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Writing in Grad School

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I'm doing a small research project for an English undergrad class about the differences in psychology undergraduate and graduate school, in relation to writing.


I'm a psych undergrad student right now and after researching a lot about different graduate schools, I don't feel as if my undergrad classes have prepared me enough for the co-authoring papers, writing dissertations, etc. that graduate school apparently entails.  


So, I'd really like to hear your opinions:  are undergraduate psychology students prepared to write what is demanded of them in graduate school??  How is writing in grad school different or similar to writing in undergrad?

Edited by Freud4dayz
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I'm about to finish my Master in Clinical and Health Psychology and I can tell you that you always have to strive to give the best of your work but remember, as humans, we all make mistakes so I believe it wouldn't be correct to say that you were worst as an undergrad when actually what you had was less experience. 

By now, three years after I graduated from University, I can say that I feel more at ease when writing my Masters thesis or when writing a report about a patient of mine but that's because of all the practice that I had as an undergrad and even as a grad student. 

You are prepared to write what's demanded of you in grad school, but don't believe me, believe in your self.

Writing in grad school is different that writing for undergrad school only because in undergrad you are sill getting to know your self as a professional, getting familiar with key terms, words and themes, but once you hit grad school, those things will be natural and you'll probably fin it easier to write. 

If you have been learning from your mistakes and going the extra mile to get your paperwork the best that you can with the tools that you have and that you've been taught, believe in yourself because if not, that insecurity could be reflected on your writing skills.


Hope this advice is useful and one more thing.

Write about whatever you can at least once a day and keep reading good material because much of what you read is reflected in the way that you write. Remember, practice makes the professional. 



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I have no idea about psychology undergrads in particular, and I suspect that comparing "undergrad in X" to "grad school in X" is too monolithic to be useful because there are good ugrad programs and not-as-good ones, good and less so grad programs, some that emphasize writing and others that less so, etc.


In general, part of the training you get in grad school has to do with learning to work on research projects of the kind that get published in journals and turn into dissertations. The training helps you deal with the sheer size of the project, which is larger than what students encounter as undergrads, the depth and breadth of the research, which is again more than you are expected to do as an undergrad, and the writing. The writing process of a large project is (or should be) connected to the development of the project, especially for more substantial ones. The project doesn't all just exist in your head until it's finished and then you write it all up - you do it in steps as you collect data and arrange it e.g. for presentations or to show to your advisors and co-authors. Your undergrad education prepared you for these projects in the sense that you were supposed to be exposed to academic writing and to do some of your own writing on small-scale projects. Grad school picks up on that with more reading, more researching and writing of larger projects, which eventually lead to publishable materials and a dissertation. It's a process that starts with your undergrad education but it's hardly ever the case that someone could just write a dissertation based on that alone.

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You will find this singularly unhelpful: your question is one that the composition and rhetoric field has been wrestling with for decades.

Are undergrads prepared for writing once they graduate? How can a comp program prepare them? And on. And on.

Writing is such a broad thing to discuss that your question can't be answered simply. What do you mean by writing? What part of writing?

I find that the average undergraduate in a comp class doesn't learn much about writing that they don't already know from high school. They know how to put together an essay. They know about as much about spelling and grammar as they're going to know without a concerted effort on their part. This has less to do with teaching writing than the way written language is learned. Students that do not read and write regularly do not progress as well as students that do. You learn to write the way you learn to speak; not in a course, but by doing it and absorbing language patterns.

Even when you get your bachelor's degree, the vast, vast majority of the academic writing you will have done will have been in subjects other than psychology. Half of your credits are gen ed, few high schools offer more than on psychology course. Most of your reading in psychology will have been textbooks, not journal articles. So, how can you absorb the language of psychology academics when you don't participate in it as much?

The point is that your courses have prepared you for graduate writing, but they've also not prepared you for it. For example, your English class has (most likely) told you to write a paper about writing in the psychology field, but the paper is to be done in MLA. It is also going to be commented on and evaluated by a person who doesn't know very much about writing in the psychology field. As a person that writes sociological papers for English classes, this is not a recipe for writing success. Not because "writing" is taught wrong in composition courses, but because "writing" is no different than "speaking." Put an Australian, a Texan, and a Brit in a room and ask them to evaluate the quality of the spoken language in a dubbed Jackie Chan film and you're not going to get terribly consistent results.

Add into this whole thing the simple fact that faculty outside of the composition department don't consider the teaching of writing part of their job description. It's why we have composition classes, right? So why should they do it. Send students to the writing center and writing nasty emails to the head of the composition program when a particularly clueless batch of students rolls through. Composition teaches important things, but it can't really teach field-specific things, and writing isn't a class that you take once and you've either learned it or not. Writing is one of those things that requires continual maintenance. Most of us had to take a foreign language course in high school. How much of it do people remember a couple of years later? Even the ones that got As? Unless it's in daily use, it's lost.

So the key here isn't to worry so much about how much your classes are teaching you about writing in psychology as an undergrad or as a grad student, or as a graduate with a job. The key is to figure out how you expand your ability to learn how the field uses written language. There's only two ways to do that: read current publications where people in the field discuss the things in their field (your textbook does not qualify), and two, write the way people in the field write. Use APA, for example, in any gen ed classes that don't specify a style. Most of them expect students to use MLA because comp teachers usually require it. Write your essays psychology style, even when you're not in psychology classes. Get creative when you're assigned a research paper. If your US Politics class asks for a paper on the 2008 election, write about the psychology theory that informed the advertising choices the candidates made and use the politics to support yourself.

You are prepared to write for psychology. You know the basics about using written language. You've been taught how to develop a paper. You've learned how to incorporate research into your papers. You aren't prepared because you don't write many psychology papers. Most likely, however, you don't feel prepare because you haven't learned the language yet. Undergrad psychology students tend to use "emotion" rather than "affect," for example. Papers written by people named doctor talking to other people named doctor are intimidating. The key is to push that aside and learn what you can from those readings, instead.

It's a good idea to read and write a little every day. It's also a good idea to read a journal article every week or so. You will find them easier to read the more you read them.

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I recommend reading as many papers in your field as you have time for (I try for at least 5 a week or so). Nothing really helps as much as this. You will learn the langague that is typically used, the format, etc.

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