An anonymous compliment helped steer Chelsea Murdock toward her career.
In 2009, Murdock was a freshman geology major who enjoyed writing Harry Potter fan fiction in her spare time. One of her online posts elicited a glowing response from a reader.
“The message said that if I wasn’t pursuing writing, I was wasting my life,” Murdock recalled.
She took the message to heart, changed her major to English, and later earned a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition.
Now, Murdock is helping students realize their own writing potential – though in a more academic style.
Recently named director of the Writing Center, Murdock came to Clemson over the summer after serving a year as assistant director of a similar center at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Murdock wants to put the Writing Center at the heart of our campus, boosting University-wide awareness of this vital resource.
The mission of the Writing Center is to assist anyone from first-year students to Ph.D. candidates – and faculty, too.
The center offers one-on-one attention that’s particularly effective at helping improve writing skills. All services offered to students are free of charge.
“We support writers at any stage of the process for any genre of communication in any discipline,” Murdock said. “We serve the whole campus community.”
“I definitely want to get the word out,” she said.
Murdock began her own college career at Columbus State University in Georgia as a voice major (mezzo-soprano) before switching to geology.
Writing was always an interest – she had written sci-fi fan fiction since she was 15. Yet when she received that online compliment, it changed everything.
“It was a turning point,” she said. “I had been told by my friends and family for years that I should have been pursing English studies, and I kept saying no, but I got that review and it was a lightbulb moment. That brought me around to English and I never left.”
Murdock graduated magna cum laude from Kennesaw State University with a bachelor’s degree in English. As an undergraduate, she began tutoring students in writing.
In 2017, she earned her Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition from the University of Kansas through a five-year program that bypassed a master’s degree. Murdock then taught classes in English composition while serving as assistant director of the Communication Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Murdock was attracted to Clemson by the prospect of helping the Writing Center expand. “I’m very focused on growing community, and that’s what the job called for,” she said.
In addition to leading the Writing Center, Murdock is teaching first-year composition classes for the Honors College. Her classes will focus on two of her research interests: transmedia fandom and indigenous cultures.
“I’m excited by the opportunities here,” Murdock added. “The way I’ve seen Clemson framed is in terms of ‘Clemson Family,’ and I look forward to being a part of the Clemson community and supporting and helping it to grow.”
“Chelsea Murdock brings a wealth of experience in composition theory, cultural rhetorics and knowledge of best practices in the field of writing theory and writing centers,” said Susanna Ashton, chair of the Department of English. “I am excited to see what directions she is going to take not simply in terms of building our institutions but also in finding new ways to nurture talent, affirm the value of expression and to use our Clemson University Writing Center as a platform to encourage our students to aim high in their pursuit of both clarity and craft in writing.”
Part of the English department, the Writing Center is staffed by graduate students and undergraduate writing fellows, many of them from the Honors College. Undergraduate tutors receive a modest stipend for their work, while the graduate students tutor as part of their coursework.
“When hiring tutors, we’re particularly looking for folks who are supportive and open to helping students from a variety of disciplines,” Murdock said. “Then we look at whether they can take knowledge about writing and be able to teach it.”
The center’s home page spells out its primary objectives. The tutors help students:
- Develop and explore ideas.
- Organize, structure and format works.
- Integrate and cite sources appropriately.
- Weigh stylistic choices.
“We can give feedback on the message and audience reception,” Murdock said. “We can occasionally help with grammar. Our goal is to help writers to best communicate their points to their audience while also helping to develop their writing skills.”
Appointments can be made online but walk-ins are welcome. Students may also consult with a writing tutor via email in a new service being piloted this semester, particularly in support of online programs.
Murdock hopes to make tutors available on Sunday and expand online tutoring opportunities for off-campus students. She plans to add new workshops on such topics as citation styles and research strategies. And for graduate students, she would like to offer sessions on grant writing and bootcamps for thesis and dissertation writing.
Murdock seeks to provide undergraduates and graduates the space to write in a supportive and distraction-free environment. This semester, she hopes to host an undergraduate and graduate write-in, in which students can work in a productive space with tutors available nearby to provide consultations.
The Writing Center is located in Room 307 of the Academic Success Center (across the plaza from the Watt Family Innovation Center). Fall 2019 hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Friday. In addition, writing tutors are available 7-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday in the Cooper Library.
Eventually, Murdock sees the Writing Center reaching out beyond the University – for instance, helping high school seniors with college applications and essays.
“Sometime in the future, I would love to connect to our local community – Clemson, Pendleton, Central, Seneca,” Murdock said. “There’s every opportunity to help support local schools with writing efforts.”
For Clemson students, meanwhile, the Writing Center can serve as a pillar in their foundation of communication skills.
“I think no matter what discipline or profession you’re entering, communication and writing play a major part,” Murdock said. “Being able to communicate and write clearly is essential.”
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