What It Takes To Become A Scholar: helping students scale the taxonomy

September 26, 2011, 5:24 pm

We’re working on round two of our graduate student ethnography project. I plan to release the findings in January as a collection of whitepapers. The batch will include themes such as mentoring, collaboration, criticism, and work process. But my favorite thread is the progression from student to scholar. It has been fascinating to review the self-analysis and see how a scholar is defined.

Two predominate qualities emerged: independence & creation.

Some sample quotes:

1. “As you go through grad school at least in English, you begin to develop more into sort of an independent writer and scholar…. You start thinking more in terms of I’m making a book length argument that has to be interesting vs. I’ve gotta write this short argument that I think is what my professor wants.”

2. “As an undergrad, you were presented with deadlines that were dictated by others. And they were frequent…. In Geological Science, a lot more personal discipline is required, and in order to achieve that, I have to set my own benchmarks. There’s a strong tendency to become task-oriented than time-oriented.”

3. “The goals have changed.  Things like writing conference papers or to get an article together. I just presented a paper at a professional conference in Spain. I set that goal this year to get that on my CV…. I think the transition happens when you stop thinking about the scholarship and taking pieces and arranging them and do historiography and you start thinking how can I create something new.”

4. “The big move from student to scholar – you’re on your own, to reach the frontier of knowledge, there’s not a textbook to tell us what to do. Not a set of consensus/opinions to tell us what to think.”

Looking at this across the disciplines you start to see how important the knowledge-creation activity plays into the sense of identity. The overriding theme is that one does not become a “scholar” until they have created something new. This is symbolic with the dissertation, but students all mentioned the value of journal articles, conference papers/presentations, and other means of creation, such as constructing datasets, writing algorithms, composing musical scores, or producing a play. In their eyes, it is the act of creation that distinguishing the student from the scholar.

I could not help but to think of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a model for this transition. In fact, progression through the program is similar to ascending the various levels, steps, or stages. They are learning the language, behaviors, and knowledge base of their discipline. They are expanding their exposure and proficiency which leads to the goal of contributing something new.

This got me thinking about libraries and setting a goal to help students with this pyramid. Imagine if your vision or strategic plan was to help patrons scale the taxonomy.
Historically we’ve been good at providing access to information, but what about supporting the upper level? Can we link the efforts of the library to creation activities? It’s an interesting way to think about our role—instead of just providing access to and assistance with a collection—what about expanding that and taking some initiative to partner with others within the campus ecosystem to help move students up the pyramid?


This extends beyond just our instructional efforts, beyond how to use the library, but impacts everything we do: our learning spaces, our collections, our technology infrastructure, our services, our attitudes. What if everything aligned to encourage and enable students to make the transition into scholars. Just brainstorming here.


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