Professionalizing L2 Writing: A Symposium

The 13th Symposium on Second Language Writing, which was held in Tempe, Arizona, just came to the end, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts and observations. The title of the symposium this year was “Professionalizing Second Language Writing,” and many of the presentations, as well as plenary talks and colloquia, addressed the topics of professional development of the field of second language writing, its relation to and interaction with other disciplines, professionalization of writing teachers, and, of course, the current state and the future of second language research. Paul K. Matsuda, the chair of the symposium, said: “I invited speakers who could speak about the importance of building the field and also moving the field collectively by promoting professional development and engagement at many levels of professionalization.”

Lesson #1: Dive Into the Field

The sessions that I attended were illuminating and thought-provoking. As a graduate student and as someone who is just stepping into the field and trying to get her feet wet (paraphrasing Dana Ferris), I felt that in many talks, the presenters spoke directly to me. For example, the Friday plenary talk, given by professor Dwight Atkinson, was a great reminder for me—and perhaps for other doctoral students in the room—that in order to become a well-developed scholar, and maybe even one of “them”—referring to the well-known professionals in the field—we need to dive into the “signature activities of our field,” the most important of which is academic writing. Although Atkinson’s talk was primarily addressed to graduate students, he also gave advice to faculty on how to support and help their advisees to become competent scholars.

Lesson #2: Network

The symposium also gave everyone the opportunity to network and to socialize. For us, graduate students, in particular, the symposium was a venue to meet new second language writing specialists, including the scholars whose work we read in our graduate courses. I thoroughly enjoyed the plenary talks given by well-established professionals in the field: Tony Silva, Susan Miller-Cochran, Lawrence Jun Zhang, Dwight Atkinson, Deborah Crusan, and Christine Tardy.

Many attendees of the symposium expressed the feeling of “belonging” and referred to the symposium as their academic home. Part of this, I believe, was due to the warm, friendly, and welcoming atmosphere. However, the biggest reason many attendees were able to feel “at home” was the content of the symposium. I noticed that the program was not only well balanced in terms of a wide range of interesting and current topics in our discipline, but it also contained a good mixture of research-based and practice-oriented presentations. So it seemed that everyone—both first-time attendees and veterans, both young professionals and experienced scholars—was provided with multiple options to learn, to reflect, and to develop as a professional. Each session at the symposium offered something valuable, something “to chew on,” as Dwight Atkinson called it.

Symposium Attendees: In Their Words

At the symposium, I had a chance to speak with many student attendees, who found this event stimulating and full of opportunities to present their research, discuss their projects with other graduate students, and interact with experienced scholars in the field of second language writing. I asked a few graduate students and young scholars to share their thoughts and impressions about the symposium:

Scott Partridge (Purdue University): “As many have said in multiple places here, this is one of the conferences where I am most at home. It’s been great to see old friends and make new friends at a bunch of wonderful presentations. After hours, my head is exploding with new ideas and new connections, but I feel very much refreshed and empowered by being here.”

Kendon Kurzer (University of California, Davis): “This is an excellent conference, as always. I enjoy the Symposium on Second Language Writing more than most conferences, and I thought the plenaries this year, in particular, were quite interesting: a lot of really relevant topics and good topics to consider.”

Joshua M. Paiz (Purdue University): “One of the benefits of this year’s conference is its focus on professionalizing the field and continued professional development. From a graduate student perspective, it’s really helpful to pull back the curtain on the importance of mentorship and things to consider while mentoring other graduate students as well as the importance of institutional issues and understanding of our place in the institutional context.”

Bee Chamcharatsri (University of New Mexico): “It was one of the best symposiums I have attended. The variety of topics and research methodologies reflect the growing interests in the field of second language writing.”

Chen Yue (Purdue University): “The symposium was very exciting! I got a chance to see many of the friends I met before, at different conferences. This year it’s about professionalizing the field, so I learn a lot about professionalization and I can start thinking about my future as a pre-early second language writing scholar. I think this conference has been fruitful to me.”

It was a great symposium! According to Tony Silva, “It continues to be a successful conference.” He also added, “There are a lot of people here this time, so things are working pretty well!”

I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in this professional event and to be able to increase my knowledge and grow as a teacher and a researcher. I’d like to express my appreciation to the founders of the Symposium on Second Language Writing and, of course, the organizing committee of this year’s symposium in Tempe, Arizona. And, as Tony Silva announced, “We are looking forward to New Zealand next year!”

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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