You might just want to write about your work, but I recommend backing up a bit and writing some preliminary thoughts. What is your story? How did you get interested in this work? What excited you when you were a child or early in your school years? What was difficult for you to understand, and how did you figure it out?
If you want to get other people interested in your work, you need to express your own enthusiasm for it, but if you are an advanced graduate student (that is, narrowly focused, thinly stretched, over-directed, or just tired) then perhaps you’ve lost your way. You might have let your initial excitement about science or your particular field drown in the details of everyday life. You might even have become cynical.
Writing about your memories is good practice for many things: detailed sensory description, communicating with a lay-audience (outside your field), thinking about your own field from a different perspective, remembering what you used to think when you were outside your field, etc. It will also remind you of your early values and goals and dreams and excitement.
If you are interested in what inspired other scientists, then you might read Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist, edited by John Brockman.
And if you are having real trouble feeling connected to your work, perhaps because your lab is full of people who seem to have forgotten their initial enthusiasms, start asking questions. How did they get into the field? What was their education like? What was exciting to them? What did they most love about engineering or science when they were 10 or 15 or 20 years old? These memories can bring you together, re-motivate more than just you, and also help you start to remember what it was like NOT to know what you now know. Remembering that will help you be a better teacher and communicator to an audience with varying levels of expertise.
Think about writing with your readers in mind. What do your readers want? How do you know? Well, what do you want when you read an article? And what do listeners hope to get out of a presentation at an engineering conference? Remember your own disappointments and struggles as a member of the audience. Then better satisfy, and even pleasantly surprise, your own reading and listening audiences.
Most of my publications are in academic journals in a different field from yours: American literature. Somehow, however, Gertrude Stein is related to everything, and the hot topics of fame, food, self-expression, identity, and genius are lovely doors into a short (and no doubt edifying!) story about Gertrude Stein.
Writers can learn by reading in any field. What I’m getting at is that knowledge is always communicated by helping a person step from what she knows to what she doesn’t yet know, and from what interests her to what doesn’t yet interest her. The bridges across require the wit of connecting different ideas, interdisciplinary interests, and an attention to current events and hot topics.
So read, and have fun seeing new connections, new bridges.
If you do research in electrical engineering–or if you are in another field of engineering and want to publish research in academic journals–please stick around. I intend for us to create a supportive and productive community.
I am lucky to work regularly and closely with a highly intelligent and ambitious population of graduate students in Electrical Engineering (at UCLA). Over the last eight years, I have learned more than I can say from them, and I expect that will continue. I have not found another graduate program in engineering that requires a course in academic rhetoric, and so I am uniquely positioned to see the needs and develop the support mechanisms for this group of writers.
I’d like to believe that all this experience will not just evaporate and that I can create a growing and broadly useful body of work online.
I also hope that this choice of media will welcome an increasingly rhetorically-aware group of advanced engineers to contribute to that practical and very specifically targeted body of knowledge.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from engineers, it’s efficiency. If we can build on each others’ knowledge, we can each optimize our own design for writing.