Before classes began in January, librarians welcomed 19 graduate students to a three-day intensive workshop designed to improve participants’ research skills with hands-on activities and demonstrations on a variety of resources, methods, tools and topics.
The Graduate Student Library Immersion Program focuses on addressing participants' research challenges and building community both within and across disciplines.
“It is difficult for any student who is untrained or has had scattershot training on the tools and resources available to them for research and publishing,” Assistant University Librarian Matt Steele said.
The program began in fall of 2019 with a focus primarily on humanities students. After a hiatus because of Covid, it returned in January 2022 and expanded to include social science and humanities.
This fall, the Libraries added STEM students.
Admission to the program is competitive, and applications are evaluated based on the alignment of applicants’ expressed research interests, needs, and challenges with the program’s offerings.
In addition to training, participants receive a $125 stipend and are connected with a subject librarian who will be available for individual consultations about participants’ research interests and challenges.
Librarian Beth Royall teaching students during Graduate Immersion Session
That connection has been crucial for Stephanie House-Niamke, who’s working on a Ph.D. in sociology. She’s had a positive experience with Alyssa Wright, who head of Reference Service for the Downtown Library and the social sciences librarian.
“Librarians know everything. They are the university’s best resources,” House-Niamke said. “If I don’t know an answer, I always ask a librarian.”
House-Niamke arrived in Morgantown in July 2020, early into the Covid Pandemic. She worked in Washington, D.C. prior to enrolling at WVU. She earned her bachelor’s degree in marketing from Radford University and her master’s in public administration from Virginia Tech.
“When they told me, ‘We’re going teach you how to improve your own research and here are some tools you can use.’ I said, ‘sign me up’,” House-Niamke said.
She also appreciated conversations with Equity and Open Education Librarian Jessica Dai about the shortage of librarians in high schools. They talked about the need for information literacy and the factors that cause people to adopt ideologies that don’t seem to make a lot of sense.
“When you don’t have access to information that counters the problematic stuff you just kind of go with it even though it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” House-Niamke said. “Who’s there to teach them about how to determine if a source is legitimate?”
“I feel more comfortable knowing there are people at the Library who can help me. It’s like I have a support group, so to speak, outside of my department” Stephanie House-Niamke
Her thesis explores how images of a White Jesus impacts Black Protestant Christians. She’s conducting research, collecting data and talking with people about their perspectives about Jesus.
“It’s a very sensitive topic. I do understand this is very sacred to people,” she said. “I’m spending hours in the weeds of research and literature; I need to put the information in an accessible way.”
The connections House-Niamke built through the workshop has given her confidence as she advances to the publishing stage of her paper.
“I feel more comfortable knowing there are people at the Library who can help me. It’s like I have a support group, so to speak, outside of my department,” she said.
Mawyah Bashatah, an international student from Saudi Arabia, is pursuing her Ph.D. in public health sciences. She received her bachelor’s in community health in 2017 and her master’s in public health 2019, both from George Mason University.
She’s currently working as a lecturer with the Saudi Electronic University, a new university offering online courses.
She originally majored in clinical laboratory science, but she changed plans.
“I’m more open to talking to people face to face, promoting a healthy lifestyle,” Bashatah said. “I found myself doing a better job than dealing with machines in the laboratory.”
One of the most important things she learned during the workshop was how to manage information in Zotoro, which is a free, online citation manager that can help you collect, organize, format, and share citations.
“Now I’m trying to focus on research so I’m using Zotoro a lot,” she said.
The program also helped her understand all the ways how the Libraries’ librarians and staff can assist her.
“When I need an article, I don’t hesitate to talk with a librarian,” Bashatah said. “They’re there for you. One stayed with me until I got the issue resolved.”
Casey Stratton is in his second year in WVU’s Communication program. Previously, he worked in training and development for six years, and at same time received his master’s degree in organizational communication.
He came to Morgantown after researching graduate programs lead him to the Instructional Communication emphasis within WVU’s Department of Communication Studies—where the emphasis began in the 1970s.
The Immersion Program sounded like an opportunity to learn about the Libraries and improve his research skills.
“Moving into the academic realm, especially at an R-1 institution, meant a significant shift toward research that would require these library skills,” Stratton said.
Unfortunately, Stratton explained, outside of specific library training, students aren’t taught how to research using library resources; it’s just expected that a student has these skills.
“I think that’s not a fair assumption. So, I felt at a disadvantage,” Stratton said.
The Immersion Program is helping him become a more proficient researcher.
“It was a huge eye-opening experience. First of all, there are so many different resources and databases especially related to my field that I never knew were at my fingertips,” Stratton said.
Like Bashatah, he’s become a fan of Zotoro.
“Zotoro has been huge,” Stratton said. “Something that I didn’t know existed, and now I’ve implemented it into my daily routine and it just expedites everything.”
Stratton feels better prepared as he begins working on his dissertation this fall.
“The Immersion Program brought the library closer to home rather than just a building to go to check out a book,” Stratton said. “I know I have a dedicated space I can go and a subject librarian who can assist me with research questions.”