From Student Affairs Professional to Student Affairs Scholar: Taking Charge of the Change You Want to See

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We're excited to share this article with you because at Academic Impressions, we believe that the change you need to see at your institution is often within your own control, and that your professional development is key to building the skills and identifying the opportunities to lead change at your institution and in your field.

In this article by the authors of the book A guide to becoming a scholarly practitioner in student affairs, learn how positioning yourself as a scholar in student affairs can be critical to this process.

by Vicki L. Wise, Ph.D., and Lisa J. Hatfield, Ed.D.

If you could give voice to those who were marginalized, if you could change the field of student affairs through your voice, if you could create better collaborations across campus with our academic colleagues, and if you could share your insights with parents, students, and other invested stakeholders so that they know what we contribute to student learning and development, then why would you not?

Student affairs practitioners need to engage in scholarship to give voice and to inform others about their impact on student lives. Scholarship addresses the concerns of stakeholders, and it is essential for professional identity development and career advancement.

Student Affairs Scholarship: Why Don't We Do This Already?

In our book A Guide to Becoming a Scholarly Practitioner in Student Affairs (Hatfield and Wise, 2015), we noted several reasons why student affairs practitioners do not engage in scholarship (pp 6-8):

Not reading enough. If we are not reading research, we are probably not contributing to it. Carpenter (2001) writes, “Any student affairs professional not reading the literature, not becoming knowledgeable of research and theory, is not acting ethically. Students have a right to expect that student affairs professionals are knowledgeable of appropriate theories, current research, and proven best practices” (p. 311). More importantly, reading research provides practitioners with a solid foundation for developing and improving programs and services. It takes us beyond anecdotal knowing to knowing that has been examined, and it adds legitimacy and intention to our work.

Not expected of positions and not valued. Unlike tenure-track faculty, student affairs practitioners do not have the same pressure to publish results of their impact on student learning and development. Studies show that student affairs practitioners are given little incentive by supervisors for scholarship (Fey & Carpenter, 1996; Saunders & Cooper, 1999).

Second-class citizen syndrome. Student affairs professionals may feel inferior to their colleagues in academic departments not only in degree obtainment but also in their research skills, and thus are less likely to publicly share research through presentations or publications.

Inadequate academic preparation. Some graduate student affairs programs may not adequately prepare practitioners to write and publish: According to Jablonski, Mena, Manning, Carpenter, and Siko (2006), “Even students from some of our best programs are inadequately trained in research, evaluation, and assessment. Even when they are rudimentarily trained, they frequently lack a conception of the values of scholarship and their obligation to consume and contribute to research in the field” (p. 187).

Lack of motivation. If research and scholarship are not valued by supervisors (Fey & Carpenter, 1996; Saunders & Cooper, 1999) and staff are not encouraged to participate in such, it would not be surprising that there would be little motivation or incentive to engage (Schroeder & Pike, 2001).

We know the importance now of being a scholar practitioner, and we now understand better the reasons we may not engage in research and scholarship. Here, we share three strategies you can employ to advance your professional development as a scholar.

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