Writing Center Professionalization

The past few weeks have seen a veritable flood of new and returning employees rushing back to the University Writing Center for the fall semester. Those of us who were in the office over the summer had the delightful task of running orientation (kudos to our wonderful Assistant Program Coordinators), and meeting lots of first-time consultants. During orientation, I was struck by a particular question lobbed at a panel of administrators by one clear-sighted undergraduate. She asked about how to translate writing center employment to relevant skills and experience for jobs outside the university. In a word, she asked about professionalization.

As a graduate student, I’ve not yet had the urge (or the emotional strength) to pause and think about the sorts of skills consultants gain working at the writing center that might be useful in a non-academic job hunt. For those interested, I thought I would compile a quick-and-dirty list of skills that administrators could share with undergraduates looking to hone their resumes for future employment hunts.

Short answer: work in the writing center can be calibrated on a resume to meet the demands of any job. I’m quite serious.

Long answer: I’ve given this a lot of informal thought, and I have yet to dream up any career that involves never communicating with anyone, working with a team, or solving problems analytically. In the writing center, you are constantly fine-tuning your interpersonal communication skills. You have to decipher another person’s perceived problems, broach other potential issues within the project, interact with a wide range of people in a friendly and professional manner, and navigate sensitive areas with respect. Being a consultant means becoming a communication specialist, and the “Note” system at the University of Texas at Austin means that our employees also develop concise textual communications, too. They are asked to summarize the entire writing session for the consultee immediately following the session. You also learn how to efficiently work as part of a team. Since writing center consultations are non-directive, consulting involves brainstorming with someone instead of managing her writing. These teamwork dynamics involve identifying and dealing with problems that are often quite complex. Writing center consultants have to learn how to analyze problems and prioritize goals in an extremely abbreviated amount of time. Really, I think I’ve convinced myself that a writing center consultant might be qualified for any career involving analysis, cooperation, and communication. Especially for a job in business or project management, I can’t imagine why anyone would leave consulting off of her resume.