Elena Kallestinova works as Director of the Writing and Communication Center at MIT and teaches writing and communication classes at the Department of Comparative Media Studies/Writing. She came to MIT after working for twelve years at Yale University, where she was the founding Director of the Graduate Writing Center and served as Assistant Dean for Writing in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. She has more than twenty years of experience teaching, training, and mentoring diverse student populations and is on the Board of Directors of the Consortium on Graduate Communication, an international association providing a forum for specialists in written, oral, and multimodal communication working with graduate and post-graduate students. With a Ph.D. in Linguistics and an M.A. in Teaching English as Second Other Language from the University of Iowa and an M.A./B.A. in Computational Linguistics from Moscow State Linguistic University, Elena is dedicated to building up and promoting written and oral communication programming to the MIT academic community.

What are the most common services that graduate students seek from the WCC?

The most popular program that graduate students attend is Individual Consultations with WCC Specialists, where graduate students can address various genres of writing they work on. The WCC offers consultations from 9 am to 6 pm every weekday, and more than 50% of those consultations are booked by graduate students. Another program that is growing in popularity is Writing Together Online, which offers daily writing sessions allowing graduate writers to connect, set goals and work in the company of other students and scholars.

Graduate writers find this program very helpful since these sessions help them not only secure time for writing and make progress but also develop healthy writing habits and connect with other graduate students. In addition to consultations and writing groups, the WCC offers workshops designed specifically for graduate students on dissertation and thesis writing, various academic genres, and style. All these workshops are well attended by graduate students, who reach out to us with new topics and new creative ideas for future programs.

In addition to writing, what communication skills can graduate students learn from the WCC?

The WCC offers individual consultations to address various communication skills, not only writing. In fact, many graduate users seek help at the WCC to work on their oral communication projects, such as class, lab, or conference presentations, job talks, and public speaking in general. Graduate students also bring their visual communication work, including but not limited to slide decks and posters. In addition to oral and visual communication, the WCC can help graduate students deal with procrastination and writing blocks, perfectionism and demoralization, as well as imposter syndrome and other problems that they encounter during their program.

How do you think a communication competency fits into graduate students’ overall professional development? What should students aim to achieve in this area during graduate school?

For any graduate student, whether in STEM, Business, Architecture, or SHASS, communication competence is essential. If graduate students learn to effectively communicate their ideas through various written and oral genres within their discipline and for broader audiences, they bulletproof their academic and professional careers.

Graduate students need to understand that written, oral, and visual communication competencies are similar to other competencies: they should be developed gradually and consistently, through practice and feedback. The WCC is a crucial player in developing those skills; we invite graduate students to work with us on their projects and offer them ongoing expert support and feedback. We are not a one-time resource, but a lab where they can gradually build, shape, and strengthen their communication skills as students and future scholars.