B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N


of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 31, No. 3    February/March 2005

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Student Perspective

Looking Ahead

by Lisa Nathan

Lisa Nathan is the student representative to the Bulletin Advisory Board, a position filled by the student chapter winning the Student Chapter-of-the-Year Award for the previous year. Lisa is a doctoral student at the University of Washington. She can be reached by email at lpn@u.washington.edu

As a doctoral student, my ideal scenario is to graduate and attach a few letters to my name. Soon thereafter I hope to be hired for a bona fide job. At some point while trotting off to gainful employment, will I instantly transform from student to full-fledged, multi-accredited professional? Perhaps it is a slower process that occurs over a period of months. Regardless of when the transformation from student to professional takes place, will I know it has happened? Are there noticeable characteristics that distinguish a student from a professional?

In an article in the June/July 2004 issue of the Bulletin, I implied that there is often little other than the size of one’s paycheck to differentiate a student from a professional. I pointed out that the student body in the field of information science is growing more diverse both in age and in previous professional experience, removing some of the more traditional differentiations. This trend is due in part to a growing array of information science degrees attracting a wider range of students. A number of these students are shifting from one profession to another. In this piece I will report on a few changes that have happened since the previous article was printed, mostly changes in my own perspective. In a nutshell, through various conversations with students and professional members of ASIS&T, I learned that both parties perceive students as having unique qualities. What appears to be lacking is a clear path for students to follow in order to participate more fully in the activities of the Society. My hope is that through continued dialogue we can figure out how to make the most of these qualities – make better use of the untapped resources – before the official transformation from student to professional occurs.

Last year’s article spurred a series of email conversations concerning the potential roles of students in the Society. The piece had called on ASIS&T to value student involvement in the Society in the same way full members are valued and to allow students to fully participate in ASIS&T activities and governance. After the article was published, I received a number of emails. Some notes were from student members who had further suggestions that they wanted to share with ASIS&T, but they didn’t know how or to whom to make the suggestions. Through other notes I learned that the organization recognizes the value of student member participation and is not only willing to reach out to them, but has taken steps to do so. The Board of ASIS&T made changes to the national bylaws in the early 90s ensuring that student members have the same rights as full members in participating in ASIS&T activities and governance. My position on the Bulletin Advisory Board is another example of this outreach. [To clarify, while students might hold any number of positions in ASIS&T, this advisory board position is designated specifically for a student member.] However, the tone of student emails made it clear that many students are unaware of the opportunities that exist and how to take advantage of them. Students, especially those who don’t have student chapters to participate in or have yet to develop a network of friends and colleagues, may have a difficult time finding out how things work in the Society. After these various email interactions, I was eager to attend ASIS&T Annual Meeting in Providence and continue these conversations in person.

During the conference I continued to hear similar threads from a number of students:

  • Some are unsure of how to get involved if they do not have a student chapter and/or are from outside the United States.
  • Others want to know how to share and act on their ideas that go beyond activities involving their local student chapters.

Clearly, there are students unsure of their potential roles in the Society, but who are interested and motivated to be more involved. Some are looking toward the future and see involvement in the Society as a great networking opportunity. Others, still unsure of what professional role the Society may play in their future, see strong indications that those involved in the Society are having a great time. For those lucky enough to attend the national meeting, SIG CON leaves a very strong impression. Few groups can laugh at themselves as well as ASIS&T.

I also heard the new Society president Nicholas Belkin make the following comments during his inaugural address:

  • Student relations are on his agenda.
  • He has a strong interest in recruiting undergraduates to the Society.
  • He would like to ensure that students do not feel like second class citizens in the organization.

Finally, I do want to highlight what I view as the student differences and make broad generalizations about a group I have attempted to portray as diverse and varied. Although we are a heterogeneous group, by taking the initiative to further our education and join a professional society, students are demonstrating that they are curious, interested and want to get involved at some level. We also have fresh eyes and new ideas that we want to share. Judging by the actions of the Society as a whole and comments made by the new president, these characteristics are not news to anyone. Both students and professionals recognize them. Another feature that may not be so prominent is that students often do not know the ropes, may not have student advisors to help us learn the ropes and may feel too intimidated to ask the Society’s leaders how things are done.

So students, have I convinced you that your participation is welcomed? There are many opportunities, perhaps as close as your own student chapter or through your local chapter. At the national level it is possible to contact committee members and express your interest, take part in SIGS or submit articles to the Bulletin (see the Bulletin page at asist.org/Bulletin for content and format requirements). What appear to be lacking are clear guidelines on how to participate, which will be addressed in part when the updated Society website is up and running. But for now, below are some contact points if you have questions, suggestions or want to get involved in the organization. I am very happy to be part of the conversations if you wish to contact me, although my official role is limited. The Bulletin is a newsletter for the organization. While I am able to write pieces suggesting changes, it is the Board of Directors, the committees, the headquarters staff, the chapters and SIGs that can make these changes happen.

            For more information on being active in such efforts, you can start with the website at www.asist.org. But where it is not up-to-date or if you desire more information or the human touch, please feel free to contact the Dick Hill, the executive director, at rhill@asist.org, or Candy Schwartz, the student chapter advisor at Simmons and a past-president of ASIS&T, who has volunteered to help students wishing to be more active in the Society (candy.schwartz@simmons.edu). They will be happy to answer your questions and refer you to other useful contacts.


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