Writing (2) Laura C Sima, Yale University
Writing as an Undergraduate in the US
Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering
For my undergraduate studies (S1), I majored in chemistry. Unlike the situation in many other countries, in the US, even students of chemistry are required to take a large range of courses in the humanities, to round out their education. In most of these classes, writing was not the focus of a particular lesson. Rather, we were required to produce a number of papers, throughout the course of the class, which allowed us to both analyze the lessons from the class, and form our own ideas, based on several discussions or readings.
The practice seemed arduous at the time – writing from one to five page papers nearly every day, most of them requiring significant research and forethought. However, having done that writing during my undergraduate career has helped me immensely, by improving my capacity to communicate my ideas in writing, a skill I use often in my doctoral work. There was yet another benefit, which I did not anticipate. Since I had much writing to do and I always wanted to have fun with my friends, rather than write, in the evenings, I became a very quick writer. This has been the most helpful to me in my PhD career: the ability to communicate my ideas clearly in writing, without taking too much time in order to do so.
The most common assignment for me was the requirement to write daily papers and give my opinion on a topic discussed in class, summarize a reading, or demonstrate an opinion to a topic discussed in my course. These writings were usually free for several writing styles and did not require the student to do much work in preparation for the writing. The intent of these writing exercises was to give students an opportunity to quickly react to writings. Often, when these writings were graded, it was the content, rather than writing style or grammar, that were graded by professors.***
In nearly every social sciences/humanities class (and even some science classes), the final project was a longer written paper. In these, students were required to formulate an opinion or argue a point in regards to a particular topic. They often required much preparation, including extra readings outside of class, and were often longer, between 20 to 70 pages in length. These papers often required the student to decide a topic several months in advance, in order to have the necessary time to prepare. To write these types of papers well, a student needed to do readings, formulate an opinion, formulate an outline for the paper, find additional readings to complete the discussion points required as by the outline, write the paper, and do several versions of edits.
Often, with so much work ahead of them, most students were overwhelmed, and I, for one, had a hard time picking my paper topic. In these papers, grammar, organization, and content were equally important. Most had a required style of writing associated with them. It is most likely these types of writing that are most likely to prepare a student for the work that will be required of them as a lawyer: the ability not only to process new information, but to analyze it in order to support a particular claim, in clear and concise writing.
Writing may often have been my least favorite part of my undergraduate education, but it has been incredibly helpful for me as I have continued my education, an dam preparing for a career as a international water specialist.