Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Of Research Scholars, Scholar-Practitioners, and Research-Scholar-Practitioners

How does one distinguish the research scholar from the scholar-practitioner? Moreover, what of the ambitious scholar who engages in both research and practice at once as a research-scholar-practitioner?

The Free Dictionary defines the “scholar” as “a learned person” and “specialist in a given branch of knowledge.” Thus, the scholar is a person of learning and knowledge. However, operationalizing the distinction between a “research scholar” and a “scholar-practitioner” requires parsing the terms “research” and “practitioner.” Referring again to The Free Dictionary, “research” is a “scholarly or scientific investigation or inquiry,” as in a “close, careful study.” However, a “practitioner” is “a person who practices a profession or art,” where “practice” is the “exercise of an occupation or profession” or “business of a professional person.”

Research Scholar Career Domains

Scholar-Practitioner Career Domains

Research-Scholar-Practitioner Career Domains

Based on these definitions, the nexus of the research scholar is formally research, whereas the nexus of the scholar-practitioner is practice. That both the research scholar and scholar-practitioner are scholars remains true by definition. However, the central focus and core disciplines of such scholars stand in contrast.

Of course, the research scholar can also engages in practice, just as a scholar-practitioner can conduct research. Moreover, the ambitious scholar might pursue all three domains as a research-scholar-practitioner, though the modern scholar does not generally engage in all three domains at once. Most scholar-practitioners become practicing physicians, attorneys, optometrists, business administrators, psychologists, audiologists, and so forth, and will likely never conduct or publish research during their lifetimes. Conversely, most research scholars choose to decline professional practice as a career pursuit. The idealized career domains for the research scholar, scholar-practitioner, and research-scholar-practitioner are illustrated above.

As preparation for each career path, the candidate scholar will generally pursue a degree program that advances one’s preferred aspirations. For example, the committed research scholar will generally earn a research degree (e.g., PhD, DA, DS) early during a career. Conversely, the dedicated scholar-practitioner will want to earn a professional doctorate (e.g., MD, DO, JD, PsyD, DBA, EdD, DPT, AuD) as preparation for a career in practice. Of course, the educational paths of scholars will vary and exceptions to the above are common. For example, many with research doctorates will become scholar-practitioners during the course of their careers. Likewise, some earning professional doctorates will eventually become full-time research scholars. Exceptions to the above educational paths abound based on individual career choices. However, the aspiring research scholar will generally choose to pursue a research doctorate, while the aspiring scholar-practitioner will usually seek a professional doctorate as preparation for their respective careers.

Concluding, scholars tend to focus their careers on either research, practice, or both, the result of which is to cause the scholar to emerge as either a research scholar, scholar-practitioner, or research-scholar-practitioner. These three career paths tend to guide the aspiring scholar through a preparatory degree program that aligns with the activity focus contemplated along each path. Scholars may later change their career paths based on future career goals, which can result in a quasi-misalignment between one’s doctoral degree and the resulting career path undertaken. Nevertheless, such career shifts appear to be commonplace in modern society as exemplified by the significant number of doctors with professional degrees working as research scholars, as well as the number of doctors with research degrees working in professional practice.

Source: The Free Dictionary

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1 comment:

Angela said...

This overview of scholarship, research, and practice was very helpful! I wish I had such information when I was trying to decide which advance degree was better from me as an educator (PhD or EdD). I feel good knowing that my decision to pursue a PhD was best in that it allows me to emphasis the development of theory and thought to influence the practice of others. Having your post, however, would have saved me a lot of time that I spent on trying to figure it out!! :) I am going to share this link with others on my business website ( and Facebook page ( Thanks for sharing!!

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