The IES Postdoctoral Research Training Program funds groups of faculty research trainers who recruit, hire, and prepare postdoctoral researchers to conduct high-quality education research. IES encourages training programs to recruit fellows from underrepresented demographic groups including minority groups and those with disabilities, those coming from smaller or less well-known institutions, or those with non-traditional backgrounds including former practitioners or institutional researchers. Priscilla Goble was a fellow in the IES-funded University of Virginia Post-Doctoral Interdisciplinary Training Program in Education Science and is now an associate professor of human development & family sciences in the School of Family & Consumer Sciences at Texas State University. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Priscilla to reflect on her career journey and the experiences of Hispanic scholars.
How did you become interested in a career in education research?
For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in the development of young children. I began taking child development and education focused courses as a high school student, and I had a clear plan to become an early childhood educator. As an undergraduate student at Purdue University, I became involved in several research projects, and one led by Dr. Karen Diamond was focused on young children’s development in preschool settings. This experience was fundamental in shifting my career goals from educator to education researcher.
Many young children spend most of their waking hours in education environments, and I became increasingly more curious about the factors that promote positive development within these early education settings. As I pursued my graduate degrees at Arizona State University, I explored child factors (for example, gender), family factors (for example, parent involvement), and contextual factors (for example, educational approaches) to better understand the relation between children’s preschool experiences, developmental gains, and formal school success.
The IES postdoctoral fellowship working with Dr. Robert Pianta in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia solidified my interests and career in education research. My current work focuses on the importance of adult-child relationships and interactions for promoting positive development within education settings. I also have applied research experience developing, implementing, and evaluating early education interventions. I aim to conduct sound education science that can be used to inform practice and positively impact our education systems.
What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered, and how did you overcome the challenge?
The biggest challenge I have had to overcome as a researcher is imposter syndrome around academic writing. I never would have imagined that I would achieve tenure at an academic institution because I have never viewed myself as a strong writer. My parents differ in their educational attainment and in their parenting around education. My father, a U.S.-born college graduate and successful entrepreneur, always encouraged good grades, hard work, and academic success. My mother, an immigrant from Panama, never completed college and placed more emphasis on relationships than education. In addition to different educational perspectives, language barriers created obstacles in my education because my primary literacy support at home was from an English as a Second Language (ESL) parent who struggled with English fluency. My verbal scores on the SAT and GRE were consistently low, and from early on, I have struggled with feelings that I am not a strong enough writer to be a successful researcher.
I’m not sure imposter syndrome ever goes away. I still put in work to move past feelings of inadequacy. I began by listening to my peers and mentors when they emphasized my strengths. Through warm and supportive professional relationships, I learned that I am a strong critical thinker, I am well organized, I am passionate about education, and I am persistent. These skills are also important to be a successful researcher and, although I am not the strongest writer, I’ve learned to overcome that challenge. When my imposter syndrome pops up, I remind myself of the growth I’ve made as a writer and of the other skills that have helped me to achieve the career I have now.
As it relates to my research, I empathize with children in similar situations, and as a result, I have developed a professional interest in identifying factors that promote positive educational experiences for ethnic-minority children.
How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?
To best inform policies and practices that influence education for diverse children, we need trained scholars who represent diverse identities, value inclusion, and challenge biases. Students who have opportunities to engage in undergraduate research are more likely to attend graduate school and proceed to research-focused careers; thus, the education research community can support underrepresented groups by targeting and enhancing their success through undergraduate research experiences.
As a Minority Serving Institution, Texas State University is dedicated to supporting opportunities for undergraduate involvement in research. For over 5 years, I have been co-leading a program to identify and recruit undergraduate students from underrepresented groups and provide them research training and experience. The goal of this program is to help develop strong connections with school faculty and peers that can build a sense of self-efficacy and provide underrepresented students with human capital and resources to navigate the maze of higher education systems.
I can speak from my own experience that my career trajectory was forever changed because of my engagement in undergraduate research experiences.
What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?
My best piece advice is to believe in yourself. Being a successful researcher is about persistence. You will have failures and receive critical feedback, but if you keep working and believe in yourself, you can achieve your goals.
The next best piece of advice is to identify strong mentors who believe in you. I cannot overstate the degree to which my success and self-efficacy as an education researcher have been influenced by the strong mentors who believed in me at every stage. Strike up a conversation with someone you admire, be vulnerable in sharing your aspirations, listen to their advice, and believe them when they say that you have what it takes.
Finally, find your community. Join groups of people who come from both similar and different walks of life but who are struggling with the same challenges at the same time. Lean on these people and let them lean on you. Support one another through all the ups and downs and enjoy doing life together.
This guest blog is part of a series in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. It was produced by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), a program officer in the National Center for Education Research.