On the value of student research

By Phoebe Ayers, MLIS Day


Why isn't more student research developed and published? I have been in classes, including core classes, where original, thought-provoking, valuable projects were designed, worked on, written about -- and then dropped when the quarter was over. Despite the fact that many students here, in all programs, are near-professionals who work hard to produce insightful papers and research, apparently very few of these projects are developed beyond a class exercise. Why is this so? Obviously, not every student wants to do original research, or publish, or give a conference talk; it neither fits with their inclinations or their career needs, and for many, the difficulties are too great in juggling course loads, work, family and independent research. However, many students put a great deal of intellectual work into projects that go nowhere beyond a 3.8 or .9, and there are more than a few students who would like to expand these projects and research into something more.

Particularly for those going into professional careers, publishing and research are not only major additions to a CV, they are often required for advancement as in many academic library jobs. It would also bring prestige to the school if students had more work published or distributed, as it would reflect well if students here can produce competitive, intellectually rigorous work. All in all, student research would seem like a good thing for everyone. And the iSchool recognizes this... but only in part. Like many schools, the iSchool seems most focused on faculty research. Under the 'research' tab of the iSchool website, only faculty research projects are mentioned (although PhD students are listed by name, no mention is made of their specialties); the mission section of this site only states the school's research missions without mentioning who is actually going to perform this research. Master's-level research does not seem to be played up much in general. While the front page of the iSchool website often brags when an undergraduate wins an award, a faculty member is mentioned in the popular press or a research team garners a grant, I have only seen one mention of an MLIS student's paper being published in the two years or so that I have been reading the site. This doesn't necessarily mean that it never happens, of course, but it does mean either that it never happens or that it is not internally publicized when it does. Furthermore, there are only a handful of references to the term 'research' that come up on a search of the MLIS student handbook, (.pdf) most of which are related to LIS 570 and LIS 600. Perhaps, as with thesis students, it would be highly impractical for the faculty in terms of time and effort if most students did want to do independent projects, and so while not discouraging they are not always enthusiastic about the idea either.

Of course the school cannot motivate those who don't want to do in-depth projects to do so. But it could offer more support to those who do, perhaps by offering workshops about publication, encouraging faculty members to take on independent study students, and by generally encouraging students who are inclined to work on independent research. There is no reason why students who are going into professional or academic careers that will involve research and publication should not get an early start on it. And for students at all levels who are considering trying to publish a paper, give a conference poster, or start some research: there is no time like the present! The benefits of being able to list your involvement in a large project later on are numerous, whether the iSchool explicates this or not.

In conclusion, things may be changing, and we can be hopeful that they are. The iSchool's research site says that a list of graduate student projects is "coming soon;" perhaps this will in fact be completed in the near future. Also, in researching this editorial, I explored the iSchool's research site and found that a DSpace collection has been implemented for the iSchool, with the following statement: "The Office of Research maintains a repository for the publication and storage of a broad range of artifacts generated by the research, scholarship, and creative activities of faculty, staff, students, and collaborators of the Information School." This iSchool research repository has not been widely publicized (I had not heard of it before) but it also seem to be quite recent and possibly still in testing, along with the other DSpace projects under the Digital Initiatives Program. Projects like this, if properly publicized and maintained, could go a long way in helping to disseminate student research to the wider audience that it deserves.



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Page last updated: January 10, 2004