Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Investing in Scholars: The NCSER Early Career Development and Mentoring Grant Program

Featuring Michael Kennedy, University of Virginia

By Liz Berke, NCSER intern

What do these three individuals have in common:  a former special education teacher in Delaware, a former reading specialist in California, and a former special education teacher in Georgia?  They are the three Principal Investigators of the three inaugural projects funded by NCSER through its Research Training Program in Special Education: Early Career Development and Mentoring grant program.  Through this program, scholars embarking on their research careers in special education and early intervention have the opportunity to work with established mentors as they develop their research skills.   Over the next few months, we will be featuring the current research of our investigators that IES has supported through this and other research programs for early career investigators. We are looking forward to sharing their perspectives with our readers. 

First up in our series is Dr. Michael Kennedy from the University of Virginia.  A former special education teacher in Delaware, Dr. Kennedy is being mentored by Dr. Mary Brownell (University of Florida) and John Lloyd (University of Virginia).  The main aim of his IES funded project is to create valid measures of teacher practices and to work with practitioners to develop effective professional development materials and processes.  The materials are intended to help middle school science and special education teachers improve their delivery of evidence-based vocabulary instruction for students with disabilities.   Dr. Kennedy was recently awarded the Early Career Researcher award from the Instructional Technology Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association and University of Virginia’s Alumni Board of Trustees All University Teaching Award.

We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kennedy about the challenges and benefits of starting a career in special education research and how IES is helping him reach his professional goals. 

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face as an early career researcher? How do you hope this award will help you overcome those challenges?

I would say the biggest challenge as a young researcher is that my eyes are regularly bigger than my stomach in terms of wanting to take on huge research questions that would require a large interdisciplinary team and access to a plethora of resources.  Being patient and addressing questions that are still important, but actually doable as an Assistant Professor working on a shoestring budget definitely takes discipline.  The Early Career Award from NCSER has helped me assemble a team of Hall of Fame caliber colleagues that is really superb in helping me stay focused on one key component of the larger study at a time, while simultaneously helping me recognize how the initial studies are working toward something greater.  Working on one big project of my own design for four years is something I’ve never done before; I’ve learned it’s very easy to lose sight of the forest because of the pesky trees, so I really rely on my mentors for perspective and guidance.  

What advice would you give to early career researchers?

I think my best advice is to really lock down your niche within your field and go to work on creating new knowledge that people can really connect with in practical ways.  As an example, think about your sub-field’s most successful and well-known researcher and what they are known for (I’ll wait).  Isn’t it remarkable how easy it is to pair that person with the widget, curriculum, or broad body of research they are associated with?  It’s hard to imagine, but they were once Assistant Professors like us trying to get a program of research off the ground.  How did they do it?  Other than being really smart, their currency was, and remains new thinking and ideas that can be translated into materials that help students improve as evaluated by relevant dependent measures.  If you don’t have ideas that other people care about and can make a difference for people, you aren’t going to get very far in our line of work.  So that brings me back to my first comment – you have to become expert in your corner of the world, and then let your creativity take over.

What is your favorite aspect of working with your mentors?

I would say my favorite part of working with my mentors is the access to top notch feedback that simply does not exist post grad school for most people.  As doc students we are constantly receiving feedback from our advisors and other professors, but all of that pretty much goes away as we take our first jobs.  Sure we get feedback from journal editors & reviewers, but that is not regular enough to always make a big difference.  Being able to walk down the hall (or get on the phone in the case of my co-mentor) to have a conversation about a new idea or data specific to a project they are invested in is really a remarkable gift.  Another really important aspect of my relationship with my mentors is how differently they think about things than I do.  They ask questions I never considered and poke holes in my logic that can be frustrating, but I recognize how important it is to consider these perspectives and make sure I address it.  My advice for all considering applying for this project is to think very carefully about who you select as your mentor or co-mentors – think big and don’t settle!  

 

Questions? Comments? Please send them to: IESResearch@ed.gov

 

Creating Pathways to Doctoral Study in the Education Sciences

By Katina Stapleton, NCER Program Officer 

 

In April 2015, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) launched its newest research training funding opportunity: the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program. The purpose of the Pathways Training Program is to fund new innovative training programs that promote diversity and prepare underrepresented students for doctoral study in education research. In this blog, I want to provide some background on how the Pathways Training Program was developed and respond to frequently asked questions.

NCER has supported research training programs since 2004, training over 900 pre- and post-doctoral fellows. In 2014, NCER and NCSER sought input from our stakeholders to determine what was going well with our training programs, and to identify areas where we could improve. For example, we held a Technical Working Group meeting, solicited public comment, and engaged with our PIs during our IES Principal Investigators meeting. We also discussed the future of our training programs with the National Board of Education Sciences. As part of these conversations, we asked participants to reflect on whether the needs of the education sciences are the same as when the training programs were established.  One issue that emerged was the demographic shifts taking place across the nation and the need for education researchers to be attuned to an array of social, cultural, and economic issues as they plan and conduct their work. Another issue that emerged was the need to increase the diversity of fellows served by our training programs and in the education research profession as a whole. 

NCER developed the Pathways Training Program in response to this input. The Pathways training program is modeled on efforts by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health  to increase diversity in the sciences. The Pathways program establishes research training programs at Minority Serving Institutions (and their partners) that will provide students, especially underrepresented students, with an introduction to education research and scientific methods, meaningful opportunities to participate in education research studies, and professional development and mentoring that leads to doctoral study.

The core feature of the Pathways Training Program is a required research apprenticeship, in which fellows gain hands-on research experience under the supervision of faculty mentors. While there are several additional recommended components, the Pathways Training Program Request for Applications (RFA) was purposefully designed to encourage innovation, and therefore provides applicants with wide latitude in how the training program is structured, the student population of interest (i.e. advanced undergrad vs. post-baccalaureate vs. masters), and the training partners involved. Since the request for applications was released, we have received several questions from interested applicants. We have responded to those questions below:     

  • Are individual Pathways programs restricted to minority students? No. The Pathways Training Program, is open to all students, however, it seeks to increase the number of fellows from groups underrepresented in doctoral study, including racial and ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, economically disadvantaged students, veterans, and students with disabilities. We encourage all Pathways applicants to consult the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Right’s Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Postsecondary Education when deciding their student population of interest and developing their proposed program’s recruitment plan.
  • Is my institution eligible to apply? The Pathways Training Program was designed to award training grants to minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and other institutions of higher education in partnership with MSIs. MSIs are institutions of higher education in the United States and its territories enrolling populations with significant percentages of undergraduate minority students or that serve certain populations of minority students under various programs created by Congress or other federal agencies. The Institute chose to focus on MSIs because of their long history as critical stepping stones for underrepresented minority students who pursue doctoral degrees. The RFA defines several categories of MSIs, gives criteria for being considered an eligible MSI, and provides 3 lists that applicants can use to certify that their institution is an eligible MSI for the purpose of this RFA. If your institution does not meet these criteria, then you will have to partner with an eligible MSI in order to apply. If you have any questions, please contact Katina Stapleton, the program officer for the Pathways Program, for assistance. However, ultimately, it will be your institution’s responsibility to demonstrate that it is an eligible MSI.  
  • Can my institution submit more than one Pathways application? No. An institution may submit only one application to the Pathways Training Program. If more than one application from your institution is submitted, IES will only accept one of them for consideration. We recommend that before applying you contact your institution’s sponsored projects’ office to make sure there isn’t another Pathways application already in progress.
  • Can my institution participate in more than one Pathways application? Yes. Please note that the Pathways program is structured so that applications can be submitted by single institutions or by partnerships of two or more institutions. While institutions can only submit one application, it is possible for institutions to serve as a partner on multiple applications.
  • Can I still apply even though I missed the deadline for the Letter of Intent? Yes. Letters of Intent are completely optional. Therefore, even if you missed the deadline, you can still submit an application. If you missed the deadline, but would still like feedback on your proposed training program, please contact Katina Stapleton.

If you would like to learn more about the Pathways Training Program and other potential funding opportunities, please sign up for the Funding Opportunities for Minority Serving Institutions webinar that will be held on Tuesday, June 9th, 2015, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM ET.