Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department


Committee Member

Dr. Gautam Bhattacharyya, Committee Co-Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Gautam Bhattacharyya, Committee Co-Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Julie Martin

Committee Member

Dr. Rhett Smith

Committee Member

Dr. Michelle Cook


Students pursuing a Ph.D. degree are expected to contribute research to their field, for which the success depends, in part, on their ability to find, interpret, and use scholarly information from the primary literature. However, studies from the information sciences show that graduate students from a variety of fields, including the sciences, frequently struggle to comprehensively search their respective dissertation topics because of insufficient prior content knowledge and lack of guidance from their disciplinary community. This body of literature is consistent with the results of my previous research of chemistry graduate students’ laboratory decision-making processes. Specifically, that study showed their search and evaluation of the scientific literature to find a research protocol was critical to the success or failure of the students’ research. For these reasons, I chose to investigate how synthetic organic chemistry graduate students perform literature searches, using SciFinder, to find protocols for preparing previously unreported compounds. For my study, I used situated cognition and communities of practice (CoP) as my theoretical frameworks in conjunction with an ethnomethodological research design. Five organic chemistry graduate students were interviewed to understand their strategies and sense-making procedures for searching the literature, specifically focusing on how they decide to: 1). input a topic or structural representation, 2). evaluate the search results, and 3). use specific procedures for deciding which of the protocols to carry out in the laboratory.

The findings from my study indicated that the graduate students’ information-seeking behaviors and sense-making procedures were directly influenced by their domain-specific content knowledge and their exposure to the organic CoP. Specifically, the second-year and third-year graduate students heavily depended on the database because their domain-specific content knowledge was not operational at this stage in their training. Comparatively, the sixth-year graduate students could easily use their organic chemistry knowledge—i.e. named organic reactions, functional group chemistry, and the retrosynthetic approach—to propose a research protocol; therefore, they used the database to substantiate their synthesis protocols and/or to find a method to synthesis the proposed starting materials. As a result of their exposure to their Ph.D. research, the graduates had become more proficient with using the database and developed heuristics to evaluate their searches, thereby allowing them to quickly evaluate the often times substantial amount of hits. Finally, the findings indicated that the graduate students were utilizing their CoP in different ways. For instance, the second-year and third-year graduate students would seek their advisor’s approval, whereas the sixth-year graduate students would seek their peers’ feedback regarding their protocols. Findings from my study can broadly be integrated into the information science field to enhance and improve undergraduate and graduate students’ ISB. Furthermore, my findings can be applied to improve how we educate and train organic chemistry students (both at the undergraduate- and graduate-level).

Included in

Chemistry Commons