320 course during the fall of my first year and registered to participate the following spring. My goal in taking the class was to carve out time to focus solely on improving my writing and develop a comfort with sharing my work with peers. Through the course I gained confidence in requesting, receiving, and giving feedback that ranged from basic copy edits to questions of ease of understanding and accessibility of my writing. Since taking that course I have been a part of a writing group hosted by the Graduate Writing Center each semester. I cannot imagine my time here without that support.”
The academic writing course has also been instrumental in helping graduate students reach specific goals and accomplish academic milestones. This past year, Soracco added a week-long writing boot camp to her course over spring break. Juan Manuel Aldape Munoz, Ph.D. candidate in Performance Studies, used this opportunity to prepare for the written component of his qualifying exam. He states, “Were it not for the boot camp, I would not have met my goal of writing sample responses in preparation for my exam.” Aldape Munoz articulates the positive impact on time-to-degree such a course can have: “This writing course provided the space and time to focus on the fine details of academic writing that I wanted to develop during this semester. I am excited to continue with my daily writing goals and timeline to help me finish my degree in five years.”
Students can enroll in GSPDP 320, Academic Writing for Graduate Students, via CalCentral. The course meets Thursdays, 4 – 6 pm, in the spring 2018 semester. A condensed version of the course is offered through the Summer Institute for Preparing Future Faculty, which will run May 23 – June 29, 2018.