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Elizabeth Lenaghan ’12 PhD

Director, Graduate Writing Place and Director & Associate Professor of Instruction, Cook Family Writing Program

Elizabeth Lenaghan ’12 PhD

Writing isn't perfectible and can always be improved. Helping students to see that as a good thing rather than an impediment is one of my greatest rewards and challenges.”

Elizabeth Lenaghan is the director of the Graduate Writing Place, which provides writing consultations with graduate students and postdoctoral trainees at Northwestern. She received her PhD in Media, Technology & Society from the School of Communication in 2012. In her role at the Graduate Writing Place, Elizabeth manages a group of PhD candidates who serve as graduate writing fellows and provide assistance with a variety of genres, including coursework, dissertation proposals and chapters, fellowship applications, and manuscripts for publication. She also facilitates writing workshops, interdisciplinary writing groups, and dissertation boot camps for graduate students. In 2014, Elizabeth earned a Graduate School Service Award for her work. She is currently the faculty-in-residence in the Elder Residential Community.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
My research and teaching focus on the impact new media has on the reception, consumption, and production of traditional cultural objects and modes of expression.

What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
When I started as a graduate assistant in the Cook Family Writing Program, I realized I didn't want a traditional tenure-track research career. Teaching and mentoring students was much more rewarding to me.

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
My work in the writing program is inspired by a desire to help students grow to become the best writers they can be while cultivating healthy attitudes toward writing as both a product and a process. This intersects with my broader research interests on the impact new media have on us in all sorts of capacities. For instance, I'm really interested in how digital technologies both impede and improve our writing processes.

What is a mistake you have learned from in your career?
Early in my time as a graduate student, I thought that the only career I could pursue after completing my degree was to become a tenure-track professor. This mistaken belief prevented me from pursuing professional development opportunities that would have exposed me to other career tracks. I was lucky that I fell into my assistantship when I did before it was too late! With this in mind, I’d love to encourage current graduate students to apply to work as the GA or a Fellow in the Graduate Writing Place. We’ll be accepting applications through April 27!

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
It's both rewarding and challenging to encourage people to grow as writers. Writing isn't perfectible and can always be improved. Helping students to see that as a good thing rather than an impediment is one of my greatest rewards and challenges.

What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
Helping people to learn to see the power that written communication can have in the world and to exercise that power in ways that are meaningful to them.

Why Northwestern?
The students, faculty, and staff are engaged, wonderful, and—increasingly—bring diverse backgrounds and interests to their work. There are few other universities where I can imagine being surrounded by so many wonderful people doing so much interesting work.

What books are on your bedside table?
I read a lot and alternate between books that pertain to my research or teaching and books I'm reading for pleasure. Right now, I'm reading a compilation of essays by writing teachers that is pitched toward teachers of first-year composition. Before that, I read a wonderful dystopian novel by Maurice Carlos Ruffin called We Cast a Shadow. I highly recommend it.

What inspires you?
I’m equally inspired by seeing people push past roadblocks to complete difficult tasks and by watching people enact service roles with dedication, empathy, and commitment.

Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
I'm excited about the work that I'm doing with colleagues to help create more formal mentoring programming for Northwestern faculty who want to learn how to teach writing to the students they work with.

What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
My advice is to lean into opportunities that seem interesting even if they don't seem related to whatever path you think you are on. 

Published: April 6, 2020

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