Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Supporting the Pipeline of Scholars of Color with Research, Training, and Mentorship

In recognition of Black History Month, we interviewed Dr. Tamara Bertrand Jones, an associate professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Florida State University and co-principal investigator of the Partners United for Research Pathways Oriented to Social Justice in Education (PURPOSE) program, funded by the IES Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program. In this blog, Dr. Bertrand Jones discusses her experiences conducting research on the professional experiences of underrepresented populations as well as her work supporting emerging scholars of color.

Tamara Bertrand Jones photoHow has your background and experiences shaped your research on the graduate education and professional experiences of underrepresented populations, particularly Black women, in academia?

My dissertation research centered Black perspectives on cultural competence in evaluation. For the first 10 years of my academic career, I worked as an administrator, primarily in student affairs. When I transitioned from administration to faculty, I extended my research to Black experiences in academia. Microaggressions (such as unsolicited advice) that derailed my productivity and diminished my self-confidence immediately greeted me. For example, I was told that my research would be labeled navel-gazing (excessive self-contemplation) because I was a Black woman studying Black women and that this negative label may present challenges for my career. It took time, lots of positive self-affirmation, and validation from my mentors and close Black women colleagues to silence those voices and walk confidently in my contribution as a scholar and my personal purpose for pursuing an academic career. After these experiences, I doubled down on my commitment to demystify the hidden curriculum in the academy and support emerging scholars by being responsive to their identities, experiences, needs, and aspirations.

What is the PURPOSE training program, and what have you learned from administering PURPOSE?

We created PURPOSE to help develop more underrepresented and minoritized education researchers. To date, we have had seven cohorts of PURPOSE Fellows, totaling more than 80 fellows. The program includes critical discussions about social justice and educational inequities, mentoring, professional development, and service-learning research apprenticeships. During their training, we also encourage fellows to reflect on their own identities in terms of race, gender, and social class among other identities while they develop their individual researcher identities. These experiences culminate in capstone research projects related to social justice in education that fellows develop from inception to dissemination during the fellowship year. Taken together, these experiences foster capacities to conduct meaningful research and provide socialization into the rigors of research and graduate school.

We found that fellows experience socialization into education research in ways that help them 1) develop a researcher-identity, and 2) prepare products that demonstrate strong research potential for graduate school. Our fellows have experienced positive gains in their self-efficacy for carrying out a variety of research skills such as conducting literature reviews and working independently and in teams. We believe our approach to culturally relevant education and research methods and valuing the voices of our diverse fellows and mentors will lead to changes in future teaching and research practices.

Based on your research and experiences, what do you see as the greatest needs to improve the education and professional pathways for Black scholars?

In the over 14 years I have been a faculty member, I recognize that there are myriad ways to be successful in academia while remaining true to who you are. Through my work on early career professionals in partnership with Sisters of the Academy (SOTA), a community of Black women in higher education, I strive to create an environment where emerging scholars are exposed to scholars who represent diverse ways of being in academia. These models can shape emerging scholars’ vision of their future possible selves and help them develop their own pathways that are congruent with who they are. If institutions lack those models in their faculty, I urge leaders to intentionally connect with groups or organizations like SOTA that have the expertise and access to individuals who can serve in those roles from their emerging scholars.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

Often emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups are not encouraged to engage in work that speaks to their soul or can meaningfully impact the communities they serve. As in my experience, underrepresented emerging scholars are often told that doing research on our identity groups or researching issues that these groups experience is limiting, pigeonholing, and too self-reflective. Emerging Black scholars, in particular, are told they must approach their work in ways that are contradictory to their values or diminish their self-concepts. These messages can stunt growth and hinder the ability to identify innovative solutions to education’s most-pressing problems.

Because of this, I encourage all emerging scholars to consider the following reflective questions, guided by my emerging professional development framework—the 5 I’s, to help align their education research careers with how they see themselves, individually and in community.

  • Identity: How does my identity influence my research?
  • Intention: How can I create synergy between my research and scholarship, courses I teach, service I perform, and who I am as a scholar?
  • Implementation: How does my positionality influence my research design choices?
  • Influence: Who needs to know about my work? How can partnership extend the impact of my work?
  • Impact: How can my work be used to create better educational environments for marginalized or minoritized communities, or change education policy, research, or practice in meaningful ways?

This interview blog is part of a larger IES blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the education sciences. It was produced by Akilah Nelson (, a program officer within the National Center for Special Education Research.