CWOVC Consultant Confessions

This week, the Center for Written, Oral, and Visual Communication began holding peer consultations for the fall semester, and if you're a Rice undergrad or grad student thinking about scheduling a consultation and want to know more about how to approach it, we have help: the blog recently tracked down a few experienced consultants and asked them some questions about their work at the CWOVC, with the hope that their answers will help Rice students get a better sense of how to use peer consultations and how NOT to use them. The consultants also share some pretty good advice about writing in general. Check out the interviews below...

Francie Hessel (Jones College, Pre-Med Cognitive Science major)

Do you have any candid suggestions for a student who just scheduled his or her first peer consultation with the CWOVC? How should they approach the consultation? How should they NOT approach it? 
My best advice would be to come with an open mind! Be receptive to your consultant's comments, as they are not looking to criticize, but to give you honest feedback about your work and how you can improve it. Everyone at the center is very understanding and friendly, so definitely do not be intimidated. 

How did you become a peer consultant? And why? 
I took my FWIS, Word Magic, during my second semester freshman year. I loved the class and got a lot out of it. The professor was really excellent and gave us a lot of individual attention. At the end of the course, she told me she was recommending me to the CWOVC (a new program at the time) to be a Communication Consultant. I hadn't known anything about this prior to her mentioning it, but was immediately excited by the opportunity. I applied, interviewed, was selected, went through training, and started consulting in Fall 2013! I've worked at the CWOVC ever since—and I've met with undergraduates and grad students in nearly every academic discipline.

Based on your experience as a consultant, do you have any particular writing advice (or advice on giving presentations) you’d like to share with Rice students in general? 
Writing is a process often without an exact end. Many people who say "I'm not a good writer" are often totally capable of great writing! It just takes a lot of time and patience in revision, which is the hardest part. However, if you put the effort in, it is not hard to improve! We are here to help with that.

What is your favorite part of doing peer consultations? Do you have any peer consultation pet peeves? 
I absolutely love helping people understand themselves and their writing styles. Helping people find patterns or other breakthroughs that really allow them to have that self-recognition of their strengths and weakness is so rewarding. My only pet peeves are when students are not really interested in improving their skills, and instead come to the center looking for quick line-edits (which we don't do).

Mohit Jolly (graduate student, Bioengineering)

Do you have any candid suggestions for a student who just scheduled his or her first peer consultation with the CWOVC? How should they approach the consultation? How should they NOT approach it?
I believe that students should NOT think of peer consultations with the CWOVC as quick-fix approaches to restructuring or polishing their writing. That might sound surprising to some or leave some puzzled as to what the CWOVC is really about. At the CWOVC, we are invested in making a writer better, not necessarily one piece of writing better. In other words, we are trying to teach fishing (self-dependence and self-confidence in writing) instead of serving a fish at the table!

How did you become a peer consultant? And why?
I went to college in India, where there are few (if any) writing centers in universities or technical institutes. When I came to Rice in 2012 and heard about the CWOVC, I was curious as to whether I could apply my previous experience in science journalism and communication to help others with their own communication. It has been a wonderful learning experience for me! When I heard about the opportunity, I contacted the CWOVC to say I was interested. I was interviewed before I got the offer.

Based on your experience as a consultant, do you have any particular writing advice (or advice on giving presentations) you’d like to share with Rice students in general? 
Think of yourself as a storyteller—that's the single best piece of advice I have for everyone.

What is your favorite part of doing peer consultations? 
It's hard to pick one, so I'll list many. First, I get to read and learn about so many different subjects I never would have been exposed to otherwise. Second, it's a new job every 45 minutes. Every consultation session is very refreshing and different—one has to switch gears to a new subject immediately. Last and definitely not the least, it is exhilarating when you're able to give some useful suggestions to students in a subject completely outside your domain. I just love the sessions when I can see a smile in the student's eyes or witness an AHA moment—that's the bliss of consulting at the CWOVC, I'd say.

What is one service of the CWOVC that many Rice students don’t seem to know about? 
I believe graduate students can take better advantage of the resources and services of the CWOVC. I have worked with many graduate students so far and heard experiences from other consultants too—all graduate students have very much appreciated the value of the CWOVC. Most of them have similar comments: "I wish I knew of this wonderful resource a semester ago when I wrote this paper. I'm sure many of my labmates also don't know about the CWOVC."

Layla Seale (graduate student, Art History)

Do you have any candid suggestions for a student who just scheduled his or her first peer consultation with the CWOVC? How should they approach the consultation? How should they NOT approach it? 
Please come prepared to receive constructive criticism. This may seem obvious, but I’ve had a number of students get needlessly defensive about their writing. Being open to criticism is the best way to make yourself a better writer and scholar. Also, DO NOT expect your consultant to edit your paper line by line. We are NOT a professional proofreading service. 

Based on your experience as a consultant, do you have any particular writing advice (or advice on giving presentations) you’d like to share with Rice students in general? 
Keep it simple. Overly florid language often leads to confusing run-on sentences and other grammatical errors. Students often try to “sound smart” by writing longer sentences with unnecessary clauses or prepositional phrases. Keep your writing clear and direct by using concise language and editing out superfluous language. 

What is one service of the CWOVC that many Rice students don’t seem to know about?  
Workshops that the Center offers throughout the year, such as the Writing Personal Statements workshop. Also, the Dissertation Writing Camp held over the summer.