Consulting Across the Disciplines
Moderated by Stephanie Higgs (Vanderbilt University)
This session, led by Stephanie Higgs, began with the question, “How does your writing center approach tutoring across the disciplines?” Tutoring disciplines other than English can be challenging, for many Writing Center tutors have an English background. Each discipline has a distinct set of conventions that can be difficult to memorize.
How do various centers and labs address other disciplines?
–In Vanderbilt’s Writing Center, each tutor is a generalist who can help with a paper from any discipline, though tutors do specify any specializations in their online bios. Students can request certain tutors based on this information, though this does not often happen.
–Lipscomb, MTSU, and Volunteer State have similar policies.
–In the Hendersonville high school writing center, students are beginning to bring in papers from other disciplines because of Common Core’s push for writing across the curriculum.
What challenges do we still face?
–Working with unfamiliar citation styles such as APA and Chicago can be challenging.
+ In order to combat this, attendees suggested using citation handouts, the Hacker Handbook, and sample student papers in multiple citation styles.
–Tutors are not the only ones who struggle to learn conventions of different disciplines; often the students themselves struggle with the conventions of their own disciplines, and professors may assume that students understand conventions more than they do.
+Another way to deal with this lack of familiarity is to intentionally use vocabulary that may be different than the vocabulary specific to the English discipline.
+Stephanie noted that engineering students at Vanderbilt are often alienated by the word “thesis.” Instead, she uses the terms stasis, destabilization, and resolution. Stasis is the current assumptions in a field or a state of a field; destabilization is the author’s input into that field, and the resolution is the author’s account for both the stasis and the destabilization. In short, the resolution is a thesis statement. This vocabulary has worked well for Vanderbilt students from disciplines other than English.
–Though tutors may not be able to understand all the points of a paper from another discipline, the most important thing is for the student’s argument to make sense to those in her discipline.
+Asking the student to rephrase her main points can help the tutor gauge the student’s familiarity and mastery of the topic.
Working with students from different disciplines can benefit the tutor as much as it benefits the student. Tutors can learn adaptability from these scenarios, and they also learn more about other disciplines and writing in general. Tutors can bring these skills back to their own discipline and can also better understand different audiences as a result of consulting across the disciplines.