Many campus jobs are boring, require manual labor or ask older students to break up dorm room problems. But there is one job that never stops giving back to the student: being a consultant at a writing center. This job is filled with opportunities for advancement as well as opportunities that will help the student worker grow as a writer and make valuable connections along the way.
What Does a Writing Center Do?
To understand why working at a writing center is amazing, one must first understand what a writing center is.
Writing centers are an ever-improving service, built by the community to meet a college’s or university’s individual needs. When writing centers were first established, they were treated as places for struggling students to receive help. Today, this definition no longer holds. Now, a writing center is meant for every writer and any major. Despite the radical shift from the fix-it-shop mentality, many writing centers still face harmful stigmas.
Because of these stigmas, many writing center consultants adopt protocols that help create a more welcoming space for writers. Depending on the center, those protocols can include visits to freshman classes at the beginning of the semester and even connecting with professors to request that a visit to the writing center become an extra credit assignment.
One of the more influential speakers on the subject of writing center theory and practice is Stephen M. North, who published “The Idea of a Writing Center.” In this article, he says that “in a writing center the object is to make sure that writers, and not necessarily their texts, are what get changed by instruction. In axiom form it goes like this: Our job is to produce better writers, not better writing.”
What To Expect From the Job Itself?
Many writing centers require a class before an application can be sent — this helps them become more valuable to the college and less likely to be cut from the budget. More than this, the class is where students learn how to become leaders and teachers in their college. Future consultants will often read writing center theory, written by authors like Stephen M. North, and discuss how these theories fit into their specific writing center.
These theories often lead to the construction of the praxis proposal, a research assignment at the end of the semester that seeks to make a request that will improve the writing center. These proposals can be as simple or complex as the future consultant sees fit, ranging anywhere from asking for more signs to be put up to improve student mood to asking for the writing center to be moved to a new location entirely.
Despite being treated early on as any ordinary term paper, the praxis proposal is one of the more important parts of becoming a consultant, as it can lead to opportunities down the road. There are many journals that are willing to publish these, such as the Journal of Writing Center Scholarship and the official journal of the International Writing Center Association (IWCA).
On shift, this job seems to look like many other jobs on campus: Students sit at a desk doing homework while waiting for something to happen. There does tend to be a lot of downtime in the first couple weeks of the semester, often before the major papers are assigned. But as those assignments start to near their due date, the writing center appointment calendar fills up fast.
Some writing centers also have fun and constructive ways to continue building community when consultants are on shift but not consulting. This can take the form of team-building exercises, writing in a shift logbook, building and reviewing protocol and even decorating the space to help welcome in writers.
Beyond the shifts, many writing centers make a point to have regular team meetings where the effectiveness of their strategies are discussed. These team meetings can also take the form of rehearsing for writing center conferences, discussing special cases, learning how to maneuver around learning disabilities and language barriers or talking about how to consult on citations. Always, the consultants are looking for ways to improve, and always, they revisit the purpose of being there: to create better writers.
The Opportunities Available to Consultants
Aside from the publications mentioned above, there are many other benefits that come with being a writing center consultant.
There are writing center associations in many states, like the Michigan Writing Centers Association, which will sometimes hold conferences to discuss praxis proposals among other presentation topics. This is generally a place for writing center representatives to come together, compare ideas, see what is working and consider what might need improvement. The International Writing Center Association will also hold events, distribute grants and publication awards, publish journals, place job postings and more.
Writing centers also accept, and even encourage, non-English majors to become consultants. Because there are many types of papers for the great number of classes in session, it often benefits a writing center to have students from as many specialized fields as possible.
This also allows for writing centers to set up “embedded consultancies,” where hours are set aside in the budget to allow for a consultant to work with a class during a semester. Through embedded consultancies like this, some writing centers also send their consultants abroad, where they can continue to consult with students in their program in another country.
Another giant benefit is connection. Being a leader on campus means that there are often many visitors to the college, many teachers in contact and many other campus clubs and programs that want to collaborate. Keeping a LinkedIn or a profile on another social networking platform is a good move for anyone wanting to become a consultant. After all, it never hurts to make solid connections with those who know how to write fantastic recommendation letters.
At the end of a consultant’s college journey — after so many conversations with new ideas and shared insights — many consultants leave behind their writing centers knowing that it has been a home to them.