Friday, September 14, 2012

Creative Writing in Engineering

I'm a postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering. My youngest sister is a creative writing major in college. To most, these fields seem very disparate. However, I've been reflecting a lot on my writing, and it has occurred to me that for success in my career I need to have similar levels of being intentional, focused, efficient, and prolific in my writing as my sister should for a successful career in her field. My content is simply different--chemical engineering instead of vampire fiction. Over the course of my career, I may produce more words than she does through communicating my science and mathematics via presentations, articles, theses, reports, essays, research statements, and proposals. Including smaller items such as emails, blog posts, and writing related to teaching or outreach only increases the total. My research productivity is measured by publications and awards/funding based on my ability to convince people that my ideas are interesting or that I know what I'm talking about. I get paid to write and translate complex ideas and topics into content that others can interpret. My writing has to be well-written and original, and unlike my sister's chosen genres of science-fiction and fantasy, it must be scientifically sound.

My training through three engineering degrees and two minors at two universities has prepared me technically. Now I'm focusing on honing my writing skills, efficiency, and disciplined habits.  I've always been a decent writer with a nice grasp on English grammar (I'm by no means perfect, so don't judge if there are typos in this post!); currently, I'm focused on becoming a more efficient, productive writer (I should take lessons from myself from my non-academic blogging that has been prolific in the past). Towards this aim, I've joined a writing group with other individuals who have committed to writing productively. I've prioritized writing tasks over research tasks that can crowd out writing. I've also been reading books such as Scientific Writing and Communication: Papers, Proposals, and Presentations; Writing Science: How to Write Papers that Get Cited and Proposals that Get Funded; How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing; and How to Write Fast Under Pressure. I'm putting all this great written advice into practice by scheduling writing time, setting goals, rewarding progress, fostering a positive attitude, and just doing it! 

My immediate goal is to get a full review paper to my advisor tomorrow for submission to a journal. According to my outline, I have 8-10 more paragraphs remaining. I will celebrate completing this goal by running a 10k on Sunday at Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott--one of my favorite authors as a child. I'm also reading Little Men by Alcott and am looking forward to seeing her home that was the inspiration for the setting of her novels.