How to be a Scholar: First, Do the Work

Dr. William Says: The characteristic that most defines a scholar is perseverance.

There are going to be periods of writer’s block, of lack of motivation, of adversity and conflict with others, of life challenges, and numerous other obstacles.

It is important to keep yourself to the task and with your goal in mind.

In times when I had most trouble being consistent with my dissertation writing, I often had to jump start my writing again by taking a week off from work, sending the family to visit relatives, and devoting an entire week to writing.

I’ll never forget how one week in the middle of summer with nothing but my research, a laptop, and The Weather Channel for background noise propelled me forward to finishing my dissertation.

Don’t lose heart when you think you’ve finished writing but begin the long process of edits and rewrites that take time, attention, and yes—perseverance—to get to the finish line.

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Dr. Gordon Says: The most important attribute of a scholar is thoroughness.

If possible, it is useful to read every relevant word written on your subject, at least in languages you can understand, and to analyse and digest this material before developing a thesis or designing an experiment.

This also requires a methodical approach, so that lesser-known material is not missed. In the process, you will undoubtedly discover material that seems to be relevant, but is not, but you may also turn up some hidden gem that has been long neglected.

Whether you take this brute force approach or decide to be more selective, however, it’s important to gain mastery of your material, without which it will be difficult to persuade other scholars of your case.

When writing a dissertation, depth is essential, but breadth is also necessary to develop perspective. Developing both provides a good foundation for sound scholarship.

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Dr. Robert Advises:  Write Publishable Articles and Essays!

Few, if any, graduate students in the humanities these days are unaware that the job market is “soft.” Most also realize that, in order to be competitive, their curricula vitae need to be adorned with a few publication credits beyond the completion of a doctoral dissertation. Such has been the case at least since the mid-1980s.

As a department chair at two universities for eleven years until 1998, I have read literally thousands of applications.

More often than not, what persuaded our selection committees to recommend candidates for interviews at national conventions was documented evidence of professional achievement before conferral of the Ph.D.

Although this widespread expectation is lamentable, at least in some quarters, it does attest to a brutal reality of academic hiring today.

It makes sense, therefore, to be pragmatic during one’s graduate apprenticeship. Long vanished are the days when a doctorate alone guaranteed tenurable employment.

Prospective investors in your scholarly future look for proof that you are “on the make”—in other words, grasping for the brass ring of peer recognition on the carousel of “professionalism.” Refereed publication casts a long shadow in this regard.

Herewith a humble case in point. Well before the crunch in college/university hiring of aspiring faculty, I became enamored, partly through boredom with the insularity of graduate study, of the supposedly wider world of publication-worthy scholarship.

I therefore tackled seminar papers with an eye toward that end. Happily, three of such revised productions on Sir Thomas Malory, Thomas Gray, and Lord Byron were accepted for journal publication, opening the gates for initial employment as an Assistant Professor of English at Georgia Tech.

The point is to mine your graduate-school research, even when it is not congruent with your main field of specialization, in order to enhance your qualifications for employment.

Everything will probably change after that initial appointment, but at least you then will have a basis on which to start anew and reinvent your professional persona.

–by the Staff of Edit911, Inc.

 

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