A Call to Publish for Veterans Service Professionals

Glenn Allen Phillips, Institutional Research Associate, The University of Texas at Arlington

March 6, 2017

As I left the 2017 NASPA Symposium on Military-Connected Students in Washington D.C., I had two thoughts:

1.      Great things are being discussed here.

2.      No one will ever know.

For those who were fortunate enough to be supported by their institution or academic department, the conference provided a smorgasbord of good practices, experience-laden advice, and hope for how military-connected students can be served.

For those practitioners without the time or support to attend, the conference was just another cold weekend in February.

Building and maintaining a successful veteran support center and motivating faculty and administration to recognize their role in student veteran success is serious work, and serious work should come with instructions. In lieu of a one-size-fits-all manual, those who work with military-connected students depend on information gathered informally, through sessions like those at the 2017 NASPA Symposium, and through published research. 

Much of the literature has maligned the woeful dearth of research on student veterans (Vacchi & Berger, 2014; Diramio, Ackerman, & Mitchell, 2008). This hole will not be filled until others start digging in their own metaphorical backyards and providing some publishable dirt (so to speak).

Why aren’t we publishing?

1.      Practitioners are not publishing for the same reasons that many of them are not learning to ballroom dance. Though there is a value in taking on the Foxtrot and the Paso Doble, there is no time. It is difficult to argue the merits of rigorous research when students are waiting to be certified; when faculty need to be trained; when financial aid is late; and when a provost is insisting that a seven-year, two-tour combat veteran who speaks three languages cannot graduate because they lack a three-hour class on leadership, multiculturalism, or civics.

2.      Practitioners are not publishing because they are practitioners.  Though many of them have advanced degrees, their decision to become a student affairs practitioner rarely came with a mandate to publish. When you’re wearing six hats, and only being paid to wear three, a time-consuming sombrero or bowler is not particularly appealing.

3.      We are still a little lost. Though many respected journals will publish work on student veterans, with the exception of the newly-minted Journal of Veteran Studies, there is no discipline home for the wandering researchers interested in the experiences of veterans and their families and none devoted to the special population of veterans in higher education (student, staff, or faculty).

How do we fix it?

1.      Don’t let ideas die. From a three day conference, I wrote down over 30 research ideas. Some of these came from sessions, and some came from errant comments that challenged me to think about a problem in a new way. Many dissertations die after their defense.  Many powerpoints go the way of the dodo after a presentation. Capitalize on intellectual effort and get a plan for publication.

2.      Find someone to help you. Practitioners are overworked. Many faculty researchers are hungry for a new line of research. Combining experience in practice and experience in research often makes for the strongest papers. Practitioners should not be afraid to reach out to faculty to help them solve a problem.  Faculty should not be afraid to reach into a student affairs space to make a research connection.

3.      Answer surveys. We cannot complain that we don’t have numbers when we aren’t actively and accurately reporting numbers. To wit, make sure that if you are constructing the survey, you are respectful of the incredible responsibilities that are being shelved for the time it takes to complete your survey.

Publishing our work is not always easy, but remember that what is challenging for you may be easier for someone else. Likewise, what you have in spades may be what another researcher or practitioner lacks.

We cannot be ashamed of the small and seemingly disconnected diaspora of veteran research as our field is still young. However, as those from other researched populations (specifically in higher education) will tell you, information breeds awareness and awareness, hope. We must push for better constellations of our work in lieu of fidgety and sporadic stars. Only then, as the Greeks will tell you, is when we can really start telling stories.

Practical Steps

1.      Write down five questions you have related to student veterans.

2.      Choose one that you think can be addressed through research.

3.      Find someone to partner with you on the research project for co-authorship, support, reference, or accountability.

4.      Find a journal that you think would be appropriate for your intended work. These journals can be specific to student affairs (Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, Journal of College Student Development), a particular methodology (International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Cultural Studiesó Critical Methodologies), or a more general discipline (NACADA Journal, Community College Journal of Research and Practice).

5.      Set a timeline (no more than 9 months unless it is a multi-year or multi-semester study)

6.      Get started.

There will never be a day when one has available time to do the work that needs to be done. Knowing this, we must operationalize our assets, minimize our challenges, and persevere.  If anyone got around to writing about it, I think you would find these are all lessons we could learn from our student veterans.

DiRamio, D., Ackerman, R., & Mitchell, R. L. (2008). From combat to campus: Voices of

student-veterans. NASPA Journal45(1), 73-102.

Vacchi, D. T., & Berger, J. B. (2014). Student veterans in higher education. In M. Paulsen (Ed.),

Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 93-151). Netherlands: Springer.

Bio: Glenn Allen Phillips is an Institutional Research Associate at The University of Texas at Arlington. His areas of research include student veteran sub-populations, Veteran Critical Theory, and veteran-inclusive, arts-based research.

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