Date: Wed, 23 Mar 2011 16:46:52 -0400
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From: ILPI <info**At_Symbol_Here**ILPI.COM>
Subject: Re: Technical Writing
In-Reply-To: <AANLkTinRQY56KcMBcWSuwC-UoSpuX6uP_tHEGgGoubvd**At_Symbol_Here**>

Indeed, Ernest, this is the heart of the matter.  First, a few observations/experiences

1. When I was at a top 10 research university, I glanced through a copy of a graduate student's research writeup that he/she submitted for their "A exam" (what you submit after 2 years to be allowed to go on and finish your PhD in chemistry.  It wasn't even written in complete sentences.  This is a person who was happy to let everyone know that he/she was a member of Mensa, and he/she brushed away this shortcoming with "I don't think in complete sentences".  I don't believe the thesis committee was impressed with this explanation.

2. When I was a professor at a top 50 research university, many of the seniors in my inorganic lab class began with atrocious notebook skills, but even more horrendous writing skills.  I was probably their first and last chemistry professor who would go through and cover their reports in the red ink that they deserved.  I required all of their 8 lab reports to be in full JACS style, and probably spent 30-45 minutes going over each one AFTER a TA had made a first pass.  They cursed me at the time for the workload I placed on them, but many of them later ended up thanking me for making them work so hard and helping to engrain the scientific communication skills they previously lacked.     Setting the bar high and demanding performance is what effective teaching is about.  But at many schools the emphasis on faculty research may not permit such intense mentoring.

3. I sat on a PhD defense in which the student couldn't even explain one of the words in the title of his/her thesis.  Nonetheless, the student passed.  I sat on another department's A exam as an outside examiner....the student's entire thesis revolved around electronic calculations on a particular element, and the student (after two years of work) could not even tell us how many valence electrons that element had, couldn't even explain basic electronic principles etc.  We had to fail him/her, but two weeks later, his/her research adviser decided he/she was ready to redefend, and passed the student.

4. I was invited to give a research talk at Mobil (which was just plain Mobil back then), and at the dinner afterwards I was sitting with a bunch of industrial chemists.  One of them was lamenting to the others that they had hired two people from University X, and would "never hire anyone out of University X again" because of the completely incompetent notebook skills of those two hires.  When I told them what I required of my students, they said "thank you, thank you, thank you...send some of your students to us!"

And point 4 is where it's at.  Schools need to learn is that every time they shove an unprepared/incompetent student out the door with a piece of paper bearing that school's name, that person will forever be a black mark against them.  And every time they send out a well-prepared student, it will help with the placement of their future graduates.  Maybe industry needs to make more of an effort to send honest feedback (positive or negative) to the schools so they get the message!

Rob Toreki

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On Mar 23, 2011, at 3:52 PM, Ernest Lippert wrote:

I like Jay's solution but an even better one would result if excellent English and writing skills were taught in our schools and colleges..
Ernest Lippert
From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**] On Behalf Of Val Tillinghast

Sent: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 5:06 AM
To: DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Technical Writing




In my field, our final product is a written report.  Some employees struggle with report writing and never seem to improve.  It's a frustrating loss of time and effort.  Has anyone had success at improving technical writing classes, seminars, or other alternatives?  Thanks for your suggestions.


Valerie Tillinghast; LSP



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