Are you a scholar?

by | November 3, 2010

A mentor and I recently had a conversation about a mentee who just dug in his heels and did not want to accept any of the feedback the mentor and the committee provided him. Apparently the mentee insisted that HE was the expert and that clearly the committee members did not know what they were talking about.

The mentor asked me why some mentees demonstrate such vehement opposition to feedback. I really did not have much of an answer, but then I thought that maybe those are the mentees who are not really scholars and are not going to ever be scholars.

I think that many doctoral programs do have scholars and non-scholars—or those who are trying to obtain the degree for some other reason. The non-scholars are the ones who are most likely to reject feedback from the mentor and committee. Or, when they are finally forced to make some changes, they just take the mentor feedback, incorporate it, and wait for more feedback. They really do not get the “process.” All they do is “make corrections.” They are unable or unwilling to make connections and to reflect in a way so that they are actually driving much of the content.

On the other hand, a scholar is one who listens and wonders and who grows intellectually. I like to explain it as a mushroom cloud. I know that is a rather ominous term, but that is exactly how the intellect and curiosity should grow. It expands and expands and expands. And it never really stops growing.

A scholar will reflect on the mentor feedback and then find ways to build upon that feedback. As part of that building process, a scholar finds more and more information that is going to strengthen the dissertation. When that happens, the scholar is the one driving the content of the dissertation.

The completion of a dissertation is not the end of the learning, however, for a scholar. A scholar will remain curious all of his or her life. S/He will see research possibilities everywhere. A scholar is very likely to be heard saying, “I wonder if . . .”

This is only scratching the surface of what a scholar might be. How would you describe a scholar?

12 Responses to "Are you a scholar?"

  1. Maria Lopez says:


    I think to be a scholar is to be a Philosopher, someone, who likes to observe, ponder, explore and learn about everything, or something in particular.

  2. Thien-NGa Gina Nguyen says:


    I strongly believe that a scholar will drive most of the content of his/her dissertation. It is still difficult to expand outside the recommendations of his/her mentor. It might be that the fear to either straying too far away or contradict to the suggestions. Whatever the case might be, sometime it might be the driven factor for a scholar to just do the correction instead of exploring.


    • Lynn Riskedal says:


      Thanks for your comments. Absolutely, it might be difficult to stray too far from a mentor’s recommendation. But let me ask you this question: might a scholar be more likely to make that case for expansion than a non-scholar would?


  3. Kathleen Short says:



    • Lynn Riskedal says:

      A dissertation is clearly a tremendous learning opportunity for both the mentor and the mentee.


  4. Martin Gibbs says:

    Having recently completed my PhD at Capella, I completely understand the frustation in the process and the feedback. At one point I thought to myself the same thoughts–how dare my mentor suggest this track, it’s not where I want it to go. But I took a long walk and thought through it–and she was right. My original direction was going to be very intensive, and it would not have returned the rich data I thought I was going to get.

    From that moment, I learned to take feedback very differently. Sure, you get hot under the collar when you see all the “red marks” and comments, and you want to defend yourself. But take a step back and really think it through. Often, the mentor does know what they are talking about. They have the experience in guiding learners through this. Sure, they don’t know your topic intimately, but they know what works and what doesn’t.

    A scholar is going to have to be able to take rejection and criticism (heck, I’ve already had one paper rejected by a journal, but I keep submitting more and revising, and moving on). A scholar is also one who will need to adjust in light of evidence–even if that evidence points directly to a needed change within themselves.

    • Lynn Riskedal says:


      Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your perspective. And a key point you made was to take a step back and to think it through. I think that might be a critical part of being a scholar — you do think it through.


  5. Mark Smith says:

    Greetings. I think this is a very interesting subject. I agree entirely that the true scholar is one that continues to desire to grow both in their studies and in their world.

    I think the approach you present of how a mentor and mentee could operate together is fantastic. But on the flip side of it, are there also mentors that are not necessarily there in the right “spirit” too and would find displeasure in their mentees doing anything but following instructions and incorporating corrections? Are there mentors who would rather see a resulting dissertation that essentially is something they wanted to see delved into?

    I suppose a true scholar would not let them stop this as they are not entirely studying and writing to satisfy the dissertation, but also their own thirst. Perhaps they won’t get to write out the beauty of their own findings, but that doesn’t mean they can be stopped from attaining such findings for themselves and applying them somewhere more fitting.

    • Lynn Riskedal says:


      Those mentors likely do exist. Do you think that scholars working with such mentors would turn out a different kind of a dissertation than non-scholars working with that same mentor?


  6. Mark Smith says:

    Ms. Lynn… thank you for the the reply/question. I think it depends on the perspective of the scholar. Some may view a mentor like that as a learning experiment in and of itself to examine going with the flow of the mentor even though they know it’s restricting and not how the process should work, just to see if it really still provides benefit/growth.

    Will their dissertation be any different? Well, if the mentor is really dictating it step by step and wants nothing more, than not likely. Will the true scholar be a more informed and learned person than a non-scholar by the end of it? I would certainly think so and already be thinking about the implications of the experience and where it matters next.

    Others, with more aggressive tendencies, may feel the urge to rebel, NOT do so because they understand they are the mentee, but also not feel they can put their whole heart into the project and really just follow the steps and no more that the mentor outlines. Their end result may be the same as the uninterested non-scholar simply because of emotional affects from the ill-spirited mentor.

    Do I think the latter is ideal? Definitely not. Do I think it’s real. At least hypothetically, yes. Do I think it takes away from them being a person who truly seeks after and cares about learning/growing/contributing? I don’t believe so. But it must truly be considered on a case-by-case basis and only by those who truly know that person as a whole in order to really make a fair call on their scholarly or non-scholarly approach to life.

    Thoughts on this?


  7. Bernie says:

    Hello to all,

    I am only beginning my scholarly journey. The only conflict that I have run into at Capella is a professor that refused to have a discussion with me. One who was rarely in the classroom and provided very little feedback until AFTER she gave me a “C”. I had a “95” going into my final project. For anyone who completes a project – even if it is a little late (for a very good reason) – a decent grade is deserved. With all other professors, they have been forthcoming with improvements that need to be made. I may be in the beginning stages, but I CAN follow directions. We must be open to whatever we hear from a mentor. Everyone has something important to contribute to our journey. My goal is to always be open to listen and hear what is being said. Whether I agree or not, is not the point. To be challenged to think outside the narrow little box we shut up our self inside is the point and the opportunity we must all seek as Scholars.
    Thanks for this opportunity – to be heard.

  8. Brauni says:

    A scholar is ME or someone like me. I am a career student that not only continues my education but also goes the extra mile within higher learning. Scholars make many sacrifices. We personally and professionally freely give and take knowledge, understanding, cross boundaries, practice cultural awareness, perform and make ethical decisions, make many trade-offs and, strive to excel to the next level from scholar to scholar practitioner to practitioner-scholar. We are assets in the learning and educational community, in the home, the workplace, and in society. Thanks

    Brauni Cudjo
    PhD Learner