CRC Press is pleased to share with you our author Q&A session with Marialuisa Aliotta, authors of Mastering Academic Writing in the Sciences: A Step-by-Step Guide
Q&A with Marialuisa Aliotta
Congratulations on the publication of your book Mastering Academic Writing in the Sciences: A Step-by-Step Guide. What would you like your audience to take away from the book?
What I would really like people to take away from this book is the appreciation that academic writing can be learned. Often, people think that being a good writer is a natural gift and you either have it or not. While this is true to some extent, academic writing is more like a craft and, like any craft, it can be learned.
What inspired you to write this book?
The book represents a natural evolution of the academic writing workshops that I have been running for physics PhD students for almost a decade. When I moved to the United Kingdom, I was frustrated to realise that supervisors were not allowed to give students feedback on their writing – the rationale being, I was told, that assessors should be marking the students’ work and not their supervisors’! That was when I decided to create a course on academic writing specifically tailored to students in scientific disciplines. In it, I distilled all I had learned about scientific writing based on my own experience (both as a student and as a supervisor) and on several books I had read on the topic. The course has been hugely successful during the years and eventually developed into an online course (www.handsonwriting.com
) and now into this book.
What audience did you have in mind whilst writing your book?
The book is primarily written for PhD students in scientific disciplines who struggle to write their theses or research papers. However, as many of those who attend my workshops state in their feedback, any researcher can benefit from the framework I teach. The approach presented in the book can help anyone to become a more productive, fluent, and engaging academic writer regardless of their career stage or discipline. In fact, some of the techniques and strategies I share about the writing process are “universal” and can be applied to non-scientific disciplines as well.
What makes your book stand out from it competitors?
There are plenty of books about academic writing on the market, but relatively few that are specific to scientific disciplines. Also, most books offer guidance and advice on what to write in different sections and not on how to approach the writing itself. So, I would say, the book has two features that make it stand out from its competitors: first, it caters specifically for scientists and is written by an academic for academics; and second, it offers the reader an easy-to-follow framework to aid the writing process. The step-by-step approach presented in the book is deliberately designed to alleviate the stress and anxiety that most students experience when having to write a thesis or research paper for the first time. Having a clear plan of what to do at each step will save the inexperienced writer plenty of time, frustration and wasted effort.
What is your academic background?
My research background is in experimental nuclear astrophysics. Simply put, I study nuclear reactions that take place in stars and create the chemical elements that make up our universe.
Who has influenced you the most?
When it comes to academic writing, the person who has influenced me the most was my undergraduate thesis supervisor. By taking the time to dissect, re-structure and polish every single draft of my thesis, he taught me much of what I know about writing. As for my English, I have a huge debt of gratitude to my private teacher, Ms Buday. All I know about the English language, its grammar and nuances, I owe it to her.
Tell us an unusual fact about yourself and your teaching or writing style.
A dear friend of mine from Germany once said to me: “Most teachers think that their job is done as soon as they have delivered their lecture. But, if you want to be a good teacher, this is only half of your job. The other half is making sure that your students have learnt”. This idea has forged much of my teaching style. In my classes, I always strive to find out how much my students are learning and to correct any misunderstandings whenever they occur.
What do you feel has been a highlight for you, in your career?
Two things, really: first, to realise that success only occurs when preparation meets opportunity, and second to realise that opportunity sometimes has a far greater impact on our careers than knowledge and skills alone. That is why it is crucially important to embrace challenges and opportunities whenever they present themselves. It is not always an easy task to accomplish, though.