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Spotlight on Walden // Jul 27, 2012

Insights: Advice From a Longtime Faculty Member

When Dr. Morton Wagenfeld became a faculty member in 1998, he was starting what he calls his “second career.” He had retired from his position as founding director of the Health Care Administration program at Western Michigan University, where he received the 1990 Distinguished Faculty Scholar award and his main pursuit outside of teaching was research. As a faculty member in the School of Health Sciences, his goal was to excel as a mentor to his students. “I put all of my energies into the mentoring process,” he says.

“My goal was to show my advisees how you actually conduct a research project,” Dr. Wagenfeld says. “What is the relationship between a theory and an actual research project? A lot of students come from hard-science background and have only a vague notion of the value of a research project: What if you have a bunch of facts and no theory? You just have a pile of facts. It was a mission of mine to stress the importance of theory.”

Although he is retiring from Walden this year, Dr. Wagenfeld has a few pieces of lasting advice for students and faculty members alike:

Be observant. “Let your mind hang loose. Be willing to mull over ideas from your job or your personal experiences,” he says. “See if you can test ideas into some kind of researchable question.”

Choose a topic that’s researchable. “It may seem very obvious, but it’s one of the first things I say to a student,” Dr. Wagenfeld says. Don’t go overboard, he cautions. Instead, “choose something that can be done and has reasonable boundaries.”

Keep trying. “You don’t have to be a world-renowned researcher, but you get better,” he says. “Life is a process, not an end point.”

Your life and career should be centered on curiosity. “I have a basic curiosity about the world. Over the last decade, I’ve become very interested in woodworking. One of the joys of retirement will be to spend more time perfecting my turning skills,” Dr. Wagenfeld says. No matter what your interests are, “get involved in something and improve over time.”