Student Spotlight: Dr. Olawunmi Obisesan on Strategies for Multilingual Speakers, Finishing Her Dissertation, and Advice for New Students -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Student Spotlight: Dr. Olawunmi Obisesan on Strategies for Multilingual Speakers, Finishing Her Dissertation, and Advice for New Students

This month: Approaching Writing From Different Languages and Traditions | Walden University Writing Center Blog
This month on the podcast and blog, we're featuring topics related to approaching writing from different languages and traditions. While anyone can enjoy these topics, we hope they'll be of particular interest to international students and students who speak multiple languages. Need to catch up on what you missed? Check out our other posts in the series: WriteCast episode #21: Writing Expectations at U.S. Colleges and UniversitiesLearning the Rules of the Game, Part I: English Academic Writing; and Learning the Rules of the Game, Part II: Meeting Your Readers' Expectations

Olawunmi (Ola) Obisesan, one of our former Administrative Writing Assistants, is graduating this May with a PhD in Public Health (Epidemiology). (Congrats, Ola!) We caught up with Ola during her last days with us at the Writing Center:

You hold a bachelor’s degree in English language and literacy studies, a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and a master’s degree in public health. What motivated you to pursue your PhD?

I decided to pursue my PhD because I wanted to be an expert in my field, being able to make significant but original contributions to public health, when and where it mattered, especially with issues that concern the health of immigrant populations.  Getting a PhD is not as cool as it looks or sound; it is a lifelong commitment to critical thinking and learning. I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for it, especially because I knew I would enjoy the intellectual freedom that comes with working on research studies that interested me.

Tell us a little about your language background and your experience learning American academic English.

I speak two languages: English and Yoruba. Though English is my country’s (Nigeria) official language, it is the British English, which is very different from the American English. Many words are not pronounced the same way and there are other words which do not even mean the same thing—for example, car trunk (boot), car hood (bonnet), pants (underwear). It was hard, and I had my dictionary on me always so that I could look up certain words. By listening to people speak and not being afraid to ask questions when I was confused, I was able to learn fast. I also watched a lot of TV just to understand the context in which to use certain unfamiliar words.

We know you are passionate about helping other writers navigate language and grammar. What resources, activities, or strategies do you think are particularly helpful for multilingual speakers and writers?

Because multilingual speakers have a tendency to communicate more in their native language, especially when they are with friends and family members who speak the same language, one thing that will help is to consciously communicate in English as this will help enhance your mastery of the English language. It helps to set the language on your computer to English (U.S.) as this will make writing your papers easier for you. Grammarly, though not perfect, is a very useful tool as it helps in picking out minor mistakes in your papers. I found that watching television, whether my favorite TV shows or the news, also helps because it helps you pick up the use of certain words and the right grammar. I also found it helpful to read storybooks that were written in American English and at a lower reading level (5th-7the grade level) because it is a fun and engaging tool for learning the English language; this will also strengthen one’s understanding of the English language structure. One of the problem areas of international students is the use of verbs and prepositions. The Writing Center has helpful resources on Preposition Basics and Verb Tenses. 
Editor's note: We're always looking for ways to improve our resources. If you're a current international and/or multilingual Walden student, please take our brief survey to help us improve our services for you. The survey link will remain posted here as long as the survey is active. Thank you!

Tell us a little about your dissertation experience.

My dissertation process was stressful, but I went overboard. The truth is that if you want to finish, and on time, too, you have to put in the work. I set aside two to three hours every day to write! People say I make it sound easy but the truth is that it was not! What helped me was to inform my family and friends that I needed to devote one year to my dissertation and to excuse me from many miscellaneous activities. I am so glad they listened, because with their help and support, I was done in four semesters!

Also, the dissertation process is such that you have to be your own advocate and on top of your case. If you don’t hear back from your chairperson or committee member, you need to reach out to them. I heard of people who didn’t hear back from their chair for a month and did nothing about it. It was even harder for me because my chairperson was based in Taiwan working for an international NGO and communication was hard because there was a 12-hour time difference. When I was sleeping, he was awake and vice versa. Guess what? I learned not to sleep and also wake up at odd hours, just to make it work! You have got to do what you have got to do (legally of course) to make it work.

My advice for students approaching or working on their capstones is this: WRITE every day. If you write one page a day, you’ll have seven pages in a week and 30-31 pages within a month! Don’t look at the total number of chapters you have to write, just take it one page at a time!

What are your plans for after graduation?

Right now, I work in general public health but I made the decision to focus on infectious diseases epidemiology. I interviewed for three positions as an Infection Control/Prevention Practitioner, and just officially got an offer that would mean having to relocate to another state. I just want to encourage everyone not to stop at your degree; if having certain certifications in your field gives you an advantage, go for it. I became a Certified Health Education Specialist (C.H.E.S.) and a Certified Asthma Educator (AE-C), and I have to sit for my Certification in Infection Control (CIC) in a few weeks; these are all national certifications, which over the years, have alerted prospective employers that I know my stuff!

If you could go back in time, what advice (writing or otherwise) would you offer your first-year-at-Walden self?

If I could go back in time, I would advise myself to use the Writing Center. I did not use the Writing Center in my first few months at Walden and so by the time I had to learn APA, I found that there was so much to learn in so little time. That said, the truth is that it is not too late to learn APA. Once you get a handle on how APA works, you will be fine. The Writing Center writing instructors are your friends; please don’t make them your enemy, just because they sent your paper back with lots of feedback. Unless you are a professional editor (an expert in the field of editing and APA), your paper will need some kind of edit, and once you are able to learn from the feedback and edits, you can continue to use them in your future work.   


Ola Obisesan
is a former Administrative Writing Assistant at the Writing Center. She graduates this month with a PhD in Public Heath. 

Never miss a new post; Opt-out at any time


  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Ola! They are great testaments to your dedication to learning and an inspiration to other Walden students!

  2. Thank you for sharing. It is inspirational.

    1. We are also impressed with her story. It's great to know she can continue to inspire students.