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Immersion program aids humanities Ph.D. students

Tue, 04/03/2012 - 2:10pm

As Ph.D. students become scholars in their own right, the mechanics of their original research grow more complex. Through an innovative immersion program designed to help students learn research skills, Cornell University Library developed a series of workshops to contribute to the success of Ph.D. students in the humanities.

Part of the strategy of the intensive four-day program in January was that the 16 participating students attended every single session - even those that seemed nontraditional or surprising.

According to one participant, it worked.

"A lot of the panels I wouldn't have gone to on my own, because I wouldn't have realized they were important to me," said Megan Kruer, a third-year graduate student in French literature.

For example, Kruer said, she thought she already understood Google Reader and believed copyright didn't apply to her, but it turned out there were things about both topics she didn't know, and they turned out to be important.

"The immersion program cut out a lot of that frustrating self-learning," she said. "With research tools, this [program] took everything to another level. There were so many moments when I didn't know that was going to happen, but because the program was pushing us through, I learned so much more."

Sessions covered such topics as using cameras as research tools, making the most of optical character recognition, finding external funding sources and copyright-free images, archiving digital files, searching for dissertations, organizing citations and more.

"We wanted to give students immediate, practical skills they could take away from this experience and start using right away," said Virginia Cole, history and medieval studies librarian.

The idea grew out of a study conducted by Cornell and Columbia University Library, as part of their 2CUL partnership. Through extensive interviews and focus groups, librarians determined that they could help second- and third-year graduate students transition from being students who learn in a classroom setting to becoming scholars in their own right.

A grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services provided funding for this year's winter break program, which quickly became a collaborative effort with the Cornell Graduate School and the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines. In addition to research topics, staff members covered writing, conflict resolution, time management and other challenges Ph.D. students often face.

"We're taking a more holistic approach to graduate students' experience," said Kornelia Tancheva, director of Olin and Uris libraries and principal investigator on the grant. "They're already building strong relationships within their specific disciplines. We want students to realize that they also have a complementary relationship with the library and the university - and, really, scholarship - in a broader context, and we want to help show them a full range of options for the future of their research."

Assessment was a major component of the grant, and over the next few months, the library will compile feedback and determine next steps for the program.

"We've had interest from all parts of campus," said Susette Newberry, assistant director of Research and Learning Services. "Every cadre of graduates needs very particular things, and the more focused help we can give people, the better their experiences are going to be."

Gwen Glazer is the staff writer and editor at Cornell University Library.

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