The Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program in the Education Sciences was established by IES to increase the number of well-trained PhD students who are prepared to conduct rigorous and relevant education research. In honor of the IES 20th Anniversary, we asked Dr. Shayne Piasta, our first IES Outstanding Predoctoral Award Winner, to discuss the impact of her IES fellowship on her career as a reading researcher.
The IES predoctoral fellowship supported me and my research career in so many ways. One profound influence stemmed from its interdisciplinary nature. My training program focused on reading and operated at the intersection of psychology and education, with mentors and research experiences spanning these and other disciplines. I am still realizing how fortunate I was to benefit from this program and how it has influenced my scholarly career.
In taking education, policy, and psychology courses, I witnessed different approaches and research methods—sometimes overlapping or complementary and sometimes contradictory. As an undergraduate psychology major, I initially took issue with the non-causal methods in a program and policy evaluation course and did not fully understand the contribution of assorted qualitative approaches featured in many education courses. Yet being exposed to these different ways of thinking and researching made me a better scholar. It forced me to wrestle with foundational issues in education research, identify my own position as a researcher, and—with help from training program mentors—realize the benefits and limitations of various research methods.
The ability to communicate with an array of education scholars and stakeholders has proved invaluable. My fellow trainees included former teachers and principals seeking reading education and educational leadership doctorates as well as those pursuing clinical, development, and cognitive psychology degrees. Many of the psychology trainees had worked with children in schools, summer camps, or clinical settings. Talking with these peers, along with program faculty, broadened my perspectives on educational topics and enhanced my understanding of the complexity of education systems. Sharing perspectives and experiences also helped me understand the different communication styles—and vocabulary—various stakeholders use. As a result, I learned to connect with all those invested in improving reading outcomes for children and to write for multiple audiences. This also led to my first partnership with a local Tallahassee school and my very first (very small) grant.
I attribute my faculty position at The Ohio State University (OSU) to the interdisciplinary mindset that my training instilled. Back when I was initially applying to graduate school, I had noted the multiple disciplines contributing to reading scholarship. Some of the researchers I admired and hoped to work with were clinical, cognitive, educational, or school psychologists. Others were in educational leadership, communication/speech-language pathology, elementary/reading education, or special education.
Both the IES training program and subsequent position at OSU supported network building and ensuing collaborative research projects. Travel funding as a graduate student allowed me to attend various conferences, where program faculty generously introduced me and my cohort to the multidisciplinary “who’s who” of reading scholarship. I was awestruck being in the same room as prominent senior scholars, never mind interacting with them. As a faculty member in a Department of Teaching and Learning, I continue to interact with colleagues and students from a variety of education-related backgrounds and perspectives. It is through contributing to this department and guiding preservice teachers and budding education scholars that I believe I am achieving my impact.
In addition to interacting with senior scholars, these opportunities also allowed me to network with graduate and postgraduate students, who are now my colleagues, peers, collaborators, and friends. Together, we have implemented interdisciplinary grants and written manuscripts. We have put together conference symposia and established a multidisciplinary organization for supporting women- and non-binary-identifying education scholars across disciplines (POWER; Providing Opportunities for Women in Education Research). We have formed writing and accountability groups and helped each other navigate our careers. These relationships—along with others built during my time at OSU—continue to support and sustain me, and my scholarly trajectory would likely have been very different without them.
Through these varied experiences, I learned how to administer assessments to children and follow them over time, develop family and teacher surveys, conduct and reliably code classroom observations, manage and analyze longitudinal and multilevel data, and conduct and write grants to fund research projects that answered different questions using different designs. I am proud that to date I have collaborated on exploration, development, efficacy, replication, effectiveness, and measurement research projects. In working across projects, I also witnessed the different ways that faculty engage in leadership, mentoring, and lab/project management. This provided the foundation for the culture, structure, and processes of my own Early Literacy and Learning Lab (EL3).
As I progress in my career, I am cognizant of these and many other affordances of my training. A continuing goal of mine is to try to recreate these opportunities for students and early career scholars. Our EL3 team is multidisciplinary—investigators, staff, students, and postdoctoral scholars have backgrounds in elementary and early childhood education, psychology, measurement and statistics, speech-hearing sciences, special education, policy, and more. We engage in interdisciplinary research projects that engage internal and external colleagues from similarly varied backgrounds, involve partnerships with local early childhood organizations and elementary schools, and employ an array of quantitative, mixed, and multiple methods approaches.
As a lab, we work to create a positive, collaborative community in which varied perspectives and disagreement are welcome and viewed as discussion opportunities. This is epitomized in one current project, in which we jokingly but proudly announced “I dissent!” when offering alternative viewpoints (and whose team members will soon be receiving t-shirts with this phrase).
Through my research, teaching, and service, I strive to continually improve in supporting students as they learn of different research methods, experience on different research projects, and write for different audiences. I lean on my OSU colleagues and professional network to assist students seeking out multiple mentors. I hope I am as generous as my own mentors were in facilitating conference networking and other opportunities. In these ways, I hope that I can pay forward all that I gained through my IES fellowship to the next generation of educational researchers.
Dr. Shayne Piasta was an IES predoctoral fellow in the Florida State University Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training program. She is currently professor of reading and literacy in early and middle childhood within the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University. She is also a faculty associate for the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy. Her research focuses on early literacy development and how it is best supported during preschool and elementary years.
In addition to receiving the Outstanding Predoctoral Fellow award from IES, Dr. Piasta has received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the Dina Feitelson Research Award from the International Reading Association.
This blog was produced training program officer Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov) and is part of a larger series on the IES research training programs.