Let me edit that for you, kids
August 23, 2011 10:25 AM   Subscribe

I want to be the guy who helps kids get their papers into shape at a college writing center. How do I find that path? Are you or have you ever been that guy? What's it like?

Helping people organize and express their ideas and findings in a clear and accessible manner has always been my calling. I have a small-time freelance business editing papers and application essays and academic journal submissions, but I've been unable to do the requisite self-promoting in order to build a sufficient customer base to support myself.

Recently, I've had to take a miserable corporate job where I edit business correspondence and make powerpoints about how to steal poor peoples' life savings. I'm very good at it, but am dreading the day when they promote me to a position that entails a 90-hour work week and a 6-figure salary (no one else I work with can imagine why anybody wouldn't want to follow that career path).

Anyway, I know colleges employ people to help students (and faculty) write papers, get them into the correct formats, and generally guide them to get into good writing habits. The small liberal arts college I attended had two full-time faculty members and about two dozen students on work-study for this, but it seems that such facilities are organized differently at different universities. Sometimes it's through the library, sometimes each department, and they all seem to have different names.

Are there specific qualifications or requirements that I should have and/or play up? What are some experiences you've had?
posted by Jon_Evil to Work & Money (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I was that guy at a small liberal arts university as a work/study student. I worked 10-15 hours per week. My qualifications were that I was an English major who could write, and I could get along with other students.

Our writing center had one full-time faculty, who was also an English professor. I think her qualifications were the Ph.D, and existing position on the faculty, and the fact that she wanted to deal with the program.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:38 AM on August 23, 2011

I did this through grad school. You get paid something like $10 an hour to go over mostly awful copypasta jobs from undergrads. Working with grad students was slightly better, but a rarity. Most of the grad papers I read were result of scientific studies and not things that had a lot of creative possibility.

My school only employed students in the writing center. To work in a more full-time capacity, you had to have a PhD as the writing center administrators were faculty, mostly from the ranks of Composition professors.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:41 AM on August 23, 2011

From my current institution's center for this: "The Student Learning Center Writing Program staff is comprised of approximately seventy undergraduate tutors and two professional educators.". So apparently, at least in this case, you have to be a professional educator.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:47 AM on August 23, 2011

You might want to browse the open positions at the International Writing Centers Association for an idea of what different programs are looking for in terms of roles and requirements. In my experience, the people who lead these centers and manage and train the student consultants (grad students only where I work) are either MAs or PhDs in English or Composition. Most likely they will have been someone who has done work in the academic field of Writing Program Administration.

There may be other lower-level jobs for non-students, but I think they are rare.
posted by activitystory at 10:48 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

My school (small liberal arts school) also only employed students to work in the Writing Center. There wasn't an actual application process--you were asked to join the staff by the director, either by her observation or by faculty recommendation. In my school's case, there's no way our Writing Center would even consider using your services.

You might have better luck applying for a job at one of those SAT prep services, or freelancing.
posted by litnerd at 10:58 AM on August 23, 2011

No public university I know of devotes enough money to this kind of thing to support a professional. But you might want to contact your local big athletic department: they usually hire tutors for the football & basketball players, and athletics always has more money than the academic part of the school. Weaseling athletes around academic requirements might be just as offensive as making powerpoints for financiers, though.
posted by philokalia at 11:02 AM on August 23, 2011

Another option with potentially the same skillset and outcome would be actually teaching a writing class as an adjunct; you can probably do this with just a MA, and you would have a more flexible (and less administrative) schedule. Plus, you'd be in more control of the type of writing your students were doing.
posted by activitystory at 11:08 AM on August 23, 2011

My school (CUNY) employs faculty (mainly adjuncts) and students (at a lower pay rate) to do this. If you were matriculated at CUNY, you could apply for this.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:10 AM on August 23, 2011

When I did this (10 or 15 years ago) I was a junior and then senior at my undergrad. There were also adjuncts and PhD candidates, but everyone was matriculated. However, the director of the writing center was a professional educator: she had a MFA in creative writing and teaching writing to students was her lifeswork. This always seemed like a pretty cool job.

My experience was really positive, primarily very motivated kids and/or non-native speakers of English, so we did some structural work and also some identification of problem areas (like articles or prepositions.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:19 AM on August 23, 2011

I've worked at two college writing centers. The first was my dream job, and if I could, I'd work there forever and ever. It was staffed by gifted, creative undergrads and directed by a professor who specialized in the Beats. We worked with mostly undergrads in a wonderfully hands-off way. We'd have them read their papers aloud to us and discuss issues with them in a way meant to empower them about decision making about their writing and I usually felt like I was making a real difference.

In graduate school, I worked in a writing center like the one Kitty Stardust mentions, which was entirely staffed by graduate students. It operated like a free editing service, with tutors silently reading, and then marking up papers. I hated it.

Anyway, according to the director of the first writing center where I worked, if you're serious about this kind of thing you should look into getting a Masters or PhD in comp and rhetoric. He frequently tried to push us toward that, because it's a pretty vital field with more growth than regular English, even though the number of programs is fairly limited. I think you should go for it. Sometimes I wish I did!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:22 AM on August 23, 2011

I did this part-time while working on my History BA at my university's Learning Assistance Centre. All the tutors were students, but the supervisors were full-time, and I think they had degrees in either English or Education.
posted by canadia at 11:35 AM on August 23, 2011

We had people do what you're talking about, but they were always students or recent graduates who had worked there as students. The faculty members who were not students were always managers.
posted by 200burritos at 11:40 AM on August 23, 2011

I worked about 15 hours a week for my school's writing center, and it was kind of a mixed bag of experience. I was a writing minor without much department involvement, so it's possible to get in without much prior experience as long as you submit solid samples and interview well.

On the one hand, you'll get to work with students who care about their work and are truly interested in bettering themselves. These are great, and oftentimes you'll have people come back to work with you over the course of a year and you can watch them improve.

You'll also get a good variety of work (if your writing center functions similar to mine). We worked in classrooms as well as the center itself, and I worked as a moderator for small group discussions in addition to one-on-one sessions. This can also be a lot of fun if you work in a group with interested students. If you have to pull teeth to get them to talk, it loses a lot of the appeal.

Unfortunately, a lot of the students you work with are required to go to the writing center at least once, or they're just looking for someone to proofread. It's really easy to tell if someone doesn't want to be there, and it makes it a drag for you too. But as long as you don't mind fighting your way through a few depressing sessions to work with the kids who care, you'll be alright.

I'm pretty sure you have to be a student to work at most writing centers, but this could be different at some campuses.
posted by mean cheez at 11:57 AM on August 23, 2011

A couple of my friends worked in our university writing centre, which was staffed entirely by students, with the exception of the director, who has an MA in English.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:15 PM on August 23, 2011

Hmm. Well, I haven't got a degree in English or in education, and I was only ever an un-matriculated student at CUNY. Whether or not this is a goal that I want enough to go to grad school for is a thing I need to figure out for myself.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:20 PM on August 23, 2011

To be clear, I think people are saying (and this was my experience as well) that this is primarily a job for current college or graduate students, not a job that you obtain after having a degree in that field.

Frankly I don't think there is any demand for people to do this long-term, as a career; the market is pretty well served by work/study students and grad students. Sorry.

If you are really good at writing, though, and have some credentials to back it up, you could be a private writing tutor - god knows, enough young students need that sort of help from someone with the patience and expertise to provide it. Still, I would not necessarily expect this to be steady or lucrative.
posted by rkent at 12:28 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do some IT work for someone who works in one of these situations; I think they have a Ph.D in Philosophy. So, an English or Education background may not always be required.
posted by thelonius at 12:47 PM on August 23, 2011

Seconding the idea to check out the academic support program for the athletic department of a (major) university. I tutored athletes when I was a grad student, and my wife worked 1/2 time as an academic counselor (helping students with schedules, managing the tutors, etc.).

It paid much better than any other similar work for grad students, though I wasn't crazy about the ethics (though not as bad as 'stealing savings from poor people').

The department also had full-time counselors. Maybe that's a related full-time professional role that you could look into.
posted by tippiedog at 12:54 PM on August 23, 2011

I do some of the work you describe as a librarian at a teaching hospital, particularly with nurses going back for a BSN degree. It's also fairly common for academic librarians to spend *some* time working with students on developing arguments and citing sources. When the ref desk wasn't busy, I'd even look over an intro paragraph and make suggestions. Perhaps academic or hospital librarianship is worth considering? (All usual bad economy and poor library job market warnings apply.)
posted by brackish.line at 1:25 PM on August 23, 2011

My fiance does basically this exact thing for undergraduate business students. He was an English major and is a freelance writer, and went back to get his MBA last fall. He walked into the writing center inquiring about employment and they pretty much hired him on the spot. His position is fairly structured - the students are in a management communications class and have to come to him x number of times per semester. He does some grading as well.
posted by radioamy at 3:57 PM on August 23, 2011

« Older I seriously don't know how to do this.   |   How long will (canned) pickled jalapenos last? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.