University News

Writing Fellows to pilot new program for medical students

National search for new Writing Center director narrows to four candidates

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2014

The Writing Center continues to grow its student services during the search process for a new director, with a planned expansion to the Alpert Medical School slated to begin next academic year.

In an effort to expand its offerings for medical students, the Writing Center is designing an extension of the Writing Fellows program that will reside at the Alpert Medical School, said Kathleen McSharry, associate dean of the College for writing and curriculum. The program is slated to begin next academic year.

The development of the initiative comes at a time of change for the center after the sudden departure of Douglas Brown, former director of the Writing Center and Writing Fellows program, in May. Multiple administrators and writing fellows declined to comment on the reasons for his exit, and Brown could not be reached for comment.

Despite his absence, student writing support services have operated “seamlessly” while a committee searches for his replacement, McSharry said.

As both the chair of the search committee and the interim instructor of the Writing Fellows course — a mandatory English class for new writing fellows that was previously taught by Brown — McSharry has temporarily and unofficially stepped in as “director,” said Dean of the College Maud Mandel. Janet Peters, program coordinator for the Writing Center, still manages its logistical and administrative aspects, Mandel added.

“We are feeling very strongly positive about the search for the new director,” McSharry said. After posting the job vacancy in June and beginning to review applications in early August, the search committee has narrowed its national search down to four candidates, she said, adding that two of the candidates have already interviewed, while the other two will by early October.

The committee — which comprises a Department of English faculty member, two deans, a graduate student writing associate, an undergraduate writing fellow, Peters and McSharry — intends to make an offer to one of the candidates after the interview process concludes, McSharry said. “The earliest the new director would start would be January, but that is a flexible time,” she said. “We want the right person, and we will wait for them.”

“We’re trying to find someone confident in training a broad range of writers,” Mandel said.

But administrators have not waited to name Brown’s successor before planning a large expansion of the program, McSharry said. The program currently has 64 undergraduate fellows working with 17 classes across a variety of departments and will soon institute a sister program at the Med School through which medical students will be trained as fellows to work with their peers, mimicking the dynamic of the undergraduate program.

“Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” said Edward Feller, clinical professor of medicine, who contacted McSharry about growing the Writing Fellows program. “There is a curricular and noncurricular need for Brown’s medical students to improve their writing. … We need an incubator for increased scholarly and medical writing productivity.”

Citing the College’s Writing Fellows program as a “sustainable model,” Feller said a program at the Med School would both better the research culture and build a sustainable infrastructure for present and future students to use. The new program will allow for collaboration and a “culture of writing scholarship,” he added.

Over the next few months, Feller, McSharry and current writing fellows will be working to revise the course syllabus to accommodate medical writing. “Medical students do projects and non-curricular work that is vital to the advancement of science and their careers. This is different than the coursework that undergraduates do,” Feller said. But even with the changes needed, “this is moving rapidly.”

The Writing Center also hopes to open a satellite office close to the athletic complex eventually, Mandel said. Additionally, McSharry said she was considering a possible online Writing Center resource for students studying abroad and traveling athletes, but both of these possibilities will take a backseat to the Med School pilot program.