The process of becoming a scholar-practitioner consists of two intertwined dimensions. First, it is a technical project that requires you to learn how to design and conduct a custom research project. Second, it is a personal transformation both intellectually and emotionally. I have found that both are required to successfully make the transition to being a productive scholar-practitioner – one ready to take on new research adventures. The process consists of three stages including separation from practice, initiation as a scholar, and the return as a scholar-practitioner. I find Joseph Campbell’s description of the Hero’s Journey a useful structure to frame the process from practitioner to scholar-practitioner (Campbell, 1949). Note – This is the same structure used for the Star Wars movies (Henderson, 1997).
Once you hear and accept the “call” to become a scholar you enter phase one which consists of doctoral courses in your discipline (e.g., management) and courses on research philosophy and methods. As this phase unfolds you find that you have entered a “new world” with a new language, values, traditions, and ways of thinking. During this phase, you may feel like a “stranger in a strange land” and feel like you don’t belong. You might be thinking at this point that you are an “impostor” and worrying that someone will find out (Brookfield, 1987). This is normal and you are in good company. You are starting a developmental process that will transform you (hopefully). Eventually, you will begin working on your dissertation and enter the initiation phase.
The initiation phase is both a learning process and a test. To become a scholar you have to demonstrate that you can identify a problem along with a theory gap preventing us from solving the problem; design a research study to help fill that gap; conduct the research; and write it up in a format that makes a contribution to theory. This is the equivalent of Luke Skywalker building his own lightsaber in order to complete his training to become a Jedi Knight. At first, this might seem like a daunting challenge and you may be tempted to quit. Good news! Obi-Wan shows up at this point to help guide the way as you navigate the labyrinth of the dissertation process. Your mentor will bring tools, techniques, technologies to help you with developing your research proposal and managing the research process. The modern scholar has many digital tools available to help facilitate the journey. Just like Obi-Wan, the mentor has experience and has already built his or her own lightsaber and navigated multiple research adventures.
The dissertation process can be thought of as three key components: topic development and overall design; research planning and preparation; and conducting and reporting. The first step is to identify a research topic and develop the overall design. To earn a Ph.D. you will be required to make a contribution to theory in your particular field and discipline. Once the topic is identified the next step is to develop the overall research design. The best way I know to do that is to use the research canvas approach described in my article and in a FREE ebook. Once these steps are complete you are ready to develop a detailed research plan or proposal. You may recall the old saying, “the devil is in the details.” You will face many trials during this phase and you will likely become frustrated with the process and your guide – the mentor. Recall Luke Skywalker’s impatience with Yoda during his training when he couldn’t do a particular task. This is part of the emotional journey and transformation that you will experience. Eventually, you will collect and analyze the data and write the dissertation. This phase also has many twists and turns and will test your tenacity and commitment. But people do finish and live to tell about it! 🙂
Once you have achieved the “ultimate boon” of the quest – the approved dissertation, the hood, and the diploma – you are ready to return to your world as a scholar-practitioner. At this point, you are beginning a new career vector and ready to take on new challenges and adventures with your new knowledge, skills, and abilities. Learning to be a master of both worlds – theory and practice – is a life long endeavor. Your knowledge, skills, and abilities will continue to develop as you take on new projects and publish in both academic and professional publications and conferences. Your practice and teaching will also continue to develop as you do more projects. Finally, the scientific community and process rely on active members of the academy servicing as reviewers, conference moderators, etc. I encourage you to become an active member of your new academic community. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted in his The American Scholar address, “inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind.”
While I have described a generic overview of the process, becoming a scholar-practitioner is a very personal journey. Each individual learner and mentor are unique and come to this process with their own unique background, personality, experiences, learning and teaching styles, knowledge, skills, abilities, temperament, goals, so on and so forth. Consequently, the journey is context-dependent “dance” between the learner and the mentor. In addition, I find that the mentor’s philosophy influences how they guide the learner through the process. There are a few principles that I find a useful foundation for this process. Read more about my philosophy.
Research is recreation and should be fun. If you are not having fun you are doing it wrong! Enjoy the journey!
“The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearance.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar
Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. New York: MJF Books.
Brookfield, S. D. (1987). Developing critical thinkers: Challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Henderson, M. (1997). Star Wars: The magic of myth (Companion volume to the exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution). New York: Bantam Books.