Paul Kei Matsuda

It's official!

Aya and I just got a confidencial letter from the Dean's Office, which was hand-delivered to the Department. We also got a letter from the Provost's Office at the same time. It's official now: We are tenured associate professors.

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AAAL this year was a joint conference with Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics/Association Canadienne de Linguistique Appliquée. The attendance was lower, and I didn't see many people that I would usually see at AAAL--probably because it was in June, when many people are traveling or want to focus on their research projects. But it was still a great conference--for one thing, I got to attend many sessions, which I don't get to do at CCCC or TESOL.

The highlight of this year's conference, as always, was the time I spent with colleagues and friends. I had many meals and drinks with Chris Tardy, my collaborator in the voice project, and her friends from her Turkey days. I also got to know Dwight's students from Temple University Japan, who are doing meticulous work--perhaps reflecting Dwight's tendencies.

Dwight also introduced me to Rena Helms-Parks, who collaborated with Paul Stapleton on an article critiquing the importance of voice in academic writing. Meeting Rena was interesting not only because Chris and I were responding in part to their work but also because Rena or her description of Paul Stapleton didn't match what Chris and I had imagined from their writing.

Aya, Kana and I got together with Yasuhiro Imai, a good friend of ours from TESOL Link, and Kyoko Baba, a rising star from OISE who is working with Alister Cumming. I had heard about her from Masumi Narita, whom I had met in Japan this summer. I went to Kyoko's presentation on the last day, and was deeply impressed by the quality of her research and her thorough yet concise presentation.

I also enjoyed a presentation by Mark James, another OISE graduate who had worked with Alister. I had met him at his home institution, Arizona State, when I went to give a talk at their conference. His work on learning transfer provides an important perspective that have often been taken for granted.

Joleen Hanson, one of my doctoral students, presented her research on It was a good descriptive project with many important theoretical implications. I was really pleased with the quality of her presentation--she has definitely become a confident and competent presenter. She also used PowerPoint really effectively to present both verbal and visual information--an important skill especially given her interest in technology and writing.

My own presentation with Chris on voice in academic writing went really well. It was well attended. We ran out of handouts, but managed to put together additional PowerPoint slides with all the relevant data in the last minute. Among the audience were John Swales, Ken Hyland, Brian Paltridge, Doug Flahive, and Dwight Atkinson, just to name a few. Aya and Kana also managed to stay through my part of the presentation. The questions were all predictable, and we are now thinking about pursuing other related projects.

Another highlight of the conference was the food. Everything we ate was great--even at the food court. Très bien!

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Do Not Disturb

This is a serious concern for a lot of graduate students in my field. I have been approached by many who told me that their advisors were not available to give them the kind of help they needed--professional development opportunities or advice on research and career development.

The author of this article does seem to have aggrevated the situation by wanting to work only with the star professor and not with other professors on campus who are less coveted but who may nevertheless have important insights to share. And I am disturbed by the "customer" mentality especially at the Ph.D. level. But he does, toward the end, seem to have gained autonomy through his own initiative.

Mentoring doctoral students is one of my important professional agendas, and I try to make myself available as much as possible. I always answer email from my students. I also encourage students to make appointments with me to discuss their projects at various stages. I invite interested and promising students to work on various projects with me. This year, I'm working with a prospective doctoral student for the whole summer to help him become socialized into the world of L2 writing research.

But there is only so much I can do for students who don't take the initiative to make an appointment with me or ask for advice. There are opportunities, but if you don't seek, ye shall not find.


The Chronicle: Wired Campus Blog: Wikipedia Founder Discourages Academic Use of His Creation

The Chronicle: Wired Campus Blog: Wikipedia Founder Discourages Academic Use of His Creation

I agree with Jimmy Wales here. Encyclopedias in general are supposed to be used in the early stage of inquiry (if at all), where students are trying to identify key terms and issues as well as some background information. Students (and scholars) should consult and interpret the original source, not second-hand representations.


2006 Symposium Photo Archive

I've made the photos from the Symposium available. They are not in any particular order, though. I guess people can construct their own narratives out of these images.

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Symposium on Second Language Writing 2006, Part II

The Symposium was a great success. It was great to see many of my friends in the field. I refer to them as friends because I treasure my relationships with colleagues in the field. It's not that we don't disagree with each other--in fact, we argue over many issues, but to me, that's part of what friendship is about.

What I enjoy about conferences in general is the opportunity to engage in sustained conversations about issues that we care deeply about. And we try to create opportunities for those conversations by organizing this Symposium. A lot of great conversations took place during the sessions, in the hall way, at restaurants, and even in hotel rooms.

I also met a lot of new people who attended the Symposium for the first time. I got to know some of them really well. I hope to get to know the others at the next Symposium ;-)

The "theory" theme was a challenging one to talk about even for experienced researchers, but the speakers did a great job of addressing various and sometimes conflicting definitions of theory as well as a wide range of issues related to practicing theory in the field of L2 writing. I can't wait to see the manuscripts based on these talks for the next Symposium volume.

I came back from the Symposium yesterday. Dwight was kind enough to pick up Steve, Matt and me at 4:45 a.m. to take us to the Indy airport. I know he did a huge favor because both Dwight and I are night owls (4:45 is about our bedtime). Thanks, D! I'll buy you a drink at AAAL in Montreal this weekend.

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Symposium on Second Language Writing 2006

The first of the three-day event went really well. It was the Graduate Student Conference. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the presentations and talking with the presenters afterwards.

I was pleased with the overall quality of graduate student presentations. Chris Casanave told me she was glad to see that most of the presenters made the effort to "speak to" the audience rather than "read" papers. Most of them were well-informed by the relevant literature, and there were signs of serious attempts to contribute new knowledge to the field. I also felt that the questions and answers afterwards were becoming more sophisticated and well-informed while remaining colleagial. I take it as an indication that second language writing is maturing as a field.

I was also happy to see that many of the invited Symposium speakers as well as other established researchers in the field attended the Graduate Student Conference and interacted with the presenters and participants. Many grad students told me that they appreciated the opportunity to get to know the "authors" whose work they have been reading. I can't wait to see these budding scholars return to future Symposia as the "authors."

The biennial social gathering at Lafayette Brewing Company (my favorite hangout while I was at Purdue) was well attended, and the participants seemed to be enjoying themselves. This is one of my favorite parts of the Symposium.

Tony Cimasko and Steve Simpson did an outstanding job in organizing the Graduate Student Conference. I was especially impressed by how well they handled the pre-conference meeting with session chairs as well as the small-group discussion at the end. Thanks for your hard work, Steve and Tony. Well done!

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I tend to get a lot of email messages from graduate students from other institutions and other countries. In general, I enjoy corresponding with them, and I try to help them as much as possible by sharing my opinion, providing feedback on their research design, suggesting a few sources, and sharing some of my own work.

Many of the people who send me those requests are really professional, polite and pleasant. Before they ask for help, they tell me who they are, who their advisors are, in which programs and at institutions they are studying, which one of my articles has influenced their work, etc. They also tell me a bit about their work--enough for me to understand what they are trying to do, what they have read, at what stage of the project they are at, and what they are struggling with.

But other messages are not as informative. Perhaps they are trying not to waste my time by telling me all about themselves before asking me a question. (Too much information can actually get overwhelming.) But sometimes its not clear whether they have read anything on the topic, what they are trying to do, why they are interested in it, and why they have decided to contact me of all people (other than having my email address handy). I try to respond even in those cases, but those correspondences often end up taking a lot more time because I have to probe for details to understand what kind of suggestions would be most helpful. I've also had a few situations where the student had already done what I would have suggested.

Other researchers in my field also get this kind of email. Some of them try to respond as much as possible; others simply delete them. Others respond only if the initial message is courteous and professional.

Before you contact anyone for help, do your homework. Make sure you have done everything you can on your own before asking for help from an outside expert. Specifically:

  • Try Use every possible keywords imaginable. 
  • Search through databases available through the library at your own institution. If you don't know how to use it, contact your own librarians. They are there to help you. 
  • If you are interested in second language writing, search and browse through the entire issue of the Journal of Second Language Writing before contacting anyone. 
  • Consult your advisor first about the question--she or he may have the information you need or at least know where best to find it. They should also be able to tell you if your request is a reasonable one. 
After doing all of these, you should be able to find the answer. If they are not able or willing to help, start shopping for a better advisor at your institution or elsewhere. If you are not in a doctoral program yet, find the right one for you. Here are the guidelines:

If you can't find answers to your questions after trying all of these, then consider emailing someone at another institution. Here are some guidelines:
  • Introduce yourself--explain who you are, which program you are in and at what stage, who your advisor is, etc.
  • Explain why you are contacting the person and not anyone else.
  • Briefly explain your project. Thinks of it as a mini-proposal--a statement of rationale, a brief summary of your mental mapping of the works related to the topic, a statement of the gap in the professional literature you are trying to address, the research design (if it's an empirical research), and possible contributions to the field. Without this kind of information, it's often not possible to give a sound and specific advice.
  • Focus only on the information that can't be obtained elsewhere or from anyone else.
  • Keep the question or request specific and to a minimum, and make it easy to answer.
  • Understand that researchers are busy with their own work and, in many cases, their own students. Being courteous and showing some appreciation (at least a thank you note) is the least you can do. I also like it when people send me the result of their work that I helped with. 
  • Include the person's full name in the acknowledgements. (Or cite the person's contribution in the manuscript as personal communication.) 
The information about the advisor may seem trivial, but I ask anyways because I don't want to give the kind of help that the advisor may find inappropriate (that is, I don't want to contribute to an act of academic dishonesty). Some people hesitate to give me that information, perhaps thinking that I wouldn't know the advisor anyway (although I often do know something about them) or fearing that it would embarrass the advisor (but if that's true, they should not be contacting me).

Occasionally, these correspondences turn into long-term professional relationship--even friendship. But this kind of relationship usually start with a well-written and considerate messages as well as thoughtful follow-ups. Writing does matter, I guess.

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Last update: January 6, 2008