Women as writers in graduate school: Constructing academic writing identities

Kate Elizabeth Wartchow, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation builds upon empirical studies exploring the relationship among writing, gender, and identity in order to understand how women perceive themselves as academic writers and how they use their academic writing identities to help shape academic discourse communities. Specifically, I examine how women construct identities as academic writers within the sociopolitical climate of graduate education. Employing a feminist, praxis-oriented research design, I collaborated with four women in different graduate disciplines at a large, Northeastern research university to examine our experiences as women writing in graduate school and the identities we construct for ourselves as academic writers. Our relationships originated in the university Learning Center and data was gathered through a combination of learning instruction sessions, individual interviews, group conversations, and interviews with faculty members from each woman's academic department. My analysis indicates that writing in graduate school is a contested space that students and faculty read through various interpretive frames, including (1) students' authoritative identities, (2) students' goals for graduate study, (3) student and faculty perceptions of academic discourse, and (4) student and faculty expectations for working relationships. As the co-researchers and I negotiated these diverse, often competing, discourses, we constructed our identities as academic writers. Through a combination of rhetorical strategies and social networks, we positioned ourselves along a continuum of reproducing or reconstructing dominant ways of knowing and being known. Based on my findings, I conclude that women who model their discourse practices on exemplary texts, and identify mentors who share their values, styles, and agendas as academic writers, are best able to construct writing identities that reflect their personal values and goals. The findings of this study have implications for students, faculty, and academic support staff. Although this inquiry focuses specifically on women writing in graduate school, both men and women benefit from understanding the circumstances and choices that shape their identities as academic writers. I also explore implications for advising services and conversations that might facilitate meaningful dialogue between professors and students about writing in their disciplines. Finally, I offer suggestions for how academic support staff can engage students in reflective conversations and help them develop writing strategies that may enhance their academic writing identities.

Subject Area

Higher education|Womens studies|Language arts

Recommended Citation

Wartchow, Kate Elizabeth, "Women as writers in graduate school: Constructing academic writing identities" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3043975.