This “totally RAD” research story comes to us from Dr. Sherry Wynn Perdue, Director of the Writing Center at Oakland University.
My RAD Research Journey
My thoughts about research and the research agenda for our center occurs at the nexus of two important themes: 1) the need for more empirical research to sustain writing centers’ claims to best practices and 2) a growing awareness of the important role that sponsorship plays in WC research. In today’s post, I reflect upon the etiology of my own research and how it has shaped opportunities for my own center’s undergraduate- and graduate student writing consultants.
My RAD research journey commenced when my colleague Dana Lynn Driscoll and I launched a content analysis of all research articles from 1980-2009 in The Writing Center Journal. This was soon followed by a large-scale survey of writing center professionals (WCPs), follow-up interviews with a selected sample of WCPs, and a focus group of WCPS attending a national conference. (Thank you writing center colleagues for being so generous with your time!) Our first publication demonstrated that of the articles classified as “research,” less than five percent would meet the conditions for empirical research or RAD Research (Haswell, 2005), meaning that most of this research was not replicable, aggregable, or data-supported. Despite this disappointing finding, we determined that research scores were rising over time, particularly over the last decade. More important than our findings about research production was our growing attention to the question, “Why?” As such, we next turned to the conditions that potentially hindered empirical research in and on writing centers.
In two follow-up articles we have shared six themes that appear to influence WCPs’ research: 1) education and training, 2) labor and institutional oversight, 3) financial resources, and 4) sponsorship as well as our field’s 5) definition of and politics of research and its 6) research practices. Of these, the linchpin is sponsorship.
Shortly after completing the interviews and surveys and while helping our own department to build a new undergraduate major in writing and rhetoric, we realized that sponsorship needed to occur on all fronts; we needed to BOTH address conditions affecting the situation of our professional colleagues AND prepare the next generation of scholars to do empirical research. While we already taught research and we certainly mentored our WRT majors and consultants, we needed to hone the sponsorship continuum by inviting students, the primary WC practitioners, not only to study with us and work for us but also to collaborate with us on publications and on research projects that we envisioned together.
Our first effort yielded an article for Perspectives on Undergraduate Research and Mentoring in which Dana, I, and three UG consultants (Enrique Paz, Jessica Tess, and Jacob Matthews (two who are now graduate students doing exciting work at other institutions)) reflected on our participation along the sponsorship continuum—moving to and fro among teaching, mentoring, collaborating, and coauthoring. While it did not describe a collaborative empirical research project, it did 1) empower three UGs to articulate their process of becoming researchers in their own words and via their own projects and 2) share a sponsorship framework for future collaborations.
In our current project, Dana, I, and a UG colleague have I have extended that sponsorship into a truly collaborative empirical research project that examines WCP job descriptions. With undergraduate researcher Sam Boyhtari, we are coding 10 years’ worth of position descriptions culled from the MLA jobs’ list, the WPA Job Board, and job posting shared on WCenter. This project was motivated by a wave of recent job announcements that shocked our community in different ways. One type appears to describe two jobs in one, with expectations for research, a heavy teaching load, and full-time writing center oversight. Another type, which entrusts the leadership and training of an academic service to someone with limited education—a B.A.—carries an embarrassingly small salary and a laundry lists of duties . . . . With this study, we hope to determine how institutions understand the WCP’s role and how this might further affect WC research as well as to make recommendations for a WCP position statement . . .
Well, I’ve penned too much for a blog post and now run the risk of composing a biography of my scholarship . . . . And, while I share the need for kudos, I don’t think you are reading this just to learn about me . . . .
In sharing today, I hope to demonstrate the rewards inherent in research—for me, for the center, for the future of the field—even research conducted when not a part of one’s job description, even when I’m coding during the wee hours, even when simple numbers of clients might have been deemed enough. I’m thankful for the research sponsorship extended to me (Thank you Dana (yes, we can learn from younger colleagues), Linda Bergmann, Eileen Johnson, and Julia Smith) and for the opportunity to pay it forward.
This moment of gratitude leads me to my last point of reflection. I would not be in a position to help my co-editor Rebecca Hallman bring her vision for IWCA’s new journal The Peer Review: A Journal for Writing Center Practitioners to life if it were not for this journey, my sponsors, and the lessons I continue to learn from and with my writing center colleagues—directors, graduate students, undergraduate students, and high school students.