Prof Unveils New Book At Yale Conference

Tech Professor Launches New Book with Keynote Address at Yale University

New Text Focuses On Graduate Student Communication Skills

Dr. Steve Simpson, associate professor of communication and chair of the CLASS Department, published a new co-edited book on graduate student writing support through the University of Michigan Press. The book’s release was timed with the Consortium on Graduate Communication Summer Institute at Yale University June 8 to 11, at which Simpson gave the opening keynote address.

The book, Supporting Graduate Student Writers: Research, Curriculum, and Program Design, comes at a time when many in graduate education have expressed concern with graduate student completion rates and time to degree, Simpson said. Organizations such as the Council of Graduate Schools have recommended writing support at the thesis or dissertation stage as one way of helping graduate students complete their degrees in a timely manner, as many graduate students get bogged down in the thesis-writing process.


Dr. Steve Simpson presenting a keynote talk at a recent conference at Yale University. 


“The book is unique in that it offers suggestions for meeting the needs of all populations of graduate students (not just non-native speakers of English), and that it discusses support from the perspective of well-designed programs, and not just individual classes or small interventions,” Simpson said.

He said the ground-breaking aspect to this new book is that the authors combine communications theory for graduate students and for international students.

“There’s a lot of work that’s been done on graduate communication, but it’s been done piecemeal,” Simpson said. “A little has been done on international students, but no one has combined all those things. This is our attempt to think about providing support in a more strategic and cohesive way.”

Supporting Graduate Student Writers begins with an overview of research on graduate-level writing and a description of changing graduate student demographics. It also includes a survey conducted by the book’s co-editors of program administrators and professors who work with graduate student writing support programs. At the time the book chapter was written, 270 respondents from 197 institutions worldwide had responded, providing insight into the types of support that they provide for graduate students and areas in which they feel more support was needed.

After giving an overview of the state of graduate writing support at universities worldwide, the book provides examples of programs and best practices from numerous institutions, including George Mason University, Claremont Graduate University, The University of Toronto, The University of Delaware, Chalmers University of Technology (in Sweden), and many others.

Simpson described many of the programs that he helped put in place at New Mexico Tech with the help of a Department of Education grant (Title V: Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans), including graduate-level science communication classes, the semi-annual Thesis and Dissertation Boot Camp, and the STEM Communication Fellows program through the NMT Writing Center.

The STEM Communication Fellows are students who are trained to help other graduate students with written or oral communication, including multimedia presentations.

“I think the strength of a program like ours is that there are a number of ways students can learn outside of the classroom setting,” he said. “We’ve found that our students sometimes lack confidence in their communications. Sometimes they have the raw materials to be effective communicators, but haven’t had the opportunity to use those raw materials.”

Many graduate students – both international and domestic – are working on a thesis project for the first time. Simpson has found that they need a range of support options to finish their project and to help them navigate the transition from university to the job market.

  Dr. Simpson and his book collaborators at Yale University (left to right): Talinn Phillips (Ohio University), Michelle Cox (Cornell University), Simpson (NMT), Nigel Caplan (University of Delaware).

“Working on a thesis is the biggest beast they’ve worked on,” he said. “Sometimes they find it daunting. They often need guidance on what a scientific paper looks like. STEM students especially, when they read science articles, are so focused on content that they overlook stylistic features.”

In addition, grad students tend to get focused on doing their thesis and research, while losing focus on searching for grants, talking to supervisors and communicating outside their disciplinary focus, he said.

“We try to work with students on adapting the message of their research to different audiences,” Simpson said.

The newly-published book took center stage at the inaugural Consortium on Graduate Communication Summer Institute in June, hosted by the Center for Language Study at Yale University and sponsored in part by the University of Michigan Press.

The Summer Institute’s goal was to expose administrators, teachers, and researchers who work with graduate students to best practices in graduate student support and to provide opportunities to brainstorm projects to implement at their own institutions. This first Institute was attended by close to 100 teachers and administrators from a wide variety of institution types in the US and abroad. Some attendees came from as far as Egypt and Finland.

Keynote addresses provided attendees with critical questions to consider when designing their own courses and support programs. Simpson’s opening keynote— “Graduate Writers: What Do We Need to Know about Our Students?”—offered an overview of critical trends in graduate education, including the rising number of international students and historically underrepresented minorities in graduate programs and the dramatic enrollment increase in master’s programs and professional master’s programs.


Other keynote addresses, including back-to-back sessions by Michelle Cox (Cornell University) and Karyn Mallett (George Mason University) delved more deeply into logistical issues with designing classes and assignments relevant to graduate students. The final keynote, delivered by Christine Feak from the University of Michigan (one of the pioneers of graduate writing support), gave a retrospective of how far support for graduate writers has come and where the field is going.

In between keynotes, attendees split into smaller discussion groups and working groups where they were able to share ideas and develop action plans for program development on their campuses.

The Consortium on Graduate Communication (CGC) is a newly-developed organization for administrators, practitioners, and researchers who provide graduate-level communication support. The organization was formed in Spring 2014 by Michelle Cox (Cornell University) and Nigel Caplan (University of Delaware) and by founding steering board members Simpson (NMT), Talinn Phillips (Ohio University), Jane Freeman (University of Toronto), and James Tierney (Yale University). The CGC held its first formal meeting at the University of Toronto in March 2015. Currently, the Consortium organizers plan to continue offering Summer Institutes. More information on the Consortium—and on graduate writing support—can be found on the Consortium website: https://gradconsortium.wordpress.com/ .

Supporting Graduate Student Writers, co-edited by Steve Simpson (NMT), Nigel A. Caplan (University of Delaware), Michelle Cox (Cornell University), and Talinn Phillips (Ohio University), can be purchased through the University of Michigan Press website or through other booksellers such as Amazon.com.

– NMT –