Writing for Engineers
My portfolio, purpose, and you
I believe that e-portfolios serve as opportunities to reflect and show learning, in addition to showcasing work for particular audiences. Seeking to reflect on my own writing as an engineer, I have chosen to use this portfolio as a means to show my identity as a writer and learner in a STEM discipline, rather than to showcase strictly professional work for employers. In this gallery of writing “self-portraits”, I showcase my learning as an engineer and writer, by giving you a virtual tour of several pieces of writing from my engineering and writing and rhetoric courses. These pieces will show how over time, what I perceived as two separate skills shaped my academic identity, and particularly how what I learned from writing and rhetoric cemented together my identities as a writer and engineer. I hope that both STEM students considering writing courses, and faculty who wish to see the value of writing to STEM fields alike will benefit from navigating this e-portfolio and reading about a skill which is essential to all disciplines.
If you are eager to learn about writing courses and see what they have to offer a STEM major, I would encourage you to explore a few topics that you may be interested in:
- Lab reports and rhetorical analysis
- Writing-for-learning and the role of expressive writing in other courses
- Ways of thinking and doing as a writer in engineering disciplines
- How I write and my “writerly identity”
A not-so brief narrative
The story of this e-portfolio begins a few years ago with my first steps in developing my writerly identity. As a mechanical engineer, and a novice in creating portfolios, I struggled to populate my pages with content that would build my so-called “identity”. My efforts initially left me empty-handed, as I had nothing to showcase outside of my work within the discourse of writing and rhetoric due to my inexperience in my own field of engineering. The most I could do at the time was to imagine how I could describe my identity as a writer. Initially, this was a simple task. I was an engineer, and a writer. As an engineer, I was pursuing a degree, took difficult math classes, and studied hard to understand the mysteries of how the world works. As a writer new to the public and professional writing certificate in the fall of 2012, accompanied by my limited experience as a writing tutor, I worked to explore the writing process with the many types of students who came through the doors of the writing center, and I engaged myself deeply in writing in my own humanities classes- much more willingly than my classmates were at times.
At the time, this answer to my identity was enough for me; you study in a field to become an expert in it, and each field is as separate and distinct from one another like different languages. When people told me that they were great at sciences but sucked when it came to writing, or vice versa, I accepted it, because as I understood, these were two separate fields of study. As I strove for academic excellence, I wanted to be proficient in multiple fields, seeking to balance my knowledge across several topics, as one may try to balance the attributes of their Dungeons and Dragons character (after all, what good is a high attack stat if you don’t have constitution or defensive skills to last?) Or at least, this is how I used to think of my own identity as a learner- being comprised of multiple, non-connected identities. My motive for taking writing classes initially was to gain more knowledge to strengthen an area that I perceived myself to be weak in. I was a scientist, an engineer, and I could add “writer” to my pile of hats in an effort to be more well-rounded.
But something happened in-between the years of starting my work as a writing tutor and reaching the end of the road in my academic trek. I began to see the role rhetoric and writing skills play behind the scenes in science-writing within my field, and I made good use of it in my engineering courses once I became aware of it. The lines between myself as a writer and engineer began to blur over time, and it became difficult for me to think of ways to display those identities on this e-portfolio separately. By starting my first e-portfolio, I had established a tangible framework for thinking about my identity, with which I was able to critically deconstruct and revise over the next few years. By the time I had substantially revisited this portfolio, it felt impossible for me to adequately display my identity through a collection of separate professional components, which I needed to satisfy requirements of this collection of displayed pieces. I was not satisfied with the idea of treating my identity as though it was something that could be understood purely through a showcase of professional coursework in separate disciplines.