The mindset needed to bridge the scholar-practitioner gap

The consistently troubling thing about higher education, indeed why it has earned the name “the ivory tower,” is the disconnect between scholarship and practice. In the recent issue of Advances in Developing Human Resources (Volume 19, Number 3) published in August, Jia Wang of Texas A&M presents a collection of articles that address this research-practice gap that are worth investigating. I’ve been in the Academy of HRD for only three years and even in that short time I’ve come across this issue quite a bit. Still, I found the issue refreshing and thought-provoking.

f1-mediumWang begins with four rather personal stories including one that earned an “ouch” penciled in the margins. She recalls a story in which a Chinese CEO curtly responds to her, “You scholars live in an ivory tower. You have no idea about what the real world looks like and feels like” (p. 220).

I cannot in any meaningful way reproduce all the fascinating parts of this journal issue here but I thought I would share a few compelling things from the first article.

Penn State’s Jo A. Tyler and practitioner (and GW HOL alumna) Catherine Lombardozzi share a delightful conceptual paper about the scholar-practitioner mindset where they talk about a way of thinking, being, and doing that bridges the research-practice gap. The key to developing this mindset can be found in the trinity of being smart, brave, and generous. They write,

“As smart scholar-practitioners consider deeply the emerging dynamics of their organizations, they match these to seminal and contemporary theoretical ideas and research. In doing so, they develop the expertise that is a threshold to designing and developing innovative interventions, building solid business cases that easily support them, and implementing them in ways that are grounded, ethical, and easily communicated” (p. 234).

This ethical component shines through when they authors talk about being brave:

“Being brave sits squarely at the center of doing something different from everyone else. Being brave is undertaking interventions that match the points of an organization’s unique fingerprint even (or especially) if those interventions have never been done before. Brave HRD scholar-practitioners can find ways to help their organizations out of ‘hegemonic management practices that contradict… [HRD’s]… underlying philosophy of humanistically facilitating development and change that yields a holistic benefit’ (Bierema & Challahand, 2014, p. 3)” (p. 238).

Lastly, with regard to the third element of bridging this gap, Tyler and Lombardozzi write,

“Generous scholar-practitioners find ways to share their practice-based knowledge and insights from experience. This supports the work of other professionals and grows our body of knowledge to advance the field. They join a community of academic scholars, researchers, practitioners, and welcoming scholar-practitioners who invite them to join an ongoing conversation about innovating HRD practice through the influence of scholarship” (p. 242).

This article provides a well-thought-out reminder of the mindset required to be a compassionate, innovative, and effective scholar-practitioner. It would be great reading for either an introductory HRD course or final year seminar course. I encourage you to check out more of Tyler and Lombardozzi’s word including a second article in this Advances issue.

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