Tag Archives: Communication

You Write Really Well for Someone Who Studied Math

writing-828911_1280A few years ago, I had written an email to a teacher at my child’s school. The response I got was quite unexpected: you write really well for someone who studied math. When I first read the response, I chuckled. Over time, I became more and more aware of the same reaction from others.

What does it mean to write “well” anyway? As a person who is a self-proclaimed math geek, do people expect me to make grammatical errors or use simple sentence structure? Do we have different expectations of writing competency for those who are strong in the maths or sciences? Should I expect gifted writers to have trouble with basic calculations?

There is a big difference between writing well and being a creative writer, in my mind. I am not sure that I would ever be able to weave a story togetheronce-upon-a-time-719174_1280 like some of my favourite authors. Robertson Davies could paint a picture with the details in his stories. John Irving captured my imagination with A Prayer for Owen Meany. If you haven’t had a chance to read that novel, I recommend that you do. He truly weaves together an amazing story. While I can put sentences together and communicate ideas, I don’t have the gift of storytelling. However, according to some, I can still write well.

I always credit my ability to write with my love of reading. Yes, I love to solve a math problem and I still find calculus exciting and fascinating (I am sure there are those of you who shuddered at my reference to calculus), but I also love good writing. I was the kid who had the flashlight under the blankets because I HAD to finish the novel. I would become so immersed in the stories that I would forget about everything around me. I would laugcrying-146425_1280h. I would cry. I would finish the story and then read it again. I loved new words, and I tried to write like some of the authors I read.

Just as with most math skills, I think writing (especially good writing) takes practice. In high school, I took an English credit that focused on grammar and writing. At the time, I hated it. There was no reading in the course. We had to learn grammar rules. We had to edit. We had to share our writing. Looking back now, I know that I learned a lot in that class, but at the time it seemed like torture. I wonder if I should thank Mr. Winterkorn for his patience with me. Probably.

So go and write. I hope that I can continue to write “well”, even though I don’t consider myself a writer (or a mathematician for that matter).   I will also try not to hold any preconceptions about writing ability based on math skills. How about you?

Sue Guesuenther
Special Projects Coordinator, Academic Zone Resource Developer and “Math Guru”
A-Z Learning Services, Student Development Centre, Brock University

Perseverance is the Name of the Game

JesseBarrazaOne of the most gratifying things about working with students at a post-secondary institution is seeing them achieve their goals. There is nothing more satisfying than suddenly being stopped in the hall by a student who just wants to say, “Thank You!”

Working with university students has definitely changed over the last few years. One main factor: Technology. I like to consider myself part of the generation that saw the birth of technology as an integral part of our every day life. I remember the first video game consoles and playwolfensteined very archaic PC games with very simple goals and streamlined objectives. I remember my copy of Wolfenstein that consisted of a case of twelve, yes TWELVE, 3.5-inch floppy disks. Floppy disk. How is that for “dead vocabulary”? I also remember my first cell phone and found a copy of my first cell phone bill from when I first moved to Canada in the early 2000s. There were no data plans or texting. You simply called someone and did it again and again if the line was busy.

Although the complexity of video games and the pace of communication have changed drastically, I still remember what inspired me to play thefootball-606235_1280 Pixabay http://pixabay.com/en/football-clip-football-boots-soccer-606235/se games or what drove me to call the girl I liked, again and again. Perseverance. I just kept going and going until I got what I wanted or until I got “it” done. Perseverance is a term I use often when working with our student athletes. It’s a term they understand well in their sport and that they strive to apply in their academics.

Now, I am part of a team that is proud to create technological resources for students. Resources that help them achieve their academic goals at university. I truly enjoy my work, and I observe students working hard to reach their goals. Although technology has changed dramatically, I feel that some things have not changed: Success means perseverance!

Whether the goal is to get into one particular class or to achieve the ultimate prize of their degree, I find that it’s the students who don’t give up who achieve academic excellence, sooner or later. You support students, either directly or indirectly through the resources you built. You may not see those students for days, months, or years. Then one day, they cross your path. You see their success and then you know that they never stopped. They persevered.

JesseJesse Barraza, Hons. BSc, MEd
Retention Programs Coordinator
Systems & Services Coordinator, Academic-Zone
A-Z Learning Services, Student Development Centre Brock University

Teaching the Science of Writing

eis-01Figure 1. How scientists see writing a paragraph.

I teach a mandatory Scientific Writing course for Chemistry and Physics PhD graduate students to help them write their thesis or dissertation, and hopefully publications.   The funny thing is that I don’t have a PhD, and when I first started teaching the course, I didn’t even have a Masters!

Surprisingly, in the 7 years I’ve taught the course, my lack of a PhD has never been an issue. The problem has been getting students to believe that they can work on their writing while in grad school. I’m not saying that they don’t recognize or value good writing, but with their courses, TA work, lab demonstrating, supervising undergrads in the lab, group meetings, seminar presentations, let alone their research, adding one more task seems overwhelming, even if they know that it’s something that they need to work on.

horses-01Although we can lead horses to water, how do we make them drink? Or in my case, although academic regulations lead them to my writing class, how can I make them think (that it’s worthwhile)?

What do I do? I try as much as possible, to talk their talk. Every example is scientific. Use non-science examples and the class tunes out. Show the same example with chemicals or lab terms and I get buy in. These students need to see the direct relationship between the examples and their writing. It’s a simple thing, but surprisingly effective.

I also try to show that writing is like any lab skill. There are specific steps and rules to follow, but at the same time they can improve with practice and reflection!

Finally, I tell them that I’m their litmus test. I know about as much as a new Masters student who might pick up their thesis for background reading. I might not understand their research, but if I can follow their thinking and believe their argument based on the evidence- their writing is clear! I might not know if the science is correct, but at least their ideas are clear.

How do you inspire your science students to “drink”?

eis photoElizabeth Ilnicki-Stone, MSc (Chem), BSc, BEd, OCT
Academic-Zone Resource Developer
Instructor, A-Z Learning Services
Brock University, Student Development Centre

*Figure 1. Formula for a good paragraph. Elizabeth Ilnicki-Stone, A-Z Learning Services, 2015.

Writing Woes and Maintaining Perspective

Write about what you know. . .

Good advice. Right now, I feel the familiar tug of despair, but I have hope! Working with first-year university students in our transition program has its joys and challenges.  At the moment, I’m reviewing their writing (challenge) and I’m planning the editing sessions for January (oh, the joy).

First steps? We’ll be tearing through the writing methodically: identifying claims, evidence, analysis and transitions. Rip it up and then glue it back together. We use the acronym PERT to identify points, evidence, relevance (how the evidence supports the point) and transitions (words and phrases that make connections). The Where’s Waldo of academic research writing. The answers to “what is the point?” and “how do you know?” and “how do these ideas relate?” that are often missing in student writing.

The approach may be mechanical, but I find that it increases students’ awareness of their role in the academic writing process. It’s not about sounding smart and throwing some fancy terms and long sentences together. It’s about communicating their thinking clearly, synthesizing existing research, presenting well-researched arguments, creating meaning from existing research and questioning current understanding.

In our Essay-Zone module, we’ve placed an emphasis on analysis so that students can analyze their own writing–to see what they’re doing well and what they can do better. It’s about empowerment.

(Writing this post inspired me.  I needed a little inspiration!)

Margaret

Image meLead Designer, Academic-Zone and Coordinator Skills Instruction, A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

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Your Top 10 Hidden Skills Employers Are Looking For

Interviews

Source: Queen’s University Career Services

Employers look for a variety of skills in potential candidates. Depending on the job, these skills may be very technical in nature, but quite often include common “soft skills.” Many job seekers overlook highlighting their soft skills when applying for a job. The Purple Briefcase Blog discusses the value of your soft skills and how to highlight them during your job application.

According to Aol Jobs, the top 10 soft skills job hunters are looking for are:

  1. Strong Work Ethic
  2. Positive Attitude
  3. Good Communication Skills
  4. Time Management Abilities
  5. Problem-Solving Skills
  6. Acting as a Team Player
  7. Self-Confidence
  8. Ability to Accept and Learn from Criticism
  9. Flexibility/Adaptability
  10. Working Well Under Pressure

From personal experience, I’ve always found it useful to carefully review the job posting and job description before applying to a position. To make your application stand out, tailor your resume and cover letter based on the key words and skills employers include in their job posting. If all goes well, you should be prepared to tell hiring managers of how you have effectively used those skills in the interview.

Why College Grads Can’t Get a Job

A new study from Bentley University suggests a possible reason recent college grads can’t secure a job after graduation. In their study, hiring managers, business people, corporate recruiters, and other individuals agreed on one thing; college grads are not prepared for their first job. This may result from a lack of communication skills, interpersonal skills, office etiquette, work ethic, or several other potential traits.

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A common defensive argument that is mentioned (and referenced in the comments by “Tonisha Adamson”) is that the problem resides within the educational system, and not the students. Students are expected to immediately becoming professional employees straight out of school, with no previous work experience. To add to the dilemma, some employers also shy away from recruiting first-time employees for entry level positions.

Speaking from experience, I feel attending an institution that has a strong co-op department, whose goal is to get students involved in local businesses and companies, helps student stand out from the crowd. Co-op programs give students the opportunity to learn those skills employers often find graduates lack. Being an exceptional student may not always translate into skills required to be a great employee. Real-world experience is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to apply what you learn in the classroom and get a sense of how to apply it to the business world.

What do you think?

  • Do you think educational systems today do not prepare students for the real world? Or is the purpose of school to simply show prospective employers your initiative and motivating to learn new things?
  • Do you think employers expect too much from college students/grads that do not have any previous work experience?
  • Do you think graduates are just lazy and act too entitled to believe they deserve a job because they earned a degree?

Let me know in the comments below!
More information about this article can be found here

Have a great day!