What does being an independent researcher means?

Getting an email like this is rare but it does make me wonder what is going on with the current situation. How much things have changed since I was a student?

Good morning. Could you share with me a book list with books required reading for students majoring in educational psychology? I need to read to improve my theoretical background. Thank you very much.

My initial reaction is “What the ….? Have I ever asked my supervisor such a question before?” If I ever did, normally this is what I would have said “I have read these books by Robert Sternberg. I also have read his articles. Have I missed any book that I have not encountered yet about intelligence?” This would lead to a brief brainstorming with my supervisor about books that perhaps he has read before. But in the end, I would normally said “I guess I need to stop searching for more books written by him and others who are already well known in this area. Perhaps I should look for books which are written by less famous people” . I still remembered vividly that Steve showed me Harry Potter books on his book shelve. “Hadijah, perhaps you should start reading Harry Potter books. Have you read all of J. K. Rowling’s books?” I sheepishly replied “I am not a fan of Harry Potter films so I never finish reading all of the books. But I have read J. R. R. Tolkien’s books. My favorite is the Hobbit because it makes me appreciate more about the hardship and journey by the Baggins (Bilbo and Frodo) and others.” Steve teased me by saying “Well, apparently you like to read books written by male authors than female authors”. I just laughed at him teasing me like that.

It is one of my dreams to have such moments with my students. I am not that lucky though. Most students that I supervise are not avid readers. I had a handful of students who are avid readers and have read some of the books that I have read and enjoyed reading such as a book by Walter Mischel “The marshmallow test” . Every single semester which I have the opportunity to teach Personality Psychology, I will ask students if any one of them have read Walter Mischel’s book – The marshmallow test. So far, the answer is more often “No” than “Yes”. But I cannot force students who are paper-chase type to read. They are not passionate readers and have little thirst to learn on their own. Is it my problem? Well, they are adult learners. They are responsible enough with their life decision.

So, how do I reply the email sent by one of my PhD students? I share some tips that might be beneficial to others who ask their supervisors about reading list (tongue in cheek remark!)

Dear ________,


As a PhD student, you are expected to be independent.  By asking me to provide you with a list of books to read shows that you are not independent enough to find relevant books to read.  I cannot treat you as not independent enough to find a book to read.  I should treat you accordingly as an independent PhD student.


But I can share some tips that I use to find relevant books related to psychology to improve my theoretical understanding about psychology theories.


1) Identify who are the experts in specific areas in psychology.  For example in the area of intelligence, there are people who came out with theories like Robert Sternberg, Charles Spearman, Howard Gardner and such.  


2) After identifying them, use Google to search their works.  It could be journal articles or it could be books. For Robert Sternberg, some of his books are no longer in print like Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence.  You may find it on Amazon as second hand books though.


3) Ask yourself “Should I buy the book or not?” In my case, most of them, I will borrow first from the library.  After that, if I think the books are worth buying, I will buy them.


Hope you will use my tips to find a list of books that are worth reading.  
All the best!