Real-World Research Skills

Betsy Clementson, librarian and head of the Turchin Business Library.

From the comfort of a dorm room or coffee shop, students today can access the collective holdings of thousands of libraries, but that abundance of information, paradoxically, can be a problem.

“Online research has made it easier to do research, but I think it also makes it easier to be sloppy in your search,” says Kevin Wilkins, principal of the consulting firm Trepwise. “With the advent of the Internet, the ease of pulling up topics makes it even more challenging for really sophisticated, thoughtful research to be done.”

That’s a subject of special interest to Betsy Clementson. Clementson, librarian and head of the Freeman School’s Turchin Business
Library, has been reaching out to employers for the last year to ensure that students graduate with the research skills they need to succeed in today’s work environment.

“The ultimate goal, and what we’re trying to arrive at, is to ensure that we’re preparing students with research skills that translate to the professional context,” says Clementson, who’s served as director of the library since 2013. “We want students to be able to do the research that’s necessary for their classes, but we also want to make sure that those skills translate to the professional world.”

Last year, Clementson initiated a research study aimed at determining the skills companies are most looking for. She and librarian Allison Gallaspy interviewed employers from a range of disciplines — such as Wilkins — to find out what their research needs are and whether recent graduates possess those skills.

While the responses varied, Clementson says employers emphasized the need for students to verify information through validated sources and to be able to analyze information and draw conclusions from the research.

“Several participants we spoke with said it really starts with asking the right questions,” Clementson says. “If you haven’t broken down your research topic into the right question, then you’re not going to go down the right path.”

Clementson has already begun integrating the findings of the study into the classes and workshops she teaches, and she plans to work more closely with faculty members to incorporate research skills into class projects.

“Ultimately, we want to make sure that what we’re teaching students transfer to the real world,” Clementson says. “Reaching out to employers is one way to help ensure we’re meeting that goal.”

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