Academic writing has traditionally been thought of as a convention-bound monolithic entity that involves distant, convoluted and impersonal prose. However, recent research has suggested a growing recognition that there is room for negotiation of identity within academic writing, and thus academic writing need not be totally devoid of a writer’s presence. In this article, we explore the notion of writer identity in academic essays by focusing on first person pronouns, arguably the most visible manifestation of a writer’s presence in a text. Our main argument is that the first person pronoun in academic writing is not a homogeneous entity. Accordingly, we set up a typology of six different identities behind the first person pronoun in academic writing. We then apply this framework to a specific examination of the essays of 27 first-year undergraduates at the National University of Singapore. We focus on how the identities of these student writers are revealed through uses of the first person pronoun, and reflect on the implications of our results on issues of critical thinking and writing education at the tertiary level.