What It Means to Become a Scholar

By: Artemis Harris

We hear the word “scholar” used a lot as graduate students. We write scholarly work, use scholarly sources, follow scholarly conversations, etc. But what does it mean to become a scholar?  

Simply put, a scholar is someone who uses intellectual and academic pursuits to set them apart from others by applying their expertise in a specific area of study. The key word here is “expertise”, just following intellectual pursuits is not enough. You are expected to show your mastery of those pursuits as well.  

This happens in many different forms; through the scholarship you produce such as your master’s thesis or other published works. It can also be shown through presentations at conferences where you are actively involved in the scholarly conversation and help to shape it. It also shows in your professional aspirations. If you are a teacher, professor, or researcher, you are spreading your scholarship to others and helping to further scholarly conversations.  

But why should we become scholars? How does this help us? 

Besides getting your diploma at the end of your educational journey, becoming a scholar allows us opportunities to grow and develop in our field outside of the traditional sense. One such way is networking. It is imperative in today’s day and age to network with as many people as you can to create connections that can be beneficial to you in the future. It often is about who you know that can help you get to where you are going.  

As graduate students, we should be networking with faculty as they are needed to fill our committee for the master’s thesis. Having a good working relationship with a professor or advisor can be beneficial when you need advice or help, or for a letter of recommendation in the future. They are also resources for when you are looking for information that might help you with your professional careers. They have networked with others and might be willing to reach out on your behalf to assist you in future endeavors.  

Outside of the university, when you go to conferences and panels you can network with others in your field of study there. These resources can be invaluable when it comes to finding future job opportunities, information for research, or in general making great personal connections.  

Being an expert in your field and having all these resources at your disposal can help to improve your odds of meeting your professional goals. Career opportunities will be more available to you if you can show this mastery of your field of study. Having published work, conferences, and recommendations from faculty further show that you are an expert in your field, but that you are ready and able to produce quality work. Employers are going to be looking for the best of the best, and this can set you apart from other applicants in your field.  

But how can I become a better scholar? 

Joining the conversation is a great way to start. Go to conferences even if you are not presenting to learn from others in your field. This of course opens you to the opportunity to network with others as well. Share your information and develop strong professional relationships with others in your field. Presenting at a conference is also a terrific way to gain scholarship well. You will be a part of the active conversation and it puts you and your message out there for others to see.  

Publish your work when you have the opportunity. Even if it is just in your school’s newspaper or journals, these publications get your name out, and can be used to show off your academic and scholarly work to others. It always looks good that you have scholarly work published as it shows that you have produced high quality work in your field that was good enough to be added to a publication. 

Becoming an avid reader is also a wonderful way to gain scholarship. This is especially important as following the conversation will help you stay up to date on trends and ideas within your field of study. You should also read outside of your area of study to become a more well-rounded individual. You never know when having an informed opinion on something can make or break an interview. Making an impression on others is a fantastic way to develop professional and working relationships during networking. Breaking away from what is comfortable and familiar to you will help to open your mind to new and exciting ideas and fields that you can apply to your own scholarship. Joining clubs and organizations is also an effective way to do this. Because of the diversity within these groups, you can network and gain leadership experience. You will also have the opportunity to share your scholarship with others so they can learn about things outside of their fields of interest as well.  

As a graduate student you are already well on your way to becoming a scholar. By just doing a few additional things you can gain scholarship and further show your expertise in your field. This will help to open new opportunities both academically and professionally, which will only further your scholarship and goals.