An article on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website gives a strong example of operating inside of a ‘culture of evidence.’ In it, a graduate advisor describes listening to graduate students, who often come to her office to tell tales of horror in the dissertation process. She begins her advising session by asking the graduate student to show her their recent research, which is expected of them. This is usually the cause of many of their problems.
I experieced this as a graduate student myself; a good friend would meet me in lab, and I would ask her how she was doing. She would reply, stressed, and feeling lost, and we would talk about what she had so far, and where she could go with it. Often, having more than one person working on the problem helped a lot, but I couldn’t help her at all if she hadn’t done a ton of work to begin with.
The counselor in the Chronicle article operates inside a culture of evidence, and it is this culture that defines the state of universities with regional accreditation status. In order to get acceditation, they must present evidence that shows their students gain the skills they need, and go on to gain the jobs they came there to get.
The US Department of Education depends on this culture of evidence, interestingly, because the government must accredit the accrediting agency. (In my case, it is the Higher Learning Commission, whose accreditation my college seeks). The accreditor asks for a culture of evidence from the applicant university, then accredits them on multiple factors, such as placement within the student’s major, and the evidence that the school produces research by students.
It is this culture of evidence that is so useful to educators and advisors, as well. I find that I constantly work on student writing, and insist that their writing is an example of how well they think. I imagine that when employers begin to access student literature, they will look for evidence of a keen mind, and they will find it. I use my uncle as an exmple, who in the 1960’s wrote a paper as an Australian undergraduate. He analyzed how the Australian economy would absorb a professional golfer’s league, like the US PGA. In his experience, multiple sports agencies submitted competing bids for him to come work for them, based on this paper. Though this paper was the last thing he produced as an undergrad, it propelled him toward a bright future, based on things he cared about.
The research paper is precious because it allows the student to hunker down for weeks with a concept that bedevils them, and figure a way to solve a problem. Stacks of books are consumed, as well as many other papers, as well as experimental data, program code, and their own original algorithm analysis and design.
The paper, once invisible, now can be indexed and brought to light as a source of insight into an individual’s personal capacity for thought, and leadership. The paper clearly begins a student’s journey on the path to adulthood, where their personal volition is the major factor that defines where they will go. We can also intervene, and mentor a student based on the things he or she writes about, and identify young adults in our industry who are keen to contribute.
And what I mean by industry, is sub-industry. I do indeed participate within the computer sciences industry, but specifically within the domain of social computing, and specifically, within online communities of practice, dealing with academics. That’s pretty niche, as I like to say, and in order to identify the next mid level executive, I can search for papers with those niche terms. Then I can begin to contact those students, offer internships, and begin to court my next round of executives, who can learn this company from soup to nuts.
As this conscientious researcher wrote, it all begins with this ‘culture of evidence’.