On 25 June, 23 UniSIG members gathered online to listen to SENSE member Jacqueline Evans (Jae) talk about how she provides writing support to PhD students at the University of Twente (UT). Naturally, as academic editors who work a lot with PhD students, we were all very interested to hear what Jae had to say.
The UT Language Centre (UTLC) offers a range of support to its students, including language lessons, writing courses, writing support and academic skills support. Jae offers support with and gives feedback on conference presentations, scientific posters, PhD theses, journal articles, cover letters, rebuttal letters, grant proposals and CV writing. Sounds like she has her hands full!
When a student approaches Jae with a text, she first encourages them to analyse their own writing and to define what they need help with. Most people are looking for a language check with feedback on structure, flow and coherence (ie, whatever it takes to make the text fit for purpose!). Jae emphasized that her interventions are more educational edits rather than full scientific edits. What does that mean? It means that Jae offers suggestions to help the author address any important gaps or illogical structures in their writing. Jae will correct language issues wherever possible, but the student will usually not receive a fully edited paper – the result will be a mixture of edits with suggestions on how they can improve their text. In short, they still have to do much of the work themselves, rather than receiving a ready-to-submit text.
However, Jae emphasized that the definition of providing editing for ‘educational’ purposes is often blurred, especially when a student is preparing a research paper for submission to a journal. Jae also edits research papers for her own research clients and knowing where to draw the line when working with students can be tricky!
Jae observed that, interestingly, requests to the UTLC for writing support have increased tenfold since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This may be because, instead of meeting face to face, students now reach out by email and receive their support online. Some students may feel more comfortable asking for help in this way. It will be interesting to see what happens to Jae’s workload as the university opens up and face to face meetings are allowed again: will she continue to offer her services online or will the students be keen to meet in person again?
Requests for writing support may also have increased during the pandemic because students have had a lot more time to work on their writing, since lab access was restricted. This mirrors the dramatic increase in workload that many academic editors have seen in the last year: their clients were no longer allowed in the lab and suddenly had plenty of time to write up their research. What will happen now that scientists are being allowed back in the lab; will we now see a lull in editing requests as our clients return to the lab to collect new data?
Jae concluded her talk by outlining what the future looks like for the UTLC. As more and more users are asking for a full editorial service, the UTLC may decide to offer this in the future. Indeed, the UTLC has already gathered a team of editors to work on Veni and ERC grant proposals for the university (funded by the Twente Graduate School). Jae has promised to keep us updated: keep your eye on the SENSE blog for new developments!