Degree In Sight

When psychologist Julie Konik, PhD, was a University of Michigan graduate student, she didn't just look to her department for dissertation help: She took every research and reference-related course the library offered. Taking the library's specialized courses on navigating research databases and streamlining dissertation research, she says, led to a smoother, more efficient research process than if she'd relied on the library skills she'd mastered as an undergraduate.

Indeed, because it's a librarian's job to track technology trends, the library staff is often the best resource on campus to learn to use databases efficiently.

Many librarians offer workshops on the bells and whistles of their resources and databases or one-on-one consulting for advanced research. Such services offer students an opportunity to broaden their research techniques-and improve their research or studies, says Konik-especially because university libraries offer different resources. A research or search technique a student mastered as an undergraduate at Northwestern may have changed or work differently at Yale.

"Students are often hesitant to invest their time to sharpen their library skills because they don't think they have an hour and a half to sit through a class when they have research to work on," she says. "But it pays off in the long run."


As a graduate student in the interdisciplinary psychology and women's studies program at Michigan, the biggest boon to Konik's graduate school career was a course she took on citation management. It introduced her to EndNote bibliographic software, which creates a database of your references that can be downloaded directly from PsycINFO and formatted in APA style. "I didn't type a single reference in APA style," she says. "It saved me tons of time."

Another windfall, Konik says, was meeting with psychology librarian Darlene Nichols. Once Konik explained her research interest-sexual identity and gender-Nichols introduced her to references she says she never would have discovered own her own, such as a database called GenderWatch.

Nichols says even the most research-savvy graduate students might benefit from consulting their subject specialist or general librarian. She's seen students unnecessarily limit or complicate their research with ill-suited search techniques.

"Usually there are much more sophisticated methods they can use so they aren't floundering in unrelated material to find the six things they need," says Nichols.

So don't be afraid to ask for advice, says University of Washington psychology librarian Laura Barrett.

"Some people think they should be able to do everything on their own," Barrett points out. "Or they feel like they are bothering me or have a 'dumb' question."

In fact, answering questions is her job, she says. "I am an ally," she adds. "Not a last resort."

Even faculty often seek her services on such projects as developing class assignments, understanding copyright law or ordering special materials.

Most librarians welcome student and faculty member requests to add materials or beef up specialty collections, says Barrett. Though requests may not materialize immediately, librarians want to know what resources they're missing, she adds.


Gaining access to librarians is easier than ever, now that most include their e-mail addresses on the library Web site or post hours when they will be available to answer instant-messaged questions on holdings, says Barrett. University of Michigan social psychology graduate student Michael Cohn says he frequently peppers Nichols electronic in-box with messages, mainly about the databases he uses in his research. In fact, when he recently discovered a hitch in one database's references, Nichols not only explained how Cohn could sidestep the glitch, she vowed to present the problem to the database originators because she often meets with them about product quality.

"Not only did she manage to solve my problem, I got a bug report taken directly to the people who write the database," Cohn says. "You can't get better service than that."

Beyond the e-mail consultation, many librarians will create workshops on similar topics they can help with, such as grant-writing, dissertation formatting or copyright issues.

Such workshops also bring -students into the library, which -happens less often these days now that students and faculty can remotely access many research materials, librarians say. And while online access is convenient, librarians say physical visits are still important.

"There is a lot you can get through serendipity when you are looking for one journal and happen to see another you never heard of across the aisle," says Barrett.