With an academic career, a blog and an active social media presence, professor Lee Skallerup is rarely at a loss for words. She started the blog College Ready Writing in 2010, and subsequently it became a part of the website Inside Higher Ed. Professor Skallerup gave us expert advice on choosing the right graduate program, and why writing poorly is like wearing sweatpants to a job interview.
You blog a lot about how writing has given you a new perspective on academia. How is writing for graduate programs different than in other places?
One of the things that new grad students struggle with in transitioning from undergrad writing is that they really need to foreground their own ideas. Grad school is much more about being able to present your ideas and your own conclusions as they’re informed by what you’re reading and synthesizing. Students have to make that transition between summarizing what somebody else has done to coming up with and articulating their own ideas. But sometimes it doesn’t happen until they’re writing their dissertation or master’s thesis.
How do you know if a student is ready for graduate work?
There has to certainly be a passion for what it is they want to study. If they don’t have a passion, they’re never going to get through however many years of graduate school they have ahead of them. It’s not just about the topic, it’s also about the desire to find those conclusions, to find those ideas and have those epiphanies.
How did you know you wanted to go to graduate school?
I have a bachelor’s degree in English, and there was so much more that I wanted to know about literature, because I had a feeling that there was more to know and I wanted to know it.
What’s your advice for students looking at professional programs, MBA programs or law school?
You have to take seriously the word “professional” in that case. Every instance of your writing is an opportunity to show your professionalism. Pay attention to following directions [and] proofreading, but also pay attention to how you want to present yourself as a person.
Do your research
“If you’re considering grad school, research the programs, the faculty and the financial support that [it] typically offers. You want to work with somebody who is working in an area that you’re interested in, that will work with you as well as for you.”
Find the funds
“I don’t think I can emphasize the funding enough. Student debt is an important consideration to students. Are they going to fund you? How much are they going to fund you? What’s the cost of living in the place where you’re looking to go? Make sure you know how you will pay for school.”
Be a professional
“Always remember the person you want to present yourself as being through your writing. Your writing is how people will know you. The analogy I use with my students is that you wouldn’t wear sweatpants to a job interview. Make sure your writing is as professional as the clothes you wear for the job interview. In a lot of cases, people will see your writing before they ever see you.”