Being a Peer When There Is an Age Gap: Part 2

I don’t usually get nervous about presenting information to a sea of students, especially when I feel confident about the content. But giving an in-depth presentation about UCWbL writing resources to graduate students who’ve been working tirelessly to craft their theses? My knees buckled and my palms started getting sweaty.

When the Outreach coordinator, Jen Fi., brought up the opportunity for team members to offer presenting pre-planned topics at the 2017 Graduate Thesis and Dissertation Conference, I jumped at its mention and indicated my immediate interest without thoroughly considering what I was getting myself into. I liked talking a lot, and I liked seeing illuminated smiles from previously anxious students who finally see the silver lining in their otherwise overwhelming writing processes. But graduate students? Given my lack of experience, I had no idea if I was able to help these older students with their thesis work. How would I manage to come across as both a “peer” and an “advisor” when there was a clear age gap between myself and the students coming to listen to the presentation? With what I’ve learned as a tutor thus far, the clearest way to reach writers’ motivations and inspirations is to connect with them as a fellow struggling student and toss the “hierarchical” mindset out the window. But talking at a group of older students—this was uncharted territory, and I worried I would look like a mechanical, emotionless droid the entire time I’d speak.

Luckily, I wasn’t just thrown into the ocean of thesis presentations by my Outreach coordinator and left to flounder on my own—I also got to work with an amazing peer tutor from the Workshops team. Natalie T.’s expertise and confidence boosted my own, and she provided reassurance to let me know there was no way I’d horribly botch this presentation. Instead, she reminded me I already knew how to provide the information available in a very friendly and outgoing manner to a group of students who would not, in fact, assume I was a totalitarian youngster preaching at how they should handle revising their dissertations who had no idea what that kind of pressure was like (surprise).

To take the jitters away, Natalie took the first half of the revisions presentations since she was currently working on a lengthy thesis herself. So, she was able to provide the “we’re all in this together” vibe that set the mood for the rest of the hour. Natalie’s rapport-building allowed me, a Junior who couldn’t provide personal advice on such a time-consuming project, to do what I was best at: introducing the UCWbL’s writing groups. And surprisingly enough, I managed to fit in some self-reflecting questions for the audience to engage with. I thought about my writing philosophy which reminded me that I could still offer a perspective of self-discipline and editing through other lengthy projects I had been working on, such as some self-paced novels I had been keeping up with as a soul-sucking hobby. It might not have been akin to the nail-biting, ulcer-causing papers that the graduate students were working on, but reinforcing the concept of finding routines to polish your work through frequent breaks and peer groups to share drafts can be applied to all writing.

I reminded myself all writing processes can have common ground. It didn’t matter that I personally wasn’t working on a thesis—what mattered was that I too had stayed late at night straining my eyes over a keyboard while riding a rollercoaster of caffeine and tears. What mattered was identifying those strategies that pulled us all through those tough-call revisions. Presenting wasn’t as frightening in the end, either. If I had talked about writing fellows in front of a class of bored students who were just glad that 10 minutes was getting taken up of normal class time, then talking about writing groups in front of a deeply-engaged group of stressed adults would be a piece of cake.

And it was—I would completely dive back into the mess of things, especially with the International Writing Conference coming up in November. I have plenty of time to rehearse with the Outreach folks.

[Full of nerves here and hoping that Natalie will do all the talking, but it’s true that if you fake it, you can make it! Keep that confidence going!]