DukeWrites Interviews Writing Tutor Celia Mellinger

DukeWrites interviewed Celia Mellinger, one of the Writing Studio’s tutors.  In her interview, Celia discusses her approach to tutoring, what she enjoys about tutoring, and how she keeps busy in her off hours.

How long have you worked as a writing tutor at Duke?

2 ¾ years! I just checked, and I’ve had 755 appointments!  I’m not up to Patrick’s level (another Writing Studio tutor), but I do feel like I’ve got some experience at this point.  At the same time, it’s amazing how frequently a student can stump me with a question I have never been asked.  Always a new day.

Describe your particular approach to tutoring.

Wow, a particular approach…. I have a very interdisciplinary background—physics, philosophy, theology, education—so I bring a pretty broad range of interests to work. I can always sympathize when writers are having a hard time narrowing down the scope of their papers; I haven’t been too successful at narrowing down the scope of my entire academic career, though I don’t think I’d want it any other way.

As much as I can, I approach each appointment with fresh eyes and ears. Every writer has a different perspective, and most have different assignments! It’s about helping people find out what’s most interesting to them about any given project and getting that communicated in their text.

What do you think are the most useful resources at the Writing Studio?

The people, of course! I love being able to find another opinion on where to find a resource, what formats are standard in another discipline, and how to phrase a tricky opinion. Dr. Google is excellent, but not nearly as straightforward for answering a nuanced question as another real live writer. For me to be most useful, I need a clear head—and maybe some caffeine!

As for our website resources, depending on the situation, we have so many things that can apply. In my own work, I had an “aha moment” with paragraphing when I realized how much cohesive paragraphs have to do with a reader understanding the flow of the writing.  So the MEAL plan has been a favorite as well as Reverse Outlining. For those of us who work out our ideas as we write instead of before we write, Reverse Outlining is critical, since it makes it easy to go back through the paper and make sure everything points to our most important insights.

What do you enjoy most about tutoring?

With a first-time visitor to the Writing Studio, I’d bet about half the time they leave saying this exact phrase, “Wow, that was so useful!” (Hopefully the rest are thinking it.) There’s just something about having a dedicated listener that can really solidify what is working and not working with a project. I don’t feel particularly gifted—it’s more the setup of our environment here that makes us helpful. But, hearing that really does make coming into work feel like a treat.

What do you do when you are not tutoring?

I spend a lot of my time taking care of my awesome two-year-old and his cute friends. I don’t know if reading 755 student papers has had an effect on me, but I find I have a visceral reaction to both “good” and “bad” children’s books. Just try reading Best Friends for Francis and see if it doesn’t improve your day (and make you want to eat cream cheese and tomato sandwiches).


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