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PWR's In the Spotlight

Robert Kaplan

Professor Robert Kaplan, the Undergraduate Program Director for the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, has long been interested in research writing.  While working on his doctorate in early American literature at CUNY Graduate Center, he did a fellowship in writing working with public health faculty to use writing as a tool for learning and teaching public health.  He also worked as the Director of Writing and Communication at the public health research center, where he worked with staff members to increase their communication and writing skills, and with faculty on grant proposals and scholarly articles.  According to Professor Kaplan, this experience showed him “how key writing is as a way to communicate knowledge,” which is something he would continue exploring at Stony Brook University.

Here at Stony Brook University, Professor Kaplan was asked to create WRT 305: Writing for the Health Professions and also to bring back WRT 381: Advanced Analytical and Argumentative Writing, which had not been taught in several years.  Professor Kaplan says that he noticed that graduate schools tended to expect that incoming students would have experience with research methods and writing, while undergraduate programs would assume that students would be taught those skills in graduate school, creating a gap in knowledge.  Since so many Stony Brook University students hope to continue to graduate school, Professor Kaplan felt that there was a real need for classes like WRT 305 and 381 to fill that gap. After teaching WRT 381 for the first time, Professor Kaplan asked students what they wished the class had been able to cover that they did not have time to, and WRT 380: Advanced Research Writing grew out of that feedback.

The intersection between STEM learning and writing skills has also been a focus of Professor Kaplan’s research.  He says that teaching these classes has gotten him interested in “writing transfer,” in which students take what they learn in writing classes and apply it to other coursework in their majors and to their careers.  It is useful, he says, to think of disciplines not only as sets of content but also particular ways of looking at the content itself and how to interact with the information. Out of this idea, Professor Kaplan has developed two research projects, alongside fellow Program in Writing and Rhetoric professor Peter Khost.  The first of these involves working with biology and psychology majors, both those who are and those who are not writing and rhetoric minors, and seeing if there are any differences in “how they understand the material and communicate the material in their major.” Professors Kaplan and Khost are also in the process of forming a writing research lab.  Professor Kaplan says that they hope this lab will be a “hub” to look at writing within Stony Brook University, to study how it is used in various disciplines and departments, and to see how faculty can incorporate writing into non-writing-intensive courses.  (Spotlight written by Katherine Hoyt)

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