Susan Ruff
MIT room 2-370
617-455-8248 (cell)

Office Hours
By arrangement pretty much anytime (e-mail or call)

I’m a Lecturer II in Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication at MIT: I help math faculty, instructors, and TAs to teach communication (writing and speaking) within the context of their math classes. My activities are diverse: I work with students one-on-one and in teams, lecture, lead workshops, consult with instructors and TAs one-on-one and in workshops, and I am editor of the math department’s CI Space. The CI Space is an internal website that helps mathematics educators collaborate to develop and share ideas and materials for teaching mathematical communication in their classes.

I am also an editor of the Mathematical Association of America's Mathematical Communication website, which grew out of the MIT math department's CI Space.

With Lisa Emerson (Massey University, NZ), I am researching how mathematicians become writers of mathematics, their attitudes and beliefs about the role of writing in mathematics, and their experiences and practices as writers of mathematics.

With Michael Carter (NCSU), I have researched the communication abilities needed by software engineers in industry.

Ruff, S., & Carter, M. “Characterizing Employers' Expectations of the Communication Abilities of New Engineering Graduates”, Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, Vol 26, No 4 (2015)

Ruff, S., & Carter, M. "Communication learning outcomes from software engineering professionals: A basis for teaching communication in the engineering curriculum," Frontiers in Education Conference, 2009.


Below is a list of the classes I work with in the math department, and a brief description of the communication in each.



Project Lab in Mathematics

This subject is a lab class, so it is focused on research: in teams of three, students explore rich open-ended questions in mathematics. Each team does three projects during the semester. For each project, the results are presented in a paper, which is then revised. Each team presents the results of one of their projects to the class in a 50-minute presentation. I provide guidance for team communication and, along with the math instructors and TAs, I provide guidance and feedback for the papers and presentations. More information is available on MIT's OpenCourseWare page for 18.821.


Real Analysis, Communication Recitation

This recitation meets once a week to teach topics of mathematical communication within the context of Real Analysis. Recitation topics include proof writing, information order and connectivity, guiding text, elegance, communicating mathematics to a range of audiences, preparing slides and visuals, and peer critique. Students write and revise three short papers on various topics for various audiences. Most recitations are taught by a math instructor who collaborates with me to prepare the recitations; I give the recitation on information order and connectivity and am available to help students individually with their writing. More information is available on MAA Mathematical Communication.


Principles of Discrete Applied Mathematics

This lecture class focuses on topics in discrete applied mathematics. During the first part of the term, the problem sets include short writing assignments for clearly explaining algorithms and presenting proofs. In the second part of the term, students write and revise a paper solving a challenging problem. As in Real Analysis, various communication topics are taught in recitations that are led by a math instructor who collaborates with me to prepare the recitations. I lead a recitation on cohesion, I provide individual feedback on some of the short writing assignments and longer papers, and I train TAs to provide communication feedback on the others. More information is available on MIT's OpenCourseWare page for 18.310.


Undergraduate math seminars

The math department has about ten undergraduate seminars on various topics. For each seminar, students teach each other the mathematics: each class is given by one or two students who research a topic and then present it to the rest of the students. Each student also writes and revises a final paper on a topic of their choosing. I am available to consult with the seminar instructors to plan the semester; during the semester I’m available to read and give feedback on paper drafts, watch practice presentations, giving writing &/or presentation workshops, etc. More information is available on MAA Mathematical Communication.



Past classes:

I have taught communication in the following classes in past years as well:                                            

Micro/Nano Processing Technology
Computer System Engineering
Quantitative Physiology: Cells and Tissues
Communication workshop for math majors doing a year abroad
Principals of Mathematical Exposition
Modern Optics
Bioelectronics Project Laboratory
Psychoacoustics Project Laboratory
Biology Project Laboratory
Topics in Experimental Biology


My background

Before coming to MIT in 2003 I was a developmental editor and freelance writer for math and science textbooks for a decade. My education is in math, physics, education, and graphic design. I'm co-editor of Boston Rocks, 2nd Ed., a guidebook to rock climbing in the Boston Area.                                             


In my spare time

I enjoy many ways of exploring the world: travel; rock, ice, and mountain climbing; taking classes; research. Currently my research focuses around mathematical communication and its pedagogy.