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Graduate Students, Research strategies

How Graduate Students Do Research

My new article “The Emerging Engineering Scholar: A Citation Analysis of Theses and Dissertations at Western Michigan University” is now available online in the Winter 2009 issue of the journal Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship.  This article is based on my project gauging graduate engineering students” research abilities from the types of sources they cite.  I’m very proud of this article, which basically took two years total from inception to publication.  You can read the abstract of the article below:

Can one glimpse the development of emerging scholars in the work of engineering graduate students? To answer this question, the author studied the citation patterns in 96 Master’s theses and 24 Ph.D. dissertations completed at Western Michigan University’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences between 2002 and 2006. The hypothesis of this study is that an increase in graduate student research competence between the master’s and doctoral levels can be seen in their use of scholarly sources such as journal articles and conference papers. For each thesis and dissertation, bibliographic information (title, author, document type, year of publication) was gathered for each individual citation in the reference list(s). The data analysis indicates that doctoral engineering students use a significantly greater number of scholarly journal articles (44.3% to 29.3%) and conference papers (21.9% to 12.5%) than master’s students. Also, master’s students depend more heavily upon literature available on the web (web sites, government papers, grey literature, trade magazines, and patents). These results give tentative support to the hypothesis. Without knowing how faculty expectations influence the quality of graduate literature reviews, the hypothesis could not be conclusively supported with the data gathered. This study shows that there is a significant difference in the proportions of scholarly and other research sources used by master’s and doctoral engineering students. The implications of these citation patterns in the development of the engineering scholar are discussed.

Article URL: http://www.istl.org/09-winter/refereed.html


About Ed Eckel

I am a engineering and applied sciences librarian at Western Michigan University.


2 thoughts on “How Graduate Students Do Research

  1. WOW, that is quite a study! That sounds like quite an undertaking and a valuable contribution. It would be assumed that doctorate dissertations would have a higher percentage of scholarly journal articles than Master’s theses, but you never would really know unless you looked at it closely like you did. However, if the comparison would be made between undergraduate papers and Master’s theses, I would bet my house on the Master’s theses coming up higher, and I would do a study first. 🙂
    Thanks for posting that.

    Posted by Richard Bernier (aka The Green Engineering Librarian) | February 18, 2009, 1:03 am
  2. Thank you Rich for checking my blog and article out. By the way, it looks like your blog is new. I’m going to add it to my blog roll and Bloglines account.

    Keep in touch,


    Posted by Ed Eckel | February 18, 2009, 1:53 pm

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