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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Writers grapple with the reality of AI in ExCollege course

With the onset of AI, soon-to-be graduates worry about the future of academic and professional writing.

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The Experimental College is pictured on May 10, 2023.

This semester, the Experimental College is hosting a class focused on helping aspiring writers enter the tech industry called “Careers for Writers in the Tech Sector.” Visiting Lecturer Rita Reznikova (LA’08), the course’s instructor, seeks to introduce students to the variety of professional opportunities for writers, even amid the rise of generative artificial intelligence models like ChatGPT that threaten traditional career paths.

Along with speakers from various sectors of the tech industry, the course is structured around a final portfolio assignment that students can present while job searching.

Reznikova credits her liberal arts education as having laid the groundwork for her journey as a professional writer. Yet even with the tools she garnered at university — in addition to being a part of the Daily — she was uncertain about what her career would look like coming out of her education.

“I didn’t know what [post-grad] paths for writers in technology really entailed, or what the work was like, or what the path to seniority was or how writers participated in different parts of technology companies. … I had to figure that out on my own throughout my career, which has been now over 15 years in different roles,” Reznikova said. “And so I have the opportunity now to come back to Tufts, and I honestly thought: ‘What class would I have found helpful when I was graduating … and knew I wanted to write?’ That’s what inspired me to teach this class.”

To students, the career-oriented syllabus is one of the course’s main attractions. For Maddie Cortesi, a junior who is double-majoring in sociology and Science, Technology, and Society, she hopes conversations with Reznikova and the rest of the class can broaden her horizons.

“Along with getting a sense of what different parts of this industry look like, it’s been really wonderful [to have] more general guidance about navigating finding a job … tackling interviews and marketing yourself,” Cortesi said. “It’s great that if something magically works out and I get to go into this field, I would feel like I know what to expect because I had this experience with a professional.”

The model of the class involves hosting a variety of speakers with experience working in technology fields, many of whom are a part of Reznikova’s professional network. The first speaker, Ryan Looney, is currently one of the lead content designers at Instagram. Cortesi recounted his talk with the class as “inspiring” and said that hearing from a speaker with an “eclectic journey” and background helped teach her the ways that her own degrees and passions can help her stand out.

Underpinning Reznikova’s teachings is a constant analysis of the changing technology sector. A core tenet of the class is getting writers to be comfortable with AI technologies, and to understand the ways in which it might impact the job market.

“I do think that for certain careers in writing, [AI] is going to be pretty transformational, and there might be fewer traditional paths. But that doesn’t mean that as a writer, you are at a disadvantage when it comes to technology,” Reznikova said. “It’s a very, very interesting time to pursue careers in writing, and I think AI is something that we need to understand.”

This structure is salient for students, some of whom remain anxious about AI’s impacts on both the academic and professional spheres.

Salomé Albright, a senior majoring in International Literary and Visual Studies, highlighted the apprehension faced by herself and her peers.

“I am mainly worried about the threat AI language models pose on the development/future of writing in and outside of academic contexts. I fear it will halt movements for creativity or expansion of boundaries within academic writing,” she wrote in an electronic message to the Daily. “I am grateful I was able to develop as a collegiate writer years before ChatGPT became available to me.”

Albright’s disquiet is one that is matched by other academics. In the past year, Tufts’ Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, a division of the provost’s office, published a resource for faculty members looking for guidance on how to develop syllabus statements on AI.

Reznikova’s approach to AI is one that acknowledges both its pitfalls and benefits. She wants students to understand how their deeper critical thinking skills elevate AI in order to create content that is ethical and truly centered around audience needs.

“The way I think about it is, in any kind of professional writing, the writing is not the actual content you provide. For example, if you are a marketer, writing is a tool, but your actual product is storytelling,” Reznikova said. “And so when we think of writing as something we do, but not the actual product of our work, we can start to understand that there are times when AI is useful in that process and then there are times where it’s not.”

Reznikova also believes it important for students to understand the realities of professional life following graduation.

“It’s really important for students to think about the transition from college to work. And based on my own personal experience, it’s not always a smooth transition, because it’s a very different world that we’re stepping into. There [are] different expectations and also different tools like AI that are going to be changing our work,” she said. “I would encourage students to just stay open-minded, both about writing and about the industries that [they] go into.”