For any colleagues who can spare a few minutes about my first major field research-based book project, which is about how American universities support international graduate students with their academic transition and success, here are a few notes.
First, here is the brief blurb that I sent to the publisher:
Using qualitative data collected from more than twenty universities across the US, Writing Support for International Graduate Students describes and theorizes agency- and advocacy-driven practices, programs, and policies that are most effective in helping international students learn graduate-level writing and communication skills. It uses compelling narratives and cases to illustrate a variety of program models and support practices that fostered the students’ process of academic transition and success. Employing an ecological framework, the book seeks to advance academic conversation about how writing scholars/instructors and program administrators, as well as other academic service professionals working with this student body, can formulate policies, develop programs, and implement practices that best help these students grow as writers and scholars in their disciplines.
Here is a brief excerpt from proof copy.
To share a little bit about my experience writing the book, I took a lot longer to complete the research and writing than I had planned. The project evolved. I started the research planning to focus on STEM students, but I quickly realized that international graduate students across the disciplines face similar challenges (with some variations that I could explore later). I had also planned to spend a semester or two for collecting data, but I ended up spending more than three years gathering interviews and field notes at universities across the country (plus at a few conferences), including a variety of institutions with a variety of support programs. Here is a little more about the background to this work.
I learned a lot in this process. Here are just a few thoughts:
- Writing a book on the tenure timeline (if it’s a major part of the application) is risky. I know this is not any original wisdom, but I felt it firsthand and strongly. However, I also think that as long as the book is not the sole foundation for a tenure case or one’s sense of progress, then it is a good idea to put a book on a timeline: you get it done. I had a backup plan (and progress) for publishing a total of one to two dozen articles and chapters in edited collections, and I met this goal, but my mentors advised that it was smart to also complete the book. The advice was stress-inducing but very useful. And the fact that I wasn’t banking too much on the book saved my sanity, especially when the research and then reviews and publication took nearly four years, instead of two.
- One cannot do justice to everything. If a researcher tries to cover some scope, then it is not easy to go for depth as well. Perhaps I could have added a few in-depth case studies to the thematic framework of the book, but the cases might not represent the broader themes. This is a challenge for next time (would like to read in the comment if anyone has a thought). Going for a larger scope and also striving for nuance made the project neither here nor there, but it is also difficult to learn about a subject by opting for one route or another. In the end, some aspect of the research gets covered in the book and some done. I’m sure there will be criticisms due to the lack of depth or scope in one way or another, but I hope to address gaps in this work by doing more work in the future.
- Research methodology must be supplemented with people methodology. The first few university visits were a favor done by friends who were willing to connect me to people. Visiting to a few places helped to establish trust for going to other places where I didn’t have intimate colleagues. I am so deeply grateful to the colleagues who supported me, especially early on.
- It’s important to start with a broader view of things, at least for the purpose of research approval. IRB offices tend to be very unfriendly to scholars who research teaching/learning, and I understand where they come from, but the fact that projects like mine almost always evolve means that one must write the IRB proposal with this understanding. Doing so will allow a researcher to let people, places, findings, and opportunities shape and improve the project along the way.
- Publishers and editors confused me, but I also learned to understand them. I felt that university presses and grant makers remain “conservative” in that they seemed to lack confidence in publishing research done by a guy with a strange name, and I say this because I couldn’t imagine other feasible explanations. Editors in professional organizations seem open minded (and might even favor diversity of authorship, research, and perspectives) but they are too limited by thematic focus (understandable), page length (understandable), or their own idea of process or review (they should stop inadvertently undermining confidence of younger scholars).
- Hindsight is 20-20. Everything makes sense when looking back. So, it is extremely important for scholars embarking on large projects to stick to it, to change course when it becomes unproductive, to be proactive, to be willing to spend unlimited amounts of time on the project if it’s moving in the right direction. . . . What matters is the commitment to the project, the knowledge that it will create, the change it might make in the field and in society.
I could go on and on, but let me stop, with a few reviews for the book (for which I am truly grateful):
Dr. Michelle Cox Director, English Language Support Office, Cornell University Past Chair, Consortium on Graduate Communication:
Writing Support for International Graduate Students: Enhancing Transition and Success is a must read for everyone involved in writing instruction and research, graduate program administration, and international education. Through his extensive on-the-ground research at over twenty universities, Sharma has brought to light the very best approaches to sup- porting international graduate writers while also developing a theoretical framework that highlights student agency. If taken seriously, this book will be transformative to the ways in which universities across the Unites States and beyond welcome and support international graduate students.
Dr. Juan C. Guerra, University of Washington at Seattle:
Writing Support for International Graduate Students vividly captures the numerous challenges international graduate students are likely to encounter in the course of writing their way into the university, and provides an array of critical interventions faculty can call on to ease the transition.
Dr. Chris R. Glass, Associate Professor, Old Dominion University:
The book provides a nuanced and in-depth exploration of how international students learn to write and communicate, with program models, support strategies, and resources that make a real difference. The interviews and practical examples will make you rethink how your program or institution approaches international student writing development and what it means for international students to ‘find their voice’ in written assignments and verbal presentations.
I truly appreciate the great colleagues who took the time to read the book and share their thoughts.
And I will appreciate any comments you may want to share. Thank you!