I’m amazed by how my mind works. I never know when an idea for a blog is going to come to me. For example, this morning, just after pulling into a parking space upon arriving at my work and then killing the engine, I immediately realized that I do a lot of the same things in my job that engineers do in theirs. So why am I not paid like an engineer?
I’ve mentioned this before, but if this is your first time to read me, then I need to tell you that I manage two teams of very talented tutors—most have post-graduate degrees—who help students write all sorts of academic papers at a community college. Before taking this job, I taught writing, literature, research methods, and critical thinking at universities located in the United States and abroad.
When I’m not doing administrative stuff, I’m solving intellectual problems. If you want to know what I do in a nutshell, that’s it. People come to me with documents they’ve created or are at some point in the process of creating. The specs of the document have been given to them by someone else. Sometimes, those specifications are clearly described and sometimes not. Often, if the instructions are vague in some way, I make a series of surmises based upon years of experience. From the get-go, my job is to critically examine the task at hand and make educated guesses about purpose and audience. We then begin to think together about the huge range of rhetorical choices they’ll need to make as they move along through the project. These early conversations involve discussions about what success and failure might look like and how risk plays into all this.
When they come to me, they are, in fact, constructing or engineering a piece of intellectual work. What they bring may be fragmentary (at most), and they are almost always unsure if the work they’ve done has integrity or is sound, or if, in the worst case, it must be abandoned. I then look at that work and run a very large number of diagnostic checks, checks I have internalized over the years.
In a way, this blog, which describes my work, also has a lot to say about the nature of writing. This blog provides a kind of clinical look at what skilled writers do when they create documents or works of art. Almost every professor who helped me become the writer and analyst I am, has said, in one way or another, that writing is hard. That it, in fact, is one of the hardest things a human can try to do. One professor I had in grad school, a world-famous guy whom I’ll always owe, once told a class I was in that his job was to “Make us worry about our writing.” I sort of take this same approach. I try to do this without making students neurotic during the process.
You might look at what I’ve written so far and say, yes, it’s true that I can see some similarities between engineering and helping others use language to solve intellectual problems, but doesn’t the engineer have more responsibility than a writing teacher or consultant does? For example, a structural engineer who is responsible for designing a bridge that will carry vehicular traffic could cause the deaths of many if his design fails. To such a person I would ask, what is the cost of my failure or of the widespread failure of those who do what I do? What is the cost of giving bad advice to human beings who then fail to learn to express themselves and thus never find their voices? What is lost when the world is filled with people who aren’t able to reach their full intellectual or human potential? How much self-esteem is lost? How much self-confidence is lost? How much earning potential is lost?
Thank you for listening to my rant. I’m almost always up for one. I try not to get myself so worked up that I end up tearing out my hair, though. Male patterned baldness is bad enough without me doing anything more to contribute to that process.
My writing can be found in many other places on the internet, so have a look.