Sharon Aiken-Wisniewski, NACADA Board of Directors and Research Committee Member
'...every academic advisor is a potential researcher and... every researcher could profit from collaboration with practicing advisors' (Padak et al. 2005, p. 6).
Our universities and colleges share many commonalities, no matter the size of the institution or the levels of students served. Students enroll to achieve personal and academic goals. Faculty members engage students in activities that facilitate intellectual growth, and many within the institution focus on the production of knowledge through research. Various extra-curricular activities complement curricular activities and produce holistic educational experiences. Within this motion and interaction are academic advisors.
As academic advisors we interact with the entire campus community to communicate possibilities to students as they identify patterns and phenomenon that explain the world. But the majority of advisors never venture beyond this state of hypothesis to validate their knowledge, share it with other advisors, or use it to inform practice. Why?
A qualitative study conducted in 2008 by members of the NACADA Research Committee offers an explanation. A total of 92 NACADA members from across the ten NACADA Regions participated in focus groups to discuss the relationship between advisors and research. This descriptive study offered insight into this relationship. One key finding focused on confidence to conduct research. Even though advisors communicated many empirical questions that emerge from their advising practice, they identified a “lack of confidence” and insufficient training in research methods as factors that kept them from researching the answers to their questions (Aiken-Wisniewski et al., 2008). How does an advisor develop the skills needed to conduct research without participating in doctoral education?
Advisors work within educational environments that are filled with resources to help them gain research skills. In addition to resources available on their home campuses, there are other opportunities to understand the research process. Any advisor with curiosity and commitment is capable of developing and completing a study.
Suggestions that can help us as advisors develop our skills for inquiry and research:
- Never underestimate the value of reading. Journals, such as the NACADA Journal, follow a peer review format to ensure valid methodologies for answering research questions. Articles follow a format that identifies the question (research problem), the research methods (methodology), findings (results), and implications for practice, policy, and future research. At the end of each article is a list of references which offer more resources to understand the research methods used in the study as well as delineate other research on the topic. Journals also offer reviews of recent research, called annotated bibliographies, that summarize what can be found in selected research articles. The recently published NACADA monograph Scholarly Inquiry in Academic Advising can help practitioners lay the foundation needed to answer their research questions. It is important to note that when we build the act of reading about advising research into our routines, we begin to identify the connections between questions and methodologies as well as identify the next step in a particular line of inquiry.
- Organize or join a research group. Initially, this activity could replicate the NACADA Common Reading Program which is offered at the Annual Conference. The members of the research group select a group of journal articles to read and discuss. Discussion of each article should focus on the advising issue as well as the research methodology. Invite guest speakers from the faculty, Office of Institutional Research, or assessment offices to sit in on the discussions and offer insight into the quantitative or qualitative methodology found in articles. Participants should dialogue about questions that emerge from each article and discuss how these questions apply to the campus. Members of the group can initiate a literature review to understand the current research on the topic and then identify a research question the group will address.It is important to remember the adage that “Rome was not built in a day” when thinking about a research project.
- Look for opportunities to dialogue about research. Strike up conversations with team members, advisors, colleagues in service agencies, and faculty members about the research project. This interaction might happen informally over lunch or in a brief conversation after a meeting. Create a more formal venue for this discussion by inviting an outside facilitator who understands the research process to talk to the research group. Attend a NACADA Research Symposium that provides a structured setting to discuss the research process as it applies to each participant’s research question. Regardless of how the discussion is orchestrated, write down feedback to be considered as the study emerges. When we share the development of research studies with colleagues we increase our productivity by sharing the work and maintaining our motivation to finish our study.
- Find a mentor who will nurture our interests in research. Develop a mentoring relationship with a faculty member or advising colleague. The act of mentoring involves a nurturing relationship in which an experienced individual acts as a guide and/or role model for an individual learning to negotiate a system or activity (Johnson, 2007). A research mentor offers guidance as we design a study, suggests strategies to overcome obstacles, and recommends avenues to disseminate findings.There are many techniques for identifying potential mentors. One strategy is to engage our advisees in conversations about faculty who teach research courses. Students frequently offer insight gained from their experiences that can help us identify appropriate candidates. Another strategy is to take a research course and engage the instructor in conversation about the development of the proposed study. A third strategy is to contact advising colleagues who have conducted research on similar issues. It is critical that advisors remember the words of Padak and his colleagues (2005) as they initiate a mentoring relationship: “…every academic advisor is a potential researcher and... every researcher could profit from collaboration with practicing advisors” (p. 6).
Academic advising as a profession prospers from knowledge created when advisors and advising administrators research answers to the overarching questions within their advising practice. Any advisor can understand the process of inquiry. Some techniques that can help advisors build their research toolbox include reading research articles, developing research teams, engaging in discussions about research, and identifying a research mentor.
Every campus offers opportunities to engage in research on some level, and NACADA offers many resources that will help facilitate understanding of the research process. The time has arrived for practicing advisors to utilize research tools and techniques to build their confidence and expertise for scholarship and inquiry.
University of Utah
Aiken-Wisniewski, S.A., Schulenberg, J.K., Black, I., & Naylor, S.M. (2008). Understanding research in academic advising: Advisors and administrators speak out. Paper presented at the 2008 NACADA Annual Conference, Chicago, IL.
Johnson, W.B. (2007). On being a mentor: A Guide for higher education faculty. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Padak, G., Kuhn, T., Gordon, V., Steele, G, & Robbins, R. (2005). Voices from the field: Building a research agenda for academic advising. NACADA Journa l 25(1), 6-10.
Cite this article using APA style as: Aiken-Wisniewski, S. (2010, March). Locating the academic advisor within the creation of knowledge. Academic Advising Today, 33(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]