• Aditi Nayak

Airlie Rose: Writing Associate and Interdisciplinary Researcher

Though most students know Airlie Rose as a Writing Associate for the Writing Center, she spent much of her academic career investigating biology. Today, she combines her expertise in both writing and biology not only to help students with science writing but also in her interdisciplinary research.

After majoring in Biology at Oberlin College, Rose worked at Indiana University and Tulane University as a Lab Assistant, researching resistance genes in Arabidopsis in one lab and phylogenetic relationships in Synurophyceae in another. She also taught in an after school support program in science for at risk youth, specifically women. Later, she became a graduate student at Duke University, investigating evolutionary developmental biology (EvoDevo). During her time as a graduate student, she served as a teaching assistant for an Introductory Biology course that focused on science writing.

Today, in addition to being a Writing Associate, Rose is an active researcher. Her interdisciplinary approach draws on the fields of psycholinguistics and cognitive writing studies to describe the inner experience of language during reading and writing. To catch a glimpse into the inner experience of a person writing, Rose asks students to free write. As they type their freewrite, she interrupts students and asks what’s happening in their mind. Rose explains that this interviewing portion requires a lot of clarifying questions: “If someone says I’m experiencing movement, that can mean I’m watching a movie or my body is moving.” In addition to this self-reported data, Rose uses keyboard logging, which records the time between each click of the keyboard. By integrating the text generated from the freewrite, keyboard logging, and interview results, Rose can get insight into cognitive processes that take place when a person writes.

Reflecting on her research, Airlie says she “had this sort of wandering academic career, which makes me perfect for working in a writing center. This is sort of my happy place.”

With her breadth of experience in STEM, Airlie is able to assist students with writing in a variety of fields. As the STEM-Writing Associate, she specializes in science writing. Her assistance is open to all undergraduates on campus, but she most often meets with thesis students.

Speaking about this trend, Rose noted that “The way students can choose their courses at Amherst, it’s...possible for a writing-phobic student to...avoid doing writing…. So, where I often meet them is when they are doing their honors thesis. It's so hard for students if the first time they’ve tried to write in the sciences is for their thesis because then they have six months or less to learn science writing and do it. But I’ve worked with several students where this happened, trying to cram this into their last few weeks.”

Learning science writing in this context is not impossible, but Rose encourages students to start practicing this skill earlier on, and she is more than willing to help. Whether that takes the form of helping thesis students write about their research, supporting professors in incorporating science writing into their courses, or helping undergraduates make sense of research papers, Rose combines her love of research and writing for the benefit of the Amherst community. Even as Amherst adapts to remote learning, Airlie continues to host appointments with members of the Amherst community that can be scheduled through the WCOnline Scheduler; at the end of the day, she truly loves working with students communicating about science:

“I love talking science--that’s what I want to get across to students. There’s nothing that makes me happier than to learn more about a student's research project.”

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