The Write Way

University faculty can find it challenging to write about their research in clear, simple English,  making it interesting and comprehensible to non-scientists.  Imagine how much harder that is to do in a language other than your own.

Professors from several engineering departments at Kasetsart University who teach in the International Undergraduate Program’s courses taught in English gather for my workshop on “Writing for a Non-Technical Audience.”  I share some tips with them:  say something surprising or intriguing in the title and first paragraph, to make people want to read on;  define–or preferably, don’t use–technical terms;  tell them why it matters to them and their lives.  On a PowerPoint, I show examples of each of my tips, from Michigan Tech’s news site, Michigan Tech Magazine and the Michigan Tech Research magazine.

I pass around copies of both magazines.  Professor Bob Nemiroff on the cover of the Michigan Tech Research magazineThe 2013 research magazine cover–showing Physics Professor Bob Nemiroff in a bar, holding up a cognac bottle labeled “space time” and a brandy snifter–particularly intrigues them. “It’s about astrophysics,” I say.  “Professor Nemiroff is an astrophysicist who has done research showing that space time is smooth like cognac rather than frothy and bubbly like beer (the popularly held belief).  You see, that’s how to make hard science interesting. Who could resist reading that story?”

My host, Intiraporn Mulasastra, wants to find a way to publish a research magazine like Michigan Tech’s.  “Our Faculty of Engineering is as big as your university,” she observes. “We should do this.”

After the writing workshop, we head down to the hot, noisy food court in the International Undergraduate Programs building. I discover what is going to become my favorite Thai lunch:  noodle soup withnoodles, b ean sprouts, green onions, little meat-filled dumplings and slices of “red pork” (Thai barbecued pork) or fish cake.  I must admit the sign above the soup booth stopped me for a moment, advertising as it did in English: noodle soap. But I see the serving ladies ladling rich broth over noodles, veggies and dumplings, so I trust that I will be eating soup, not soap.

Then it’s back to PowerPoint-making, for a big seminar on marketing international programs, the wrap-up of my Fulbright project.  Kasetsart University is hosting the seminar. They’ve invited 12 other Bangkok universities that have international programs.

Representatives of international programs at five Bangkok universities gather to discuss working together to recruit students.

Representatives of four of those universities join us for the seminar, as well as about a dozen people from various faculties and programs at Kasetsart.  “This is a first,” Intiraporn tells me, as directors of international programs at Mahidol University International College, Silpakorn University, Chulalongkorn University and King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok, file into the seminar room, making polite little bows in my direction. “Our universities have never collaborated before.”   So before I even open the seminar, we have accomplished something huge.

I talk about some of the ways Michigan Tech markets its international programs (with guidance kindly provided by Thy Yang and Darnishia Slade). Then I open a discussion about what the Bangkok universities see as their greatest challenges to attracting international students.

“Thailand is a travel destination,” says Wanpimon “Winnie” Senadpadpakorn, chief of international affairs at Mahidol University International College.  “It is easy to get exchange students who want to see Thailand.”  What is more difficult is getting full-time foreign students to attend Mahidol, she says. “We need to make Thailand an education destination as well as a travel destination,” says Natthaboon Pornrattanacharoen, Mahidol’s assistant dean for marketing and public communications.

A Kasetsart University staffer shares his concern that Thai students do not make foreign students feel welcome.  Kasetsart’s International Undergraduate Programs uses a buddy system to compensate, assigning each foreign student a Thai student-buddy.  Mahidol does something similar with its “young ambassadors” program, Winnie says.

Tawiwan Kangsadan, assistant professor of chemical and process engineering and head of the international program at King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok, describes her university’s international partnership with Germany.  Students who participate must do part of their studies in Germany and part in Bangkok.  They earn degrees from both the German and Thai universities, making it a very appealing program to Thai and foreign students alike.

Partnering with industry is another way to find funding for international programs and market them.   Burin T. Sriwong, deputy director of student development and special affairs at Silpakorn University International College, runs an international partnership program with a prominent hotel chain in France.  Students alternate classroom study and internships in Bangkok and in France, and there is no lack of applicants.  Silpakorn’s other international program, in multimedia, has no industry partner, and the university is having a harder time recruiting students.

One avenue that has not been much explored, a Kasetsart University spokesman says,  is recruiting from nearby Asian countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore–member countries of the ASEAN Economic Community, whose goal is to establish a southeast Asian common market by 2015.    “We need to find out what each country needs and offer that at Thai universities,” Burin suggests.

We talk some about next steps, including more collaboration among the Bangkok universities international programs.  The group agrees to stay in touch and meet again–to try to have a stronger voice by working together. I suggest forming a Council of Bangkok Universities International Programs.  There are quite a few nods.

Intiraporn, my host, is pleased. “You have given us many ideas to work on,” she tells me.