The Writing Center Consultant Project Study Design

Posted: December 10, 2013 in Writing Center
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Hypothesis

Career paralysis comes from the inability to make a productive decision for the fear it may be the wrong choice amidst an overwhelming array of possibilities (Alsop 13; Winograd and Hais 193; Stein; Vermunt). Making any kind move results in the trepidation contained in T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”—“in a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” This uncertainty is a rite of passage that every twenty-something must overcome, and there is no failure: “Failure to [Millennials], in the end, is never finding their true passion” (Alsop 13).

Wearing the Tutor Hat

The way I have made my own career choice aligns with the research discussed thus far. I decided to go to graduate school to not miss out on the opportunity to achieve my dream job of being a writing center director. Where I am now is can be attributed to my time tutoring in a writing center as an undergraduate. I have learned to exhibit appropriate verbal/nonverbal communication, to finesse my organization of time and tasks, to set achievable deadlines, and to improve inter/intrapersonal skills. Additionally, as a tutor, I considered myself a wearer of many hats. I wore the hat of a consultant who surveyed students’ interests and aspirations. I wore the hat of a researcher, assessor, and mentor. I wore the hat of a third-party reader. I wore the hat of someone who engaged students’ metacognition about the writing process.

Based on the literature and my personal experience, I predicted that undergraduate tutors recognize they are gaining worthwhile job experience; however, they do not feel they are ready to enter the workplace. Their lack of confidence would stem from not learning how to apply their skills to a particular career pathway. To test my theory, I chose to replicate the PWTARP study with a new population. Instead of using alumni, I wanted to capture undergraduate tutors’ voices, perceptions, and impressions using a Likert-scale/open-ended survey to gather quantitative and qualitative data.

Population Selection

The undergraduate population for this study was limited to those working in a writing center for a minimum of one semester. Limiting the survey population to undergraduate tutors focuses on the development of transferable jobs skills whereas the PWTARP study addressed how writing center work helped alumni in their careers. Distributing the survey to undergraduate tutors serves as the start of the professional development process. The questions are tailored to spark a thought process: tutors think about where they see themselves, and more importantly, they consider how their writing center experience can help them get them to where they want to be.

The survey was sent to six colleges in Maryland and Pennsylvania (York College of Pennsylvania, Shippensburg University, University of Maryland, Loyola University, Salisbury University, and Towson University). The survey and accompanying cover letter are included in the Appendices section. The survey population consisted of undergraduate tutors who had tutored for a minimum of one semester. Once IRB status was confirmed, I reached out to the writing center directors of the colleges I planned to survey and asked for the tutors’ email addresses. I sent a mass email containing a cover letter explaining the research design with the survey attached. Tutors who completed survey and returned it to me signaled their participation and consent. Participation was voluntary with no incentive provided.

Population Size

Fifteen surveys were returned from the selected population of 100 undergraduate tutors. Considering that the survey was sent in the middle of the fall semester when undergraduates are busiest with their academic and personal time commitments, the amount of responses was satisfactory. The tutors were given a month to return the survey because the Writing Consultant Project was part of a credit-bearing course. Sending the survey at a different time in the semester with a longer response time may have gleaned more responses. For the purpose of this research study, the small sample size can be considered a pilot to test the methodologies used to determine undergraduate tutors’ perceptions of their workplace readiness and transferrable job skills. No conclusive theories can be gleaned from this data until it is replicated with a larger sample population. The trends identified, however, are vital to establishing undergraduate writing consultants’ needs in terms of their professional development.

Sample Population’s Demographics

Fourteen participants were female, and one was male. The sample population’s average age was 21, which represents the Millennial generation. One writing consultant had the minimum qualification of one semester of experience; five had two semesters; six had three semesters, and three had five or more semesters of experience.

Training is a pivotal first step of professional development, and ten tutors indicated they had taken a credit-bearing course prior to tutoring while five tutors said they did not receive formalized training. Regardless of their training backgrounds, the majority of tutors participated in regular staff meetings, social events, or regional/national conferences.

Work Cited

Alsop, Ron. The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking Up the Workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. Print.

Vermunt, Sarah. “Career Paralysis: Millennial Meltdown.” Forbes. Forbes.com LLC. 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Stein, Joel. “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation.” Time. Time Inc. 20 May 2013. Web 20 Nov. 2013.

Winograd, Morley and Michael D. Hais. Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2011. Print.

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