Faculty on Writing

Professor: David Lucas
Interviewed By: Mary Ann Rotter
Department: Physics
Date: September 2007

Dr. David Lucas is a full professor in the Physics Department at Northern Michigan University who teaches introductory astronomy and introductory physics classes in addition to the occasional upper-level physics class. He also serves as the department head for physics while advising medical students who are in the process of applying to medical school.

Physics classes typically involve more calculations than anything else, but Dr. Lucas finds that it can be refreshing to write a paper or two in addition to the rest of the work he assigns. He believes that the most important skill that students can have is the ability to communicate through reading and writing, which is another reason why he chooses to include writing assignments in his classes. Dr. Lucas also emphasizes this skill while he advises students who are writing essays or personal statements for the medical school application process.

When grading students’ writing assignments, the things Dr. Lucas looks for are: a statement of what the student has learned, an obvious thought process, originality, creativity, enthusiasm, and an indication that the student has learned something. He said that the quality of these papers ranges from the extremely well-written to the substandard level, he is bothered the most when students do not put forth a good effort. Dr. Lucas also recognizes the difficulty involved with writing, but he believes that once the student selects a topic and begins to write, the process becomes easier.

In regard to his own writing, Dr. Lucas feels that while he is not an expert, he remains a slightly better writer than the average person. He prides himself on the clarity of his writing and believes that the person who reads what he has written can understand what he was trying to say. This is a vital quality, as Dr. Lucas writes mostly correspondence, consisting of board letters for students going to medical school and lots of e-mail. He also takes great care with grammar and spelling, which allows the intelligence of his thoughts to be reflected in his correspondence. “You want [your writing] to be as good as it can be, because that’s what people think of you,” he said. This thought exemplifies Dr. Lucas’ belief that good writing skills are absolutely essential for everyone. He gave the example of a poorly-written initial correspondence leading to a bad first impression in addition to giving the appearance of apathy. He pointed out that communication is vital, especially through writing.

Dr. Lucas always tries to make his students aware of the Writing Center and its potential benefits, typically passing on the information he receives in an e-mail every semester. He doesn’t push his students to go by any means, believing that progress can only be made if the student is willing to put forth the necessary effort. Dr. Lucas feels that using the Writing Center is a great opportunity for all Northern students, and he was happy to hear that we are open on one weekend day. He plans to continue sending students to the Writing Center with confidence that they will become better writers, if only they are willing to try.