Paul Kei Matsuda

2007 Symposium on Second Language Writing

This year's Symposium on Second Language Writing was a huge success. About 340 people from 26 countries participated in the three-day event that took place at Nagoya Gakuin University, home of Miyuki Sasaki, one of the leading L2 writing researchers.

Many people told me that they were impressed by the quality of presentations (as was I) and that they enjoyed meeting people from variuos parts of the Pacific Rim and beyond.

More photos are available here.

The Symposium has now become an annual event, and the next Symposium will take place on June 5-7, 2008, at Purdue University. Tony and his staff will be organizing the 2008 Symposium (including the website), and I'll be working on the 2009 Symposium.

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Open Lecture at Nagoya University (9/22)

Here is the information on the open lecture at Nagoya University.


Title: "Writing for Scholarly Publication in English"

Presenter: Paul Kei Matsuda
Visiting Researcher, Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University
Associate Professor of English, Arizona State University

Date & Time:
September 22, 2007
1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Place: 8th Floor, Meeting Room No. 1
Graduate School of International Development
Nagoya University

Directions are available here.

Note: The lecture will be in English, but participants can ask questions in Japanese as well as English.



講演者:Paul Kei Matsuda





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Academic Job Search

Academic job search for Ph.D. candidates in my fields (applied linguistics, rhetoric and composition, TESOL) usually begins in the fall of the final year of dissertation when you have at least one or two chapters written and approved by your committee chair.

When you go on the job market for your first tenure-track job, do an all-out search (i.e., applying for all the positions you wouldn't mind taking) rather than a limited search (i.e., applying for selected positions).

In most cases, it would be wise not to start a job search just to "test the water." Whether you are applying for a few positions or many, it will be a half-time job. Unless you already have a lot of publications under your belt, the time is better spent focusing on writing for publication. If you go on the market prmaturely, you are likely to waste your and your advisor's time (as well as the search committees' time). Even if you get an offer, the demand of the new position might make it extremely difficult to finish your dissertation, and you may waste your precious time you should be spending for earning your tenure.

In late September, MLA (Modern Lanugage Association of America) publishes the larges job list of the year (aka the October List), listing many tenure-track positions. A majority of tenure-track positions have early to mid-November deadlines, though it's beginning to change. Many rhetoric and composition search committees set earlier deadlines, trying to grab the best candidate before anyone else.

Job ads are also circulated through The Chronicle of Higher Education as well as relevant websites and mailing lists in the field.

After the initial screening, the first round of job interviews for entry-level positions often take place at MLA, which is usually scheduled at the last few days of the calendar year. Interviews for linguistics jobs often take place at LSA (Linguistic Society of America), which is usually scheduled right after MLA.

Increasingly, institutions are using phone interviews in November or December instead of having interviews at conferences.

Some of the documents you will need to prepare include:

  • Job application letters
  • Curriculum vitae (aka CV, vita)
  • Dossier, including: Three letters of recommendation
  • Undergraduate and graduate transcripts
  • Writing samples (published articles and book chapters, dissertation chapters, manuscripts under consideration, etc.)
  • Teaching portfolio, which might include: Teaching philosophy statements, descriptions and rationale for courses taught, sample syllabi, and teaching evaluation.
You may not use all of these for the initial application, but once you make the first cut, you will find that different hiring committees ask for different sets of materials. Even if you don't use all of them, the process of developing these documents will help you prepare for the interviews.

If you are planning to apply for positions that involve graduate-level teaching, you might want to develop your "ideal" syllabi for some of the core courses (e.g., composition theory, research methods) and a course in the area of your specialization.

For more information about the job search process in English, see:

Showalter, English, Howard Figler, Lori G. Kletzer, Jack H. Schuster, Seth R. Katz. The MLA Guide to the Job Search: A Handbook for Departments and for PhDs and PhD Candidates in English and Foreign Languages. New York: MLA, 1996.

This is a helpful guide, except there is a passage that seems to encourages English departments to discriminate against nonnative English speakers. Shame on them!

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Letters of Recommendation

Part of your dissertation committee members' job is to write letters of recommendation for you. Do not hesitate to ask. But your request for recommendation does need to be courteous, informative and--yes--early. Make your request at least two or three weeks in advance.

To make it easier to develop a strong and specific recommendation letter, provide the following information/documents:

  • A brief sketch of when and how you met the writer of the recommendation letter, what courses you have taken with that person, and any other special projects you have worked on with/for that person.
  • A description of the job, grant, or award you are applying for (If you are applying for multiple jobs, provide a representative job announcement or a description of the kinds of jobs you are looking for.)
  • A copy of your application letter and/or application form. (If you are applying for multiple jobs, provide a representative sample.)
  • A copy of your most recent curriculum vitae (CV). (If you are applying for positions outside higher education, provide a copy of your resume.)
  • Any additional material about your research, teaching or service (e.g., major publications, teaching portfolio, teaching philosophy statement).
  • A sentence or two about what aspect of your work you want emphasized in the letter (but try not to sound demanding in your request).
  • The address to which the letter should be sent; if it's an online dossier service (e.g., Interfolio), then provide instructions (or links to the instructions page).
  • An SASE, if applicable (for campus mail, provide a large, self-addressed envelope).
  • A waiver form provided by the dossier service (if applicable; see below).
  • The date by which you need the letter. (This is important.)
If a committee member says "no" to your request, don't take it personally--the person is probably doing a favor by not writing anything less than a strong letter.

In addition to your committee members, consider asking other people who have an intimate knowledge of a certain aspect of your work as a student, teacher, or researcher. But don't ask someone to write this important letter just because the person is a well-known figure and you happen to know this person's email or have had a few drinks with that person. That doesn't count as "intimate knowledge" in this case. 

Asking someone who has worked with you on a professional committee is good, especially if the person can attest to your work ethic and dedication to the field; but it may not help unless you have other people writing strong letters focusing on your intellectual capacity and your potential as a productive teacher and/or researcher. 

What about that big figure who has said good things about your presentation at a conference or have read and commented on your manuscripts? I still wouldn't count on the person to write a strong letter based on those brief encounters. You really have to establish close working relationships with several faculty members and perhaps other people in the field. 

Recommendation letters are not worth anything if the applicant does not waive the right to see them. If you are planning to apply for multiple positions, establish a credentials file (aka. dossier). Some institutions provide their own dossier services for graduate students; others outsource. Some of my former students have used a service called Interfolio with good results. (No, I'm not being paid to endorse this service.) 

Your dossier might include three letters of recommendation and undergraduate/graduate transcripts from all post-secondary institutions you have attended.

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Applying to a Graduate Program

I've already discussed how to find a suitable graduate program for you, so I'm going to focus here on how to write a strong statement of aims and purpose (aka. statement of purpose or personal statement).

First, read the guidelines carefully. If it says one-page, stick to one-page. Single or double spaced? If it doesn't specify, I'd go for a single-space document with block paragraphs with a blank line between paragraphs (just like this "document"). It's a lot easier to read than a double-spaced document. Use a font that's easy to read rather than those that look nice but slow down the reading process.

A strong opening statement that grabs the reader's interest is important, but don't get too fancy. In my experience, what appeals to the admission committee is not the style of writing (although the lack of style could work against you) but the substance: that you are an intelligent person who is devoted to the field; that you have a clear sense of purpose; that you know enough about the field and are eager to learn much, much more; that you have done the homework to find out about the strengths of the program you are applying to; that you have the determination to complete the course of study; that you are a pleasant person to work with (or rather, that you are not an unpleasant person to work with).

These are not to be stated explicitly. Instead, they have to come through to the readers as you state your sense of purpose in pursuing a Ph.D. degree.

In other words, voice--"the amalgamative effect of the use of discursive and non-discursive features that language users choose, deliberately or otherwise, from socially available yet ever-changing repertoires" (Matsuda, 2001; see also Matsuda and Tardy, 2007)--is crucial in this type of academic writing; it is inseparable from the substance.

It's also important to have a sense of what you wish to do when you complete the course of study and why you think the program you are applying to can prepare you for that professional goal. Is it the scope of the program? Is it the particular set of courses that are available? Is it a specific faculty member (or faculty members) who has the theoretical and methodological expertise that you are interested in acquiring?

In the process of preparing the document, you will (I hope) find out a lot about the program you are applying to, which will help you develop a realistic sense of what you can expect from the program. I also hope you will learn more about your own reasons for pursuing a graduate degree and how much you really want to study in that program. The opportunity to examine the match between you and the program of your dream might be the second most important function of the statement of aims and purpose.

The most important function, of course, is to get yourself admitted to the program.

Good luck to you all!

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Open Lecture at GSID

On September 22, 2007, I will be giving an open lecture at the Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University. The topic will be "Writing for Scholarly Publication in English." It will not only provide information about how to write academic articles but also present an insider's perspective that might help contextualize the process of academic writing.

More information will be available here soon.



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GSID Summer Intensive Seminar

Last week, I taught a three-day summer intensive seminar for students in the Graduate School of International Development at Nagoya University. At the request of my host, Professor Toru Kinosita, The seminar focused on qualitative research on second language with a postmodern twist.

Planning for this seminar was an interesting experience because I didn't know much about the students until a few days before the seminar started. The only thing I knew for sure was that few of them had any prior experience or exposure to qualitative research or second language writing, much less postmodernism. I hope I succeded in showing them that the assumptions of quantitative and qualitative studies are not necessarily mutually exclusive and that both of them are but ways of establishing strong support for a larger claim--which is in the realm of informal reasoning or, to use Perelman's term, the realm of rhetoric.

The seminar was useful to me because it helped me renew my understanding that graduate programs need to provide their students with more than just the knowledge of either qualitative or quantitative methods--or even both. In order to successfuly present their research findings and to turn them into viable knowledge in the field, researchers need a broad-based knowledge of various methodological approaches as well as various philosophical assumptions underlying what it is that we do as researchers.

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Last update: January 6, 2008