I have a new post up on ACRLog today that’s sort of the writing of my heart right now. I’m beginning to realize that a lot of my professional malaise is rooted in a lack of connection, and I’m taking such joy from learning about relational cultural theory with a fantastic group of librarians. If you have some spare time this afternoon, check it out:
I’m participating in the St. Mary’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF, but really, SMURF) this summer as more than just a librarian and EndNote software troubleshooter. Thanks to a series of un/fortunate events, I’m a research mentor for an amazing religious studies major investigating Muslim Americans’ experiences at work through a series of interviews. She is specifically focused on: policies regarding religious practices; Muslim Americans’ relationships with coworkers, supervisors, and employees; and their sense of inclusion in the workplace. My mentee and I have an interesting relationship. She’s without a doubt more knowledgeable about Islam than I am, and I bring a knowledge of qualitative research about work in feminized professions that makes our pairing a really constructive one.
Apart from our weekly meetings, my mentee and I are part of a larger SURF cohort of students and faculty who gather every Wednesday for discussions, activities, and presentations of their research in progress. The group is a bit science-heavy, which is to be expected, but there are students from the humanities, social sciences, and theater/art departments in the mix, too. It’s been fascinating to examine the idea of “research” from a multi-disciplinary perspective and learn more about my faculty colleagues’ personal and professional epistemologies. One of the more challenging discussion questions our SURF cohort unpacked was What does all research, regardless of discipline, have in common? (That’s a rough summary since I can’t remember the exact question–Sorry, Liz!).
Keeping in mind that this question was being discussed by anthropologists, chemists, artists, biologists, filmmakers, and well, librarians, you can understand how there would be disagreement. I had at least one person try to convince me that the scientific method is applicable to ALL research. (Nope. Not here for that.) Where everyone seemed to agree, or at least come to a shared understanding, was about the affect and emotions surrounding research.
Research requires persistence.
You have to be flexible to be a good researcher.
Research is all about creativity.
You have to be curious.
In research, it’s ok to make mistakes. You just need to learn from them.
We could all agree on the dispositions that a good researcher would possess, regardless of discipline, methodology, or project. It was a much more engaging approach to discussing research and creative activity, and it’s one I wish I could better incorporate into my college’s curriculum. I’ve tried to focus on information exploration and curiosity in my own IL classes and workshops, but I only see my students once or twice a semester. My emphasis on process and research dispositions is fleeting, which is why I think it’s important for faculty to reinforce those ideas throughout the semester. It’s what I like best about this SURF program. It’s a deep dive into research as an iterative process–a messy, frustrating, confusing, satisfying, engaging, fascinating process.
This semester I’m fortunate to be the liaison to a First Year Seminar taught by the director of our college’s Writing Center. One thing that was quite obvious upon reading the syllabus and assignments for the class is that instructors with Rhetoric and Composition Ph.D.s GET IT. And by IT I mean the supreme importance of audience in writing and research. One of the first writing assignments the students will be developing is an essay taking a position on a “debatable hero” or the arguable issues surrounding the roles and responsibilities of heroes in modern society (see American’s Hero Problem as an example). What I loved about this assignment was that students were given extremely clear audience parameters and were asked to write as though the essay would be published as a long-form feature in a newspaper or magazine. In fact, the audience of the paper was the first parameter set by the instructor.
The students were also asked to use additional research resources to back up factual claims, discuss supporting arguments or highlight counterarguments. Here’s where I think that this concept of audience can continue to be useful to students. I’ve written before about the nuances of teaching source evaluation and selection to students, and plugged some fantastic articles on this topic by Joel Burkeholder and Michelle Simmons, but I’ll reiterate the importance of audience in source selection again here. Every piece of written information was created with a particular audience in mind, and as librarians we can teach students how to tease out and determine the audience of different sources so that they can find the ones that are most useful to making their own argument to their particular audience. I think sometimes we shy away from this kind of discussion, especially with first year students, because it seems too nuanced and complicated. I just have to keep reminding myself that research is complicated, and the sooner we teach students that there is a lot more grey area when it comes to using and evaluating sources, the better. I’d hate to see a senior thesis student chucking out a particularly useful source of information because it doesn’t meet a rigid set of criteria.
I’m super-jazzed to work with this class and can’t wait to talk about research source evaluation later in the semester.