UW–Madison’s Burt offers ‘love letter’ to struggling academic writers in Teachers College Record commentary

By Laurel White

A School of Education faculty member aims to offer support and “demystify” academic writing in a new commentary piece published by Teachers College Record. 

In the commentary, Brian Burt, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and director of the Wisconsin Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB), says he hopes to normalize the personal struggle that is often part of the quest to publish academic work. 

Brian Burt

“I have had some success with academic writing,” Burt wrote in the commentary. “Yet, even after publishing in journals like the Teachers College Record, I still find myself running into moments of doubt about my voice, the purpose of my writing, and how to make my work have the impact it deserves.”

Burt notes many academic writers feel pressure to navigate the world of peer-reviewed publication through trial and error, and often under intense pressure for success on a tight timeline. With that in mind, he offers several tips for navigating moments of self-doubt during the writing process, including gathering information about publications from seasoned mentors, studying other scholars’ published writing, and getting words on the page without judgment. 

“I acknowledge that my initial drafting will be messy, knowing that it is okay to include half-baked ideas and connections to existing literature and theory. It is only a draft! And once the draft is completed, then I can edit with the mind,” Burt wrote. “Something clicked for me once I started writing from my heart.”

Burt also urges writers to frame rejections and edits as constructive and supportive, rather than indictments of ability. 

Burt is currently a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Teachers College Record. He has received numerous awards recognizing his excellence in research, including the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award, and an H.I. Romnes Fellowship from UW–Madison. He has also received alumni achievement awards from his alma maters the University of Michigan, Indiana University, and the University of Maryland

Last month, Burt was announced as one of two School of Education faculty who will help lead the new Wisconsin Sloan Center for Systemic Change, an initiative aimed at removing barriers and improving equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) doctoral programs across the country. 

Burt’s research uses qualitative methodological approaches to study the experience of graduate students and the institutional policies and practices that influence students’ pathways. His current research falls into two strands: understanding team-based research experiences and exploring the experiences of underrepresented graduate students of color in engineering. His most recent publication, a collaboration with his own doctoral student mentees, published in the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, illuminates some factors that influence Black men to pursue higher education in STEM fields.

Read the entire commentary, “To an Academic Writer Who’s Been Stuck or Questioned Their Ability, But Refused to Give Up: A Love Letter,” in Teachers College Record here

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