Paul Kei Matsuda

Minority Students?

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Minority students at the University of New Hampshire at Durham are criticizing its decision not to fire a resident assistant for having uttered racial slurs last month during an appearance on the campus's television station, The Union Leader, a newspaper in Manchester, N.H., reported" (Chronicle of Higher Education: Daily News Blog, 06:23, 10/27/2006).

Did The Union Leader say that it was "minority students" who criticized UNH? The answer is yes. Union Leader Correspondent Clynton Namuo reports that "A University of New Hampshire resident assistant who used racial slurs during an appearance on UNH's television station last month has stirred minority students into action after the school allowed him to keep his job" ("Groups protest UNH's decision not to fire RA who made racial slurs," Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006).

Are these reports accurate? Well, not really. I find the use of the term "minority students" misleading because, in the same report, Namuo quotes Jonathan Rose, an UNH junior, who participated in last Friday's meeting between students and UNH officials. Here is the quote: "An RA is a parent figure or an older sibling, they're supposed to look out for you in the dorms and when someone does something controversial or flat out derogatory, it makes it seem like this is not the sort of person I can go to when it comes to something related to my race or religion." The article identifies Rose as "White" at the end. Clearly, it wasn't just "minority students" who were concerned.

I find it disturbing how the very act of responding to racism gets racialized in a problematic way. Why do people assume that "minority students" are the only ones who are responding to this incident--even when there is evidence to the contrary?

Or am I simply overinterpreting the term "minority"? Perhaps a more pessimistic reading is possible: Those who are concerned about racism constitute a minority at UNH. But that's not been my experience at UNH.

Related Articles:

"Students speak out against hate crime, administration" by Dean LeMire

"Time for students to come together" by Alexander Plummer, Editor-in-Chief, The New Hampshire

"UNH isn't that homogenous" by Siobhan Senier


Choosing a Ph.D. Program

It's that time of the year again. I've been talking to various people who are interested in applying to Ph.D. programs. Here are some pieces of advice I keep giving out to help them choose an appropriate program for them.

1. Find out whether doctoral-level work is really for you. The doctorate is, first and foremost, a research degree that prepares people to become knowledge producers. It's not a glorified teacher certification program. (Teaching is an important part of professional preparation especially in my fields, but teaching proficiency or potential is a pre-requisite; training teachers is not the primary purpose of Ph.D. programs.)

2. Learn about the field you are getting into. It is important for a Ph.D. applicant to have a solid understanding of what the field is all about, what kind of research people have done and are currently doing, and what applications (if any) there may be. Familiarize yourself with some of the key ideas, terms and names in the field. Read widely and read a lot. (A master's degree in the same field is not always required, but even with a relevant degree, if you can't demonstrate a broad understanding of the field, getting accepted into a good program can be difficult.)

3. Know what your interests are. At least in the U.S. context, it's not always necessary for a beginning Ph.D. students to have a clear research program at the beginning of doctoral studies. A broad understanding and interest in the field as a whole and in a few areas of specialization would do.

Am I ever going to get to the question of how to choose a program? I know, I know. Be patient. It's not a quick and easy decision like picking the right avocado for making guacamole tonight. If you don't do your homework, you are going to regret it--big time.

4. Read more in the subfield in which you are particularly interested. In this process, you will familiarize yourself with key topics, issues and methodological approaches in association with particular names of authors who publish actively and are cited often. If you have a sense of who's who in the field, you are ready to look at specific programs.

5. Make a list of people whose work you find interesting--their topics, methodological approaches, and their arguments. Leave out people whose work you find incomprehensible or incompatible with your own orientation.

6. Go on line and find out where they teach. By now, you should be able to do this without looking up the information--from your reading of many of their recent publications. Find out whether they teach in doctoral programs and, if so, what kind of courses they teach, in what department (here is a list of what I will be teaching in the next few years), what other faculty members are teaching in the same program, what kind of courses are offered, what and how their graduate students seem to be doing in terms of presentations, publications, dissertation projects, and job placement.

7. Try to get to know these people. You might contact them by email. Be very polite, tactful, and to the point. If possible, state briefly why you are contacting that particular person. Don't ask any questions that can be answered by looking at the program/graduate school web site or by asking administrative assistants for the graduate program. Ask those questions that cannot be answered by anybody else. If possible, arrange a campus visit and meetings with faculty members and graduate students.

8. Try to get to know their students. When you go to conferences (if you don't, then start going to conferences in the field), go to sessions presented by faculty and students from that institution. (If you can't find anyone from the institution at major conferences in the field, then you know what to do--move the institution to the bottom of the list.) Tell them that you are interested in applying to their program and ask them to share their insights about the program, faculty members, financial support, and life in the program, at the university and in the area.

9. If a writing sample is required (as it usually is), choose one that demonstrates your broad understanding of the field and your analytical and research skills as well as the quality of writing. Remember: good writing is not complicated writing. Use keywords in the field, but don't use big words unnecessarily just to impress the admissions committee--they will easily see through it.

10. The statement of purpose or the "personal statement" should focus on your professonal aspirations, not the details of your personal lives. Admissions committee memebers couldn't care less about the close relationship you had with your dog when you were in elementary school--unless you are applying to a doctoral program in, say, animal psychology. The conventions and expectations may vary from program to program, but in general, include: why you are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in the field (and perhaps what you hope to do in the future), what subfields you are interested in and, most important, why you are interested in the particular program (faculty, courses, quality of graduate student publications, etc.). You don't have to sell yourself too much--this is not a job application. Being a good student and colleague who will successfully and promptly complete the degree and become an active member of the field is sufficient.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

Related blog entries:
PhDing (freshcomp)
App season (Collin vs. Blog)

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Tamkang International Conference on L2 Writing

More information about Tamkang International Conference on L2 Writing is now available. The conference will take place at Tamkang University, Tamsui, Taiwan, on December 1-2, 2006.

This will be my first visit to Taiwan. I hear Tamsui is a beautiful city near Taipei. I'm really looking forward to learning about the current state of L2 writing research and instruction in Taiwan as well as other parts of Asia.


Gesa Kirsch Talk, November 2, 2006

For my research methods class this semester, I've invited Professor Gesa Kirsch from Bentley College. We are using two of the books she co-edited, and the feminist perspective she brings to the discussion of research methodology and ethics is particularly important for my students.

On Thursday, November 2, she will give a talk entitled, "'Like an August Mushroom Hunt': Serendipity, Creativity, and a Sense of Place in Archival Research." More information about the talk is availiable at

Her visit is part of the Department of English Lecture Series; it is also partially supported by Summer Literacy Institute.

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Symposium Site Visit

While I was in Nagoya, I got together with Miyuki Sasaki and Masumi Narita, Local Co-Chairs, for a site visit for the 2007 Symposium. We went to Kanayama Station to check out all the hotels in the area. We also went to Nagoya Gakuin University's new Shirotori Campus, where the Symposium will be held in September 2007.

Having been there, I now have a better sense of what it's going to be like to have the Symposium in Nagoya. On the way home from Nagoya, I got inspired and developed directions and wrote a brief guide to Kanayama and Nagoya, and posted them on the Symposium web site.

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Back from IAWE

I'm back from the International Association for World Englishes conference in Nagoya, Japan. Overall, I had a great conference experience. It was really well organized--people at Chukyo University did a great job. I was particularly impressed by Chukyo students who worked really hard to make sure everything was in order and no one was lost in transition.

I was invited to give a plenary talk, and (after consulting my in-house expert) I decided to talk about the implications of world Englishes for the teaching of writing. The title was "World Englishes and Writing Instruction: Conflicts and Possibilities. I explored the theoretical and practical difficulties in incorporating insights from the field of world Englishes into the teaching of writing, and discussed how writing pedagogy might be transformed in increasingly multilingual, multicultural and multinational contexts. I also suggested the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in raising the awareness of linguistic diversity and changes not only among students but among writing teachers, language teachers, faculty across the curriculum, editors and publishers, and the larger public. It was well attended and well received.

The best part, though, was that I had the honor of being introduced by Professor Nobuyuki Hino. He gave a very generous and kind introduction that also reflected his great sense of humor. I responded by sharing a story of how his book influenced me when I was learning English as a high school student.

Aya and I also gave a paper on "The Internationalization of Technical Communication Textbooks." We reported the results of our analysis of four technical communication textbooks for their inclusion of international communication issues that are becoming increasingly important in today's global economy. We discussed how the textbooks represented the relationship between technical communicators and international audience, and how issues of language and cultures are incorporated. We pointed out the need for world Englishes specialists to be involved in the development of technical communication textbooks in order to facilitate the integration of international and global issues into the teaching of spoken and written communication.

One of the reasons I like attending conferences is the chance to meet new people and to spend time with friends. I got to spend some time with some of the people whose work I admire. I also met a few new people as well. I even had the chance to go out with some of my friends from college. That was fun!

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A Quick Publication

Chris Tardy and I have just had the fastest publication experience with English for Specific Purposes.

We submitted our initial manuscript, "Voice in Academic Writing: The Rhetorical Construction of Author Identity in Blind Manuscript Review," on September 5, and the reviewers' comments came back in a matter of two weeks--on September 21. Both reviewers suggested "accept with minor revisions," and provided specific and very helpful feedback. We sent in the revised version on October 3 and it was accepted on October 4.

The whole process took only about a month.

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Last update: January 6, 2008