Pardon Me While I Get This Off My Chest

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.       

10 thoughts on “Pardon Me While I Get This Off My Chest

    1. Well, Wynne, you’ve just extended my metaphor. Thanks! I was curious so I Googled “the importance of communication skills in…” and about a million results came up. It looks like getting better at communicating helps people earn more, feel better about themselves, make friends and develop meaningful relationships, etc, etc. Those who study the liberal arts and humanities and work in fields like I do need to do a much better job explaining their importance to the world.

  1. Great analogy of engineering. Kenneth Burke said, “What am I but a word man?” I think in that respect, writers are all contractors and builders of sorts. We use words as our matte medium to create masterpieces, construct new worlds, and carry out the day-to-day needs of social interaction. Writing is hard work, as you noted. When I was a freelancer, getting paid the worth of a word was nigh unto impossible because many today would rather have the picture or the reel. Good post, Troy.

    1. What’s the old saying? A picture is worth a thousand words. There’s some truth in that. Some. On the other hand, pictures are junk food and texts are multi-course meals that need to be eaten slowly and savored. Now, as concerns the education work we do, many have pointed out that education has always been a poorly paid profession. Many who’ve noted this have also explained that this is because teaching has historically been considered “women’s work.” We’re paying the price of undervaluing education and educators. I think we’ve reached a point in America where there’s not enough collective wisdom or critical thinking ability for us to continue to govern ourselves in any sort of effective way. Thanks for the kinds words and response. I hope things are going well for you and your family.

  2. Rant on, I very much enjoyed what you had to say! Yes, we are engineers of a sort. Where an engineer builds his bridge with bricks and mortar, connecting that which nature has kept separate. We as writers construct our bridges with well crafted words connecting a person or people with another person or people. We bear a great responsibility as a writer of words. Without the proper word that bridge may not be strong enough to bear the weight of those persons who try as they may , have missed that connection they so need and deserve. Thank you for reminding me what I purposed myself all those years ago. . Have a great day!

  3. Hi, nikgee. You said it even better than I did! Thanks for reading and responding. I wonder why writing is considered (at best) a “soft” science while engineering and such is considered “hard” science? Just a question before I hit the hay.

  4. I always enjoy reading what you write! Why teachers and professors don’t have the highest of salaries, when they have such a BIG responsibility –to educate, to shape young minds– is beyond me! I recently started working for a school district and took a HUGE pay cut for it. I took the job because it was a great learning opportunity for me, and once I started, I couldn’t help but love it! It’s a very fulfilling job, where you meet wonderful people and you connect with your community at such a deep level… And I CANNOT HELP but think that governments take advantage of human good nature to trap decent, honest people in gigs like teaching for miserable wages, just because they can. They know that they don’t have to pay people more to make them stay (not always true, I actually know a few people who left the school system because they needed a higher paying job –who doesn’t, right?). My point is that I feel like people realize what a joy it is to work in schools, and they love their kids and their families, because it IS fulfilling… But a sense of fulfillment doesn’t put food on your table. It’s not fair.

    1. Amen! Amen! Amen! America is paying a heavy price for underpaying educator and underappreciating education. It gives me no comfort writing that!

      Thanks so much for the kind words. Thanks so much for the important work you do!

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