Grad students get a leg up with new English class

Undertaking a master's degree can be daunting for anyone. Not only does it involve extensive research, it requires a great deal of writing – something that's a challenge for many students. Now try doing it in another language.

For international students studying at the University of Lethbridge, working on a master's thesis can be especially difficult. This summer, a group of 10 international graduate students at the U of L received a little assistance by learning to organize, present and write about their ideas in new and effective ways. All the while, they gained additional insight on everything from finance and statistics to evaluating shards of ancient pottery.

Academic English for International Graduate Students ran for the first time this summer as a pilot project. This new class is designed to prepare international students for the challenge of writing literature reviews, theses and other materials throughout their graduate studies.

"The purpose of the class is to make the transition to graduate studies as easy as possible for international students," explains Eric Low, instructor of the course and consultant at the U of L's Writing Centre. "The idea is to orient them to the expectations of academic writing in a Canadian university and specifically at the U of L."

Students learn techniques for creating outlines, writing literature reviews, organizing and structuring their ideas and engaging in reader-based writing. They gain an understanding of writing styles and citation styles as well as techniques for thinking critically about their research topics. As much as possible, the class incorporates each student's individual needs while remaining broad enough to be relevant for all of the students.

"Eric asks us for feedback on our expectations and what we want to learn, and in turn he gives us feedback on what we need to work on," says Shengchen Huang, one of Low's students.

"The personalized approach is extremely helpful," adds Ghaderpour Ebrahim. "We can go to him anytime for one-on-one meetings."

The course's mandate stays true to the liberal education philosophy of the U of L by allowing students to broaden their minds into different fields of study.

"We have students in this class from a wide variety of disciplines – from math to archaeology to health sciences," says Low. "By discussing their research in class, they not only learn about different areas of research but also help each other see their research from different perspectives. They can also help each other challenge the constructs surrounding their research questions and hypotheses."

Indeed, the students learn much more than writing.

"We've gained skills in presentation and discussion, exchanged ideas and gained confidence," says Thabit Alomari. "We've also gained cross-cultural communication skills."

The students have formed a close group of friends, reveling in the opportunity to learn about each other's cultures as well as Canadian culture.

"This should be a central course for international graduate students," says Montserrat Villanuevo Barbolla. "Sometimes international graduate students can lose their way, and this class provides guidance."

Low agrees that the course is an important way to help international graduate students stay on track.

"This class is a first step in demonstrating to international graduate students that we care about their well-being, want them to succeed, and that they have access to resources here when they need them."