The Research Question

by | November 2, 2008

I attended the NACADA annual conference in Chicago on October 1-4. I attended on my own dime and Capella’s time. The experience for my own professional development was well worth the cost. NACADA has over 10,000 members and nearly 3,500 attended the conference, many of them on their own dime and their own time. I think that this speaks volumes for the longing for knowledge of best practice or at least knowledge of common practices in the undertaking of academic advising.

My advising team at Capella has been charged with the task of defining what we do. The charge comes from management (I think) in an effort to capture and measure what we do as doctoral advisors. At the conference, I learned that other advisors from both non-profit and for-profit colleges and universities have the same issues with their management: how do we best serve our learners and still satisfy the number-crunchers? An effective advisor influences the quality of education by helping learners see value in the learning process, gain perspective on the doctoral experience, become more responsible and accountable, set priorities and evaluate their progress, and uphold honesty with themselves and others about their successes and limitations (NACADA). Effective advising results in measurable outcomes such as learner persistence, higher graduation rates, shorter time to graduate, and satisfied graduates who are more likely to recommend the University to their peers. In addition, graduates who experienced effective academic advising tend to produce more post-graduate work. So why does it seem like advisors are held accountable for the results without being given the tools (smaller work loads, access to reports, professional development) to produce the results?

In my conversations with other advisors and the messages that I heard in the sessions, the answer to these questions always came down to the lack of research in academic advising. One of the sessions that I attended at the NACADA conference was entitled, “Voices from the Field: Building a Research Agenda for Academic Advising”. The presenters advocated that every academic advisor is a potential researcher and that every researcher could profit from collaboration with practicing advisors. The body of literature for academic advising has not reached critical mass. Academic advisors are still in the vetting process of being accepted as legitimate educators in higher education. The session presenters “believe that practice, research, and theory function best when combined into praxis.” In the session the presenters called for commitments to begin the research process by asking every advisor to identify a topic area, create one or two research questions for this topic area, determine the first steps to take, and to identify the resources needed. The presenters collected the commitments and promised to follow-up.

I also attended a session urging advisors to publish their research. The publishing arm of NACADA asks advisors “What is there to say about advising that hasn’t already been said?” and “What questions need to be answered?” NACADA is begging advisors to submit articles, research, book reviews, etc. for publication. They offer four venues: NACADA Journal , Monographs , Clearinghouse , and Advising Today .

What barriers keep advisors from researching and publishing in their own profession? We are in a unique position in the university because we bridge the gap between academia and corporate. We know the questions that need to be asked and we know how to do the research. NACADA offers support, including grants and encouragement. What keeps you as an academic advisor from taking the first step to commit to a research project?

2 Responses to "The Research Question"

  1. Audrey Jones says:


    Please let me know what others think about this dissertation topic listed below.

    Why is heart disease the number one killer of people with diabetes?

    Thank you,
    Audrey Jones

  2. Michael Franklin says:

    Hello Audrey –

    It’s wonderful that you are reaching out to others to have a conversation about your dissertation topic. Everyone must work to narrow and focus her or his dissertation topic throughout coursework. Exchanging and exploring your ideas with others is a key part of this process.

    A good place to begin narrowing and focusing is by reviewing the Dissertation Manual, especially Chapter 4 – Selecting, Validating, and Managing the Dissertation Topic:

    Also, you should reach out to core faculty in your program whose research interests and/or methodologies align with yours. By sending an email to a core faculty member and writing something as basic as, “For my dissertation I am interested in the connection between heart disease and diabetes. How do you suggest I develop this further while keeping with my specialization?” you will begin an important dialogue with yourself and with experts in your field. Such dialogue will be crucial to mapping out a blueprint for a solid dissertation project.

    You can identify core faculty by visiting your school page on iGuide and reviewing the Mentor Bios. Contact your Academic Advisor if you would like help locating this resource.

    Good luck!