Government Graduate Student Tim Walker
Zaid Hassan approached me last year, hoping that I would work with him in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program. I was happy to oblige, since Zaid had already impressed me with his seriousness and ability as a student in Prof. H. W. Brands's diplomatic history survey in the spring of 2007. After many of the sessions of that course, Zaid and I would often outside Waggener Hall for a long time, talking about different aspects of U.S. foreign relations, and about different paths that Zaid might pursue in his future academic work.
The point of our I.E. project was to introduce Zaid to primary documentary research by setting him loose on LBJ Library papers touching on U.S.-Pakistan relations during the 1960s. My hope -- which seems to have been rewarded - was that this project would give Zaid a stronger historical background for his policy interests as a government major. My other goal was more practical: to help prepare him for further academic work, whether a senior thesis, graduate study, or journal publications.
Zaid and I met regularly during my office hours throughout the past school year. We had free-ranging conversations that reviewed his findings from the LBJL, the outlines and draftwork for his final paper, and his thoughts on the joys and frustrations of primary research. Since I am a professional writer, these sessions also spent more than a little time addressing ways that Zaid can best express himself in print.
Now that formal part of the project is done, Zaid has indicated to me that it was a rewarding experience for him, both in terms of what he has learned about the history of U.S.-Pakistan relations, and in terms of helping him to understand what goes into serious independent scholarly work. He has a good working draft for a scholarly paper -- one that he's continuing to edit and refine -- and a much better grasp of the tools of historical research. I think he also learned something about how to pace his own work. At the same time, I learned much more about how best to mentor a novice scholar.
Many professors, I think, count on their students' picking up the tricks of the trade implicitly rather than explicitly. But some of the professors who have been most helpful to me have made these lessons explicit: they have warned me of likely pitfalls, whether that means evaluating primary and secondary sources, being aware of some of the ideological divides in the profession, or learning how to keep at the work even when big projects begin to bog down. I have tried to do some of the same things for Zaid, and I think the process has helped both of us to form a better idea of what it means to be a scholar.