Featuring Jennifer Ledford, Vanderbilt University
By Liz Berke, NCSER Intern and Kristen Rhoads, NCSER Program Officer
Welcome to our second blog post featuring the Principal Investigators of the inaugural NCSER Early Career Development and Mentoring program grants. This week we are excited to feature the work of Dr. Jennifer Ledford from Vanderbilt University and former Special Education teacher from Georgia.
Dr. Ledford is being mentored by Dr. Joseph Wehby (Vanderbilt University), Dr. David Gast (University of Georgia) and Dr. Kevin Ayres (University of Georgia). In her IES-funded project, she is further developing and testing a small-group intervention designed to improve the academic and social skills of children with autism. Dr. Ledford is using single case designs to study whether the intervention improves child outcomes and teachers can effectively implement it.
We had the chance to sit down with Dr. Ledford and ask her about the challenges she faces as well as get advice from her for others like her who are early in their research careers.
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?
Early career research in education is hard for numerous reasons—not yet having established relationships with teachers and schools, relative inexperience with balancing research with other tasks (i.e., teaching, advising, service), and, of course, lack of funding. The early career award actually helps in all of these areas. It is much easier to establish relationships with schools when you are an early career researcher if you have a well-considered and funded series of studies and if you’ve aligned yourself well with more advanced researchers. In addition, the funding potentially allows you to reduce time spent on teaching and other activities, so that you have additional time to contribute to research efforts. Funding student support has been especially crucial in running my complex single case studies that require considerable personnel resources. Finally, the mentorship and training associated with grant have provided a flexible but structured framework for improving my ability to conduct high-quality research.
What advice would you give to young researchers?
I’m not sure I feel ready to give advice to fellow early career investigators! I think taking advantage of the knowledge of senior researchers has been key for me—both in my official mentee role and just in the day-to-day conduct of research outside of this grant.
What is your favorite aspect of working with your mentors?
It is great to have a structured and focused mentoring program—it makes it easy to forge a relationship and to continue working with your mentor over time. Without this structure, I think it may have been easy to let the mentoring take a back seat to other responsibilities. It’s great to have an excuse to meet with and learn from experienced and invested leaders in the field.
What made you decide to apply to for the early career development and mentoring award? Is there anything you wish you had known before you applied?
When I read the RFA for the new competition, I think my first thought was probably something like “I might actually be competitive for this grant!” The training and mentoring components and competition with other early career investigators makes it a less daunting prospect. While I was applying, I wish I had realized and taken advantage of the potential value of the Program Officer during the application process and the tremendous benefit of asking for input from colleagues.
Comments? Questions? Please write to us at IESresearch@ed.gov.