By Liz Berke, NCSER Intern and Kristen Rhoads, NCSER Program Officer
Welcome to the last installment of our three-part series featuring the Principal Investigators of the inaugural NCSER Early Career Development and Mentoring grants. To round the series out, we are featuring the work of Dr. Michael Hebert from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Dr. Hebert is a former reading specialist in California.
Dr. Hebert is being mentored by Ron Nelson, also from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. In his Early Career project, Dr. Hebert is working to improve reading comprehension in the content areas for children with or at risk for learning disabilities. His intervention Structures, takes place in small groups led by a teacher, and focuses on helping students understand text structure to enhance reading comprehension.
We had the chance to interview Dr. Hebert and he gave us his insights on the challenges of being a young researcher.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you face as a young researcher? How do you hope this award will help you overcome those challenges?
This is a tough question to answer because I don’t know whether I am aware of all of the challenges I will face. There are a lot of challenges (big and small) that I will not be aware of until they come up for the first time. Sometimes these things have to do with the rules and regulations of my university with regard to budgeting or post award support, while others may be challenges to working with student research assistants. This grant has been great for helping me identify the challenges of funded research projects and learn to work with entities like the Office of Sponsored Programs at my university. Let’s face it, if I didn’t have these funds now, I wouldn’t learn to navigate these challenges until later in my career.
Additionally, I find that it is simply a challenge to get research off the ground as an early career researcher. Establishing relationships with schools, planning studies, establishing systems for collecting and analyzing data, and other tasks take time. Although some of these things are probably a challenge for all researchers, people who are more established in their careers might already have a lot of strategies and systems in place. This grant has given me some personnel resources that help with some of the more basic tasks, essentially creating more of the most valuable resource we have… time.
What advice would you give to young researchers?
First, apply for the IES Early Career Grant award, of course. It is an excellent way to get started in your research program, while allowing you to develop some additional skills at the same time. The development aspect of the grant really forces you to focus on some skill areas that may not be your strong suit. Second, take advantage of every resource you can at your university. If you can find graduate assistant support or even undergraduate support, hire them even if you aren’t sure what you will do with them yet. You’ll be surprised how much you can find for them to do. Even if you have to spend some time training them, the return is worth it. Also, it is really rewarding to share what you know with the next generation of potential researchers.
What is your favorite aspect of working with your mentor?
Working with my mentor has been invaluable. We work together on aspects of the grant multiple days each week, and sometimes on a daily basis. We’re almost partners in the research, and he has challenged some of my ideas, while I have been able to challenge some of his, as well. This type of working relationship has really been a collaboration of sorts, and given me good experience working together with a colleague on projects. I’ve also had the opportunity to co-mentor one of his doctoral students, which is a nice way to learn.
What made you decide to apply to for the early career development and mentoring award?
The Request for Applications for this award came out while I was completing my dissertation, so I actually decided to apply before I started working at my university. It seemed like the perfect fit, as I was not doing a postdoctoral position, but felt that I needed mentorship in my first position. I had a research mentor in mind at the university and he agreed to mentor me, so it made the decision to apply very easy. There were a lot of changes in my life at the time, including moving and starting a new position as an Assistant Professor, so I didn’t have much time to think it over. That said, I wouldn’t go back and do anything differently.
Questions? Comments? Please send us an email IESResearch@ed.gov.