Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Reflecting, Iterating, and Tolerating Ambiguity: Highlighting the Creative Process of Scientific and Scholarly Research for Doctoral Education

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Reflecting, Iterating, and Tolerating Ambiguity: Highlighting the Creative Process of Scientific and Scholarly Research for Doctoral Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

Learning to conduct original research is a complex process. In the course of earning a doctoral degree, students gradually transition from a dependent phase where a professor provides ongoing feedback (e.g., through taking courses) to conducting independent research that results in an original dissertation project (Lovitts, 2005, 2008). Making the transition from advanced student to independent scholar is not easy (Gardner, 2008; Spaulding & Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2012). Producing quality original research certainly requires advanced analytic skills, the creative intelligence to design a project, and the ability to handle the inevitably ambiguous research process (Lovitts, 2005). This need is particularly pronounced for interdisciplinary graduate students who must integrate the cultures of multiple disciplines (Strober, 2011), though given the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of much research conducted today (Boyack, Klavans, & Borner, 2005; Morillo, Bordons, & Gomez, 2003; Van Leeuwen & Tijssen, 2000; Van Raan, 2000) this applies to most doctoral students to a certain extent.

Guiding students through the transition are doctoral advisors and supervisors: experienced researchers who successfully completed the PhD and who simultaneously serve as teachers or coaches who mentor the students to learn the skills of research (Chan, 2008) and as gatekeepers who ultimately decide whether and when the students have proven themselves as scholars (Weidman, Twale, & Stein, 2001). Mentoring is a critical component of student development (Castro, Garcia, Cavazos, & Castro, 2011), and can improve the quality of student research (Mohan, 2010) as well student self-efficacy (Anderson, Cutright, & Anderson, 2013) and socialization into a discipline (Gardner, 2010). However, while "exemplary" mentors interact extensively with students and use a range of modalities to help their students develop (Barnes & Austin, 2009), students without strong mentoring might flounder in discovering how to do innovative, creative research.

Over the last three years, the authors have taught creative problem solving workshops to doctoral students from across our campus. During these workshops, we have heard many stories from bright, motivated, and despairing doctoral students that suggest that while students have plenty of intellectual mentorship, they are not receiving sufficient guidance on managing the creative flow of their individual research processes or developing resilient emotional attitudes towards setbacks, both of which have been identified as critical characteristics of successful PhD students (Lovitts, 2008). Our observations imply that many research advisors are not adequately mentoring students on what they need to know about the process of doing research. We focus on two potential causes of this lack of mentoring. On one hand, experienced scholars might be unaware of the details of their creative decision-making process, making it much more difficult to coach students through that process. This would suggest that by uncovering that process, we might be better able to explicitly communicate what it is that successful researchers do. Conversely, advisors might be aware of their process, but are ineffectively communicating it to students. This would suggest that additional training in how to mentor doctoral students would be helpful.

This study explores these hypotheses via two research questions. The first is about researchers' own scholarly practice: How do successful interdisciplinary researchers understand their own research process, and how do they deal with the creative aspects of this process? The second is about their mentoring practice: How do advisors mentor their doctoral students to understand the role of creativity in research? Using interviews and qualitative analysis of classroom sessions, we investigated how nine experienced interdisciplinary scholars at Stanford University (a) conceptualize and experience their research process, in particular the creative aspects of it, and (b) how they approach their role as advisors to their doctoral students. …

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