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PhD, Union Institute / Doctor of Social Science, University of Leicester

When developing and delivering degree programs for working adults, there is a  need in academia for scholar-practitioners, people who not only are experienced in their fields but are also well-educated in its scholarly structures. Working adults want degree programs that are immediately relevant to their careers (practice), but need the scholarship that goes behind it all–whether they realize it or not! But where do scholar-practitioners come from?

It is difficult for people who have had academic careers to get the practical experience necessary to be scholar-practitioners.

It is easier for practitioners to get scholarly credentials (typically by earning a doctorate), more so than ever before, and in a much wider array of fields. This also points to the need for more professional doctorates that put an increased emphasis on practice (without abandoning scholarship). But….

It is normal–and well-documented–for scholars to leave academia and enter practice. But it seems much harder for practitioners to enter academia even with the proper credentials. It’s like you’re not a member of the club from way back, so we won’t let you in now. Sure, there are lots of individual exceptions, but those seem to arise on a case-by-case basis where some enlightened university wants to hire someone like that.

There are lots of books on how to enter practice from academia. There are none for going the other way. And the few articles available on this subject almost all deal with narrow areas and cultures other than the U.S. No one’s written the “how-to” book on it that I’m aware of.

In my field of HRD, the gulf between scholarship and practice is huge. Practitioners don’t know theoretical dynamics of their work and lack the skills necessary to advance practice. (And, thus, are relegated to chasing “best practices,” a closed loop.) Scholars seem to know almost nothing about actual training and instructional systems design and write very little about it, much less how it might be applied in areas like leadership development. Sure, there are exceptions, but they’re not enough to disprove the rule.

I wouldn’t necessarily put practice above scholarship when teaching applied subjects like business, criminal justice, or my field of human resource development. It tends to turn university degree programs into technical training schools. But the universities have set this expectation–that graduates will be better prepared to perform in their professions/occupations, so they set up the students for disappointment if they through one scholar after another at them without sufficient practical applications.

It’s not practice. It’s not scholarship. It’s a polarity (see Barry Johnson’s book) involving both.