Wednesday, November 19, 2008

From Student to Scholar

An idea that's been bouncing around in my head is a change in my self-image from student to scholar. The difference between the two is slight in theory and gigantic in application. I've always considered myself a student of Victorian Studies. Even when I was doing original archival work in the BL or Senate House, reading up on forgotten scientific romances, I never thought of myself as a scholar. Scholar always felt too professional a term for my work - I was reacting to assignments and small personal curiosities. The main intention of my research and essays was never really to add to the body of work on a subject, but rather to get a good grade while writing on something that at least somewhat caught my interest.

I began my work at the iSchool as a student, admittedly a student who was somewhat nervous and apprehensive about the focus on theory and the workload. My intention was to get a degree often termed by some associates as "The Library Union Card". I would develop a skill set, turn in a portfolio, and get cracking on professional job applications.

A series of exchanges with the Dean of the school of nursing where I work altered this perspective. In her emails and during an unexpected and delightfully rich phone call, she referred to us as "fellow scholars". My IRB application (still in process, cross your fingers) asked for me to demonstrate how my efforts for my information behavior class would add to a greater body of work or understanding of the world. And for once, I had an answer. True this project isn't one that I would have necessarily chosen for myself, but I find myself inexplicably drawn to the subject. Perhaps I'm simply too in love with Gregory Bateson, with "the pattern that connects". I love jumping from text to to interview and back, to creating what is a holistic vision of the world (or at least a very tiny slice of the world for a very tiny portion of the population). There's an excitement for my work (and indeed, it's work now) that I've not felt in a long time. There's a sense of meaning with this project, that I might actually impact that world some way.

I'm not sure why I feel the world will benefit more from an understanding of the information behavior of nurses as supposed to an examination of nineteenth century critics vision of women poets or the time shared by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Art and literature and their criticism surely have an important place in our society and I wouldn't denegrate that for all the world. It's just that I used to believe that my goal in life would be to write a seminal text on something that a student, lost in the middle of a term paper, would happen upon and shout with joy at finding a critical quotation to link together her paper. Or maybe just another good article to add to the bibliography. One of the two. Either way, I would prove to be of use to someone. Maybe the clear definitions of my users or user groups allow me to look out and see the benefits immediately. Of course, this doesn't answer why I have the need to be useful, to help or be recognized for that help, but there it is.

I'm at the beginnings of my individual paper for this course and I'm having to cut myself off from reading. There are too many interesting paths to follow. But most importantly, or excitingly, I'm starting to see the holistic nature of the field. I majored in Victorian Studies because I loved the moments in my liberal arts career when it seemed that all my courses were collapsing in on each other, that the same themes and issues and ideas made up the entirety of the world that I was on the verge of understanding something big, something great. I doubt that this complete understanding is anywhere within reach, but it's nice to have that feeling again. I means that I'm on to something at last.

No comments: