1. What is a scholar?


According to the Oxford American Dictionary a scholar is:

a specialist in a particular branch of study… a distinguished academic

However, there is no one definition of scholar. You probably already have some ideas about what a scholar is and what he or she does, what he or she looks like, what kinds of work he or she produces. After you’ve completed these next few activities, we hope you’ll gain a greater appreciation for the diverse interests, approaches and methods that all fall under the umbrella of “scholarly work” or “scholarship,” and the people who practice it.

Scholar Examples

To get you started thinking about different scholars, take some time to read about 2 – 3 of the scholars listed below. Think about what kinds of work they are producing and how it’s different or similar to each other.


Briefly, scholarship the work created by scholars. The term research and scholarship are often used interchangeably. Though what exactly counts as scholarship or research varies by major or field of study, most shares some basic traits:

  1. Creation of knowledge: the author(s) aim to discover something new, provide novel insight, assemble information in a way that’s never been done before
  2. Connected to other scholars: the author(s) are in conversation with the research that has come before them, whether it is to refute that research, confirm it, or build and expand it

Here are some definitions of scholarship and research from various professional organizations and universities around the country. Review two or three that interest you:

  • Nursing (from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing)

    Scholarship in nursing can be defined as those activities that systematically advance the teaching, research, and practice of nursing through rigorous inquiry that 1) is significant to the profession, 2) is creative, 3) can be documented, 4) can be replicated or elaborated, and 5) can be peer-reviewed through various methods.

  • Psychology (from the Southern Utah University Department of Psychology)

    For its definition of scholarship, the Department of Psychology uses Boyer’s (1990) model that describes scholarship as discovery, integration, service, application, and teaching. Scholarship involves a lifelong commitment to thinking, questioning, and pursuing answers.

  • Agriculture and Natural Resources (from the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources)

    The essence of scholarship is the thoughtful discovery, transmission, and application of knowledge, including creative activities, that is based in the ideas and methods of disciplines, professions, and interdisciplinary fields.  Scholarship is deeply informed by the most recent knowledge in the field, is skillfully interpreted and deployed, and is carried out with intelligent openness to new information, debate, and criticism.    Scholarship meets three defining criteria: the activity creates something new,  the work is peer-validated, and the work is publicly disseminated and available.

  • Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (from MSU Faculty and Organizational Development)

    The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning promotes teaching as a scholarly endeavor and a worthy subject for research, producing a public body of knowledge open to critique and evaluation. Its intent is not only to improve teaching but to create a community of “scholarly teachers” who add to the body of knowledge about teaching and learning as well as benefiting from the scholarship of teaching and learning research of others.

  • Clinical Research in Medicine (from the University of Southern California)

    The National Institutes of Health defines “clinical research” as research conducted with human subjects (or on material of human origin such as tissues, specimens and cognitive phenomena) for which an investigator (or colleague) directly interacts with human subjects. Excluded from this definition are in vitro studies that utilize human tissues that cannot be linked to a living individual.

  • Six Aspects of Scholarship (as defined by Charles E. Glassick)

    Clear Goals
    Does the scholar state the basic purpose of his or her work clearly? Does the scholar define objectives that are realistic and achievable? Does the scholar identify important questions in the field?

    Adequate Preparation
    Does the scholar show an understanding of existing scholarship in the field? Does the scholar bring the necessary skills to his or her work? Does the scholar bring together the resources necessary to move the project forward?

    Appropriate Methods
    Does the scholar use methods appropriate to the goals? Does the scholar apply effectively the methods selected? Does the scholar modify procedures in response to changing circumstances?

    Significant Results
    Does the scholar achieve the goals? Does the scholar’s work add consequentially to the field? Does the scholar’s work open additional areas for further exploration?

    Effective Presentation
    Does the scholar use a suitable style and effective organization to present his or her work? Does the scholar use appropriate forums for communicating the work to its intended audiences? Does the scholar present his or her message with clarity and integrity?

    Reflective Critique
    Does the scholar critically evaluate his or her own work? Does the scholar bring an appropriate breadth of evidence to his or her critique? Does the scholar use evaluation to improve the quality of future work?

  • Kinds of Scholarship (as defined by Ernest Boyer in “Scholarship Reconsidered”)

    Scholarship of Discovery
    “Knowledge for its own sake.” Discovering new, novel perspectives, contributing to a climate of openness and freedom of expression. “Scholarly investigation” of a topic. What we think of as research – posing a quesiton and uncovering or creating answers.

    Scholarship of Integration
    Taking information and providing additional context, “making connections across disciplines.” “Bring new insight to bear on original research.” Interpretation, finding and highlighting patterns, integrating ideas

    Scholarship of Application
    Applying research and scholarship to real world problems. Best practices, novel processes, changes to existing models of doing things. “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems?”

    Scholarship of Teaching
    How to convey knowledge in the most effective way. Study of instructional strategies, theories as they apply to teaching. “Teaching is the highest form of understanding.”

These documents don’t define scholarship completely, but they can help you begin to understand the kinds of scholarship you’ll encounter during college.

You are also engaged in scholarship here at MSU. You are often asked to create new knowledge, or look at a topic in a unique way. Compare this guide for student research papers to some of the definitions you just read. Look familiar?

Student Research Papers (from the Purdue Owl)

The research paper serves not only to further the field in which it is written, but also to provide the student with an exceptional opportunity to increase her knowledge in that field.

As you continue exploring scholars and scholarship in your field or major, you’ll get a better sense of how to write and convey ideas of your own.

Continue to Part 2, How is Scholarly Information Different?