Exploring the Investment: Four Universities’ Experiences With the Spencer Foundation’s Research Training Grant Program: A Retrospective
by Anna Neumann, Aaron M. Pallas & Penelope L. Peterson - 2008
Background: This article serves as a conclusion to a TCR special issue devoted to understanding the impact of the Spencer Foundation’s Research Training Grant (RTG) initiative. We examine four case reports prepared by scholars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and Michigan State University, as well as the introductory article prepared by Lauren Jones Young of the Spencer Foundation.
Objective: To identify a set of principles that might guide the construction and ongoing operation of researcher preparation programs in graduate schools of education, both in the four institutions that generously scrutinized the successes and failures of their own efforts, and in other institutions concerned with preparing education researchers.
Research Design: Analytic essay
Conclusions: First we recommend that academic leaders not count on researcher preparation programs to drive broader efforts to change their organizations. Second, we place more stock in initiatives that allow students to construct a “personal core” of curricular knowledge that draws on institutional resources rather than a “common core” of knowledge that will carry all students throughout their doctoral studies. Third, we caution that providing some students with differential financial, intellectual, and social resources poses risks for many faculty and students around questions of status and autonomy. And finally, because organizational (bureaucratic) boundaries may not be isomorphic with the boundaries that define meaningful communities of research practice, academic leaders should recognize the strengths and limitations of such boundaries.
The preceding five articles paint a picture of the Spencer Foundations Research Training Grant (RTG) program, a major philanthropic effort spearheaded by foundation president Patricia Albjerg Graham to improve the scholarship of the academic field of education. As Lauren Jones Young (2008) explains, the foundation positioned itself to pursue this goal by investing in early-career scholars as an extension of its historic commitment to a strategy of investing in people. As Young also says, over the 13 years of its existence, the foundation channeled over $31 million toward RTG-related activities in and across 12 American universities and two consortia of South African higher education institutions as prime beneficiaries of the program.
Our aim in this special issue is to examine a select portion of the Spencer RTG, namely the local, campus-based activities of four U.S.-based institutional RTG recipients: the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education; the Department of Education at UCLA; and the College of Education at Michigan State University. Leaders and RTG faculty at these four sites indicated (1) interest in participating in this retrospective review, (2) availability of one or more campus-based case writers, and (3) accessibility of locally gathered data for case write-up. We asked the case authors to address the following features of their campus experience: institutional context, local purpose of the RTG, local RTG program components and their implementation, and perceived or assessed outcomes relative to the following previously identified challenges: (a) the management and use of epistemological diversity in research, (b) the meaning and institutionalization of apprenticeship, mentoring, and communities of practice, (c) instrumental and symbolic dimensions of RTG student participant funding, and (d) institutional change, or positioning toward change, as prompted by the RTG.1 This framework arose from commonalities identified in a set of broadly descriptive papers presented by the issue authors at a special session that we convened at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association held in Montreal in April 2005.
In this concluding review, we turn to the important question of what, collectively, the four cases may reveal about meaningful local approaches to addressing the goals and challenges of researcher preparation in education summarized by Lauren Jones Young (2008) in the opening article to this special issue. As Young explains, through its RTG, the Spencer Foundation encouraged the faculty and leaders of schools of education to think creatively about how to strengthen the skills of the students nearest them in order to contribute to building up the education research community in general. We consider next, and in comparative view, selected features of the local approaches that four of the participating universities enacted toward this aim, and what may be learned from them.
POINTS OF LEARNING
Each university and college of education that held a Spencer Foundation-funded RTG was, of course, unique. Thus, what worked on one campus may not have worked as well on another. That said, some principles around the construction and conduct of researcher preparation programs may transfer from site to site. In this concluding review, we conduct a comparative analysis of the four sites previously described in order to articulate such principles to the extent possible.
Yet we are aware of our limitations: Our effort, though about research, is itself less an act of research than of sustained reflectionindeed, a precursor to the kind of systematic study we would like to see in the field. We therefore ask our readers to consider the following qualifications. First, we are not able to confirm or in any way test the claims that our comparative case analysis yields. Second, our insights derive from independent explorations of four very different local experiences; a multi-site formal evaluation of the full RTG effort was not undertaken, though clearly, reflective effort was encouraged. Third, although the following cross-case review may offer insights of some general value, it does not generalize, in the traditional sense, to the full RTG sample or to other institutions beyond those participating in the Spencer RTG. We have sought only to identify patterns of possible interest and value from in-depth looks into four interrelated but different campus experiences.
Given these caveats, we offer next some cross-case insightspoints of learningderived from the four preceding case studies of local RTG experiences, and with attention to the following features of academic organization: context, curriculum, resources, and structure. Through this presentation, we strive to (1) help faculty and academic leaders at the four featured university sites deepen their insights into their own RTG experiences, and (2) offer some conceptual tools that other institutions, beyond those participating in the larger Spencer RTG, may draw on as they review and/or reform their own education researcher preparation programs.
CONTEXT: WHERE AND WHEN?
The four RTG efforts presented in this special issue of Teachers College Record are located within broader contexts of activity and culture: within schools of education, universities, and defined geographic regions, as well as institutional histories. Certainly these contexts shaped the RTG efforts. But something more must be added: RTG participants often used elements of their contexts, actively, to advance their research preparation programs.
Leaders at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (UW) and at Michigan State University (MSU) introduced their RTGs with little previous self-study and largely on the assumption that the RTG need not get in the way of the institutions longstanding way of life. Yet leaders at both sites did hope that their RTG would improve doctoral researcher preparation programs.
Mary J. Leonard and Elizabeth Fennema (2008) report that UW faculty enjoy significant local autonomy. Collectively, these education faculty exude pride in their research achievements. Despite that collective pride, the research effort behind it is anything but collective. At UW, different academic programs and departments preparing education researchers represent diverse research traditions; their conceptions of what should be taught, in the name of education research, vary by tradition. In a word, at ground level, researcher training happens in many different ways at UW. The resultant diversity of views about what education research is and how it proceeds, and how education researchers are educated, is accepted as a way of life at UW. Prior to the startup of the Spencer-funded researcher training initiative, the diversity of views was taken for granted. As Leonard and Fennema explain, the Wisconsin RTG2 was introduced within a university that prides itself on, and takes very seriously, the tradition of faculty governance whereby departments and individual faculty have the authority, latitude, and expectation of determining the form of doctoral education. Not only did local faculty groupings (within departments and programs) determine the form of doctoral education at UW, but they also created their own distinct images of educational research as its content.
UWs RTG represented a strong departure from this historic pattern. The UW RTG assumed and facilitated departmental and program boundary crossingfor example, in a seminar cotaught by professors from different departments, representing differing education research traditions, and enrolling a select student body, drawn also from diverse corners of UWs school of education. As such, the UW RTG required RTG faculty, and students too, to change the ways of doing business to which most were long accustomed. In doing so, the RTG at UW challenged the facultys most deeply held values, notably autonomy. It is unclear, in this case, whether the RTG was introduced without warning or explanation to faculty, or whether they knew what was coming. Yet one point is clear: The UW RTG called for change, and faculty felt pushed by it. One faculty interviewee, a professor serving on the RTG proposal writing team, explained the thinking behind the RTG as follows: We were pushing faculty, he said, and . . . we were trying to change faculty with student money (Leonard & Fennema, 2008). As is likely to occur when a tradition of autonomy meets such challenge, a fair amount of faculty resistance followedto the RTG itself and to modes of its introduction.
Looking back in time, Leonard and Fennema (2008) state that the Wisconsin RTG effort may have touched more faculty if its implementation could have been more thoughtful in taking into consideration the dynamics of faculty governance at UW-Madison. And they add, further, that approach to change in doctoral education could not be as effective as one might wish in a university that is as proud of, and as identified with, its deep tradition of scholarly and pedagogical autonomy. How to avert the seemingly inevitable struggle that, in fact, ensued? Leonard and Fennema speculate that although the enormity of undertaking schoolwide planning for change is enough to give one pause, perhaps more faculty input at the original RTG proposal planning and writing phases could have resulted in more change.
Although it is, indeed, plausible that greater representation in the planning phases of the UW RTG might have eased its acceptance by faculty, our review of RTG experiences at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and UCLA suggest some additional possibilities about what might help in a situation like that of UW. Both the UCLA and the Penn cases suggest that besides enhanced inclusivity during RTG planning, it may be useful to think about the kinds of institutional experiences that might, helpfully, precede introduction of an RTG. What, then, should happen before the design and implementation of an RTG?
RTG experiences at the University of Pennsylvania, as reviewed by Thomas A. Kecskemethy (2008), and at UCLA, reported by Aimée Dorr, Emily Arms, and Valerie Hall (2008), provide helpful insights on this question. The education units of both these universities had recently undergone one or more extensive self-searches: internal self-studies leading, at times, to curricular and programmatic reform, and external reviews aimed at lending objectivity to such efforts. At Penn, review activities continued through the life of the RTG, thereby providing a continual (and formalized) reflective capacity to the endeavor. By the time the Spencer RTG was introduced in both these sites, review was complete (or ongoing), and reform was itself already well under way. Thus, at Penn and UCLA, the RTG did not need to bear the burden of kicking off reformas, in fact, it did at UW. Rather, at UCLA and Penn, the RTG advanced efforts already under way, fueling these efforts or offering possibilities for pedagogical and curricular elaboration or experimentation that the reform, without the RTG, would not have been able to sustain. At Penn, that amounted to embellishment of the research apprenticeship, enhancement of schoolwide conversations about content issues and research in education, and improvement of student advisement. At UCLA, it included further improvement of the previously designed research apprenticeship program, heightened efforts to fund doctoral students engagement in in-depth learning, and blending of the Department of Educations commitment to urban education and its mission to produce highly trained and capable education researchers. At both UCLA and Penn, resistance was not an issue in the same way that it was at UW, in good part, we think, because neither Penns nor UCLAs RTGs had to kick-start and sustain a top-down reform. If anything, the RTG in both these universities supported a reform, already under way, by drawing on the interests and energies of faculty who sought to rebuild in its wake. The new resources offered by the RTG made that possible.
Additional insights about context may be gained as well from the case of Michigan State University (MSU). For that, we draw on Steven Weilands (2008) culturally attuned case study and also on our own prior experiences as faculty in Michigan State Universitys College of Education.3 A salient feature of the MSU experience is the RTGs close and dedicated attention to the College of Educations professional and intellectual cultureand especially its concern with practice, notably in teaching, and also in research on practice. The culture of teaching, teaching improvement, and research on teaching that underpins the work lives of many MSU faculty pervaded as well the construction of the MSU RTG, including its assumptions about the meanings of research and aims of researcher preparation. The RTG at MSU did not, in any way, strive to redirect the content of the local culture, including ways of doing business, as indeed occurred at Wisconsin; it was assumed that the local culture would continue as before, though in enriched ways. Neither did MSUs RTG strive to rebuild in the wake of prior reform, as occurred at UCLA and Penn. Rather, the MSU College of Education, well satisfied with its emphasis on practice (and research on practice), sought to use that emphasis, and the culture (form of community and professional interaction) from which it grew, as a central resource for the building up of its researcher training community (by way of its RTG). As Weiland noted, When the Michigan State proposal for participation in the RTG was written, the concept of the learning community was already being used to describe desirable (and, to some, ideal) practices of teacher education and professional development [italics added] In other words, MSU took on the RTG as an opportunity to advance what its faculty already viewed as the most promising elements of its culture of practice through the research preparation of its doctoral students. We see, of course, similar traces of such cultural framing at UCLA and Penn, given the clearly substantive emphasis, in both these sites, on the education of diverse urban populations.
To summarize, the start-up and contextualizing experiences of the four featured RTG institutions reveal the following major point of learning: that respect for local approaches to governance (e.g., autonomy, intellectual freedom, and voice in substantive educational and research matters), timing (positioning relative to prior review and reform), and culture (whats valued, in and about education, as part of a school of educations defining core) do matter in the introduction of an RTG-like opportunity. We speculate also that these factors matter regardless of whether (or not) the RTG effort is supported by external funds, and regardless of how substantial those external funds might be, as indeed they were for the Spencer-funded RTG institutions. We suggest that programs like the RTG, externally funded or not, should be built then on the following principles. First, as the four cases together suggest, an RTG would do well to carry forward and further develop what is already there, especially if it is valued, in an institution. What is already there may, of course, have been there for many years (as in the cases of UW and MSU), or it may be more recent, as in the case of thoughtful reform that takes hold (as in the cases of Penn and UCLA). Second, as the Penn and UCLA cases suggest, if an institution should require change to what is already therein governance, culture, substantive institutional emphasis, or directionthe RTG may be used to help advance the change or to promote forward movement, or healing, after change is made. Finally, drawing on the distinct experiences of UW in particular, we suggest that leaders efforts to use an RTG, in and of itself, to launch deep and meaning-laden cultural, governance, and mission change should be approached with great care. Such change requires far broader and deeper treatments than an RTG alone can offer. RTGs, like most change initiatives, need to be respected just for what they are and, drawing on that, for what they can best contribute to the life of a school of education. No RTG can do it all.
CURRICULUM: TINKERING TOWARD A COMMON CORE?
One might imagine improving the doctoral training of education researchers by creating a common (or canonical) core of knowledge to be dispensed via a common curriculum to all doctoral students in a program, or possibly to those intent on becoming education researchers. Indeed, this is the premise of the recent Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (Shulman, 2003), and the approach recommended in a 2005 National Research Council report on advancing scientific research in education (Towne, Wise, & Winters, 2005). Conceivably, such an approach would result in an institution putting greater weight on doctoral candidates participation in common learning experiences than on individualized experiences during doctoral education.
On the other hand, one might argue that becoming an education researcher is a profoundly personal endeavor (Neumann & Peterson, 1997) that requires developing both passionate commitment and domain-specific expertise related to the particular research problem into which one wants to inquire. In this view, individual learning experiences would be key to doctoral training, and common experiences, though included, might be less important.
In contrast to the first approach, leaders of the four RTG programs described in this special issue began their efforts to improve doctoral education by adding a few common experiences to what was mostly an individualized educational experience for doctoral students in their schools. The University of Wisconsin case offers a good example of this approach. At Wisconsin, an RTG student participant might come from one of five departments, and each would then take most of his or her coursework in his or her respective department. On top of that coursework, the RTG student participant would also join the RTG proseminar during her or his first year of RTG participation. According to Leonard and Fennema (2008), the proseminar was designed to have students become familiar with multiple research perspectives, gain facility in recognizing the types of questions that could be addressed in various perspectives, and learn to identify each perspectives strengths and weaknesses During their second through fourth years in the program, RTG students continued to participate in an advanced research seminar that was designed to increase their knowledge about multiple research perspectives and building communities of inquiry.
Using an approach similar to that of University of Wisconsin, the organizers of the RTG at the University of Pennsylvania instituted monthly research seminars on urban education, with required attendance by RTG student participants. The seminar had a common content focus on urban education research and thus provided a common curricular experience for the RTG participants. Yet, as Kecskemethy (2008) explains, the Penn RTG program very intentionally began with a premise based on the need for an individualized approach to doctoral education in which the PhD student was largely responsible for negotiating her or his research training. Over the course of a calendar year, Penn expected each RTG student to spend an average of 20 hours a week on research apprenticeship activities, which were defined to include independent study with ones faculty mentor or participation in a research project and engaging in research activities. By nature, such activities are very individualized and geared toward the specific research interests of the doctoral student who selects them or codefines them with collaborators.
Like Penn, UCLAs RTG also had a content focus on urban education, along with students with special needs. Through their 3 years in the RTG program, UCLA student participants were required to engage in a 10-hour-per-week research apprenticeship with a faculty member of their choice and attend a twice-monthly RTG seminar geared to their interests and needs. As at Wisconsin and Penn, doctoral students came from one of a number of different divisions within UCLAs Department of Education; much of their coursework was situated in their home divisions.
Thus, rather than tinkering toward a common curricular core for the preparation of education researchers, the four RTG institutions represented here pursued a model that promoted the development of education researchers along individual trajectories, albeit within their respective intellectual communities and, in this case, organizational (departmental/divisional) homes. Steven Weiland (2008) describes this model well in his discussion of the research apprenticeship experience that served as the focus of the RTG at Michigan State University. The goal at MSU was for individuals to learn research within specific communities of research practice that they identified as meaningful to their goals in education and research on education. At MSU, students dual citizenship in the RTG and their home departments provided them the leeway to seek out a community (or communities) that would adequately support the program of study that, with faculty guidance, they devised.4
FINANCIAL RESOURCES: WHAT CAN MONEY BUY?
As Lauren Jones Youngs (2008) opening article recounts, the initial idea for the Spencer Foundations RTG initiative was to provide leading graduate schools of education with resources to support research-oriented doctoral students in full-time study, in exchange for the development of schoolwide training initiatives that could benefit all doctoral students in the school, and not just the subset supported with Spencer funds. The approach was wholly consistent with the foundations longstanding orientation toward betting on people. In the RTG initiative, the foundation was also betting on institutions, while allowing the funded institutions to bet on the students they selected for RTG participation and support.
Although the foundation sought to bring the RTG institutions together to discuss what they were learning from the RTG initiative and to share best practices, the initiative did not have a powerful theory of how change at the institutional level was to be leveraged. Certainly, the supported institutions were highly motivated to propose ambitious plans that were consistent with the foundations objectives of institutional change. On every campus, the RTG funds were viewed as an important infusion of new resources to support doctoral training. Moreover, as Dorr, Arms, and Halls (2008) report indicates, the presence of the RTG had a trickle-down effect because funding that might have gone to RTG participants in the absence of the grant could be allocated to fund other students. The Spencer RTG increased the size of the funding pie on every campus.
The initial proposals from the institutions receiving RTG support emphasized multiyear fellowship awards. From the standpoint of the RTG institutions, the problem was not so much that they needed to overhaul their doctoral training programs; after all, all of them were selected in part because they had good track records of preparing productive education researchers. Rather, as Young (2008) points out, the funds were intended to enable doctoral students to capitalize on the research opportunities available in each institution without having their studies interrupted or distracted by the need to support themselves through work unrelated to their development as education researchers.
Full-time doctoral study at leading graduate schools of education is expensive, particularly in private institutions in big cities. When the RTG program was initiated, none of the four institutions discussed here had multiyear fellowship support for students. The RTG instantly became the premier fellowship program on each campus. But each campus could only support a relatively small number of students through multiyear fellowships. At the University of Wisconsin, the initiative funded three students per year, and the graduate school underwrote the costs for two additional fellowships for minority students. UCLA provided about six students per year with 3 years of full funding, and Penn supported about four students per year with 4 years of tuition, fees, and a stipend.
Young (2008) reports that over time, some institutions moved away from the original plan of using RTG support to recruit incoming full-time doctoral students. This had never been the intention at Michigan State University, which focused its attentions on the middle years of doctoral study as the stage at which students were most at risk of losing direction and momentum in their development as researchers. After a few years, UCLA shifted half of the support to second-year students, partly to equalize opportunities for doctoral students to compete for support, and partly to refine the matching of students interests with the thematic concentration on students at risk.
On every campus, only a small fraction of doctoral students were supported by the RTG. Leonard and Fennema (2008) report that only 6% of enrolled students received support, and Kecskemethys (2008) data suggest that fewer than 15% of each doctoral cohort at Penn was funded even though Penns PhD program is smaller than that at most leading schools of education.
The fact that relatively small numbers of students could be supported by the RTG on each campus posed an interesting challenge to the goal of creating institutional change. For the most part, faculty involvement tracked student involvement: Because every student had an advisor, the greater the number of doctoral students participating in the initiative, the greater the involvement of faculty. Leveraging institutional change is more likely to occur when large numbers of students and faculty are involved in an enterprise than when few students and faculty are participating and have the opportunity to see firsthand the benefits and pitfalls of a pilot program. On most campuses, a majority of the students and faculty were not directly involved.5
However, broadening the RTG initiative to encompass more students, and hence more faculty, would have weakened two of the perceived major strengths of the RTG: recruiting talented students from the outside, and giving them freedom from having to hustle to support themselves during graduate school. Spreading the wealth would have diluted the recruiting power of the grant. More important, it would have undermined the centrality of unfettered full-time study to the theory of the program.
The University of Wisconsin took an unusual tack on this problem, admitting up to 15 students per year to its RTG program as nonfunded student participants. Other than the funds received, no differentiation was made between funded (fellowship recipients) and nonfunded fellows, write Leonard and Fennema (2008). Thus, much like the funded RTG student participants, the nonfunded RTG students participated in the programs fall and spring proseminars and had enhanced opportunities to interact with their peers in other departments. This form of participation by nonfunded RTG students reflected the objectives of the RTG in the UW context, in which departmental boundaries were quite rigid. And, because each RTG student participant (funded and unfunded) had a mentor committee made up of his or her major professor and at least one faculty member outside of the students major department, the expansion of the program to nonfunded doctoral students also broadened faculty participation in UWs RTG.
The concentration of resources in a relatively small number of students had another important consequence. Some institutions perceived a tension between their institutional ideals of social justice and equity, quite common in schools of education, and the sponsored mobility that set Spencer RTG student participants (often referred to as fellows, and in one case, for some period of time, as Spencers) apart from their peers. On every campus, students selected for the RTG award, and thus for RTG participation, had better and more stable funding than their peers. But they were also marked as on a different trajectorylike being in a gifted and talented program, as a UCLA RTG participant described it, or on the honors track. At Penn, this led to the RTG student participants seeking to blunt their special designation; they asked the RTG coordinator not to refer to them as Spencers in front of their peers.
The funding differentials were real, and the nature of the RTG as a pilot initiative to leverage institutional change pretty much demanded such discrepancies in the short run. There were few palatable options to address this: Raising more money to equalize support, admitting fewer doctoral students, or watering down the awards by spreading the money more evenly across a larger number of students were not viable approaches. But beyond the money, institutions could attempt to expand students opportunities to participate in and benefit from the activities developed specifically for RTG participants. Thus, the RTG at Michigan State University opened its Research Confidential series on the personal experience of engaging in research to all doctoral students in its College of Education, and Penn similarly invited all PhD students and faculty to attend its monthly Urban Education Research Seminars (while requiring the attendance of RTG student participants).
Opening up seminars and forums to a larger community is a relatively simple means to democratize access to some of the resources that the RTGs were intended to provide. But not all the social resources could be shared so readily. The most intensive monitoring and mentoring activities, which also demanded the greatest effort from faculty, were limited to RTG student participants. Although advising and mentoring is universally seen as central to successful doctoral preparation, many graduate schools of education struggle to ensure that all their doctoral students receive adequate mentoring. UCLA sought to institutionalize this through its Research Apprenticeship Course (RAC), which was implemented immediately prior to its initial Spencer RTG award, but even there a central faculty oversight committee reviewed the activities and progress of RTG student participants independently.
One of the key questions we are left with is to what extent the Spencer RTG will go to scale at the participating institutions. The fact that virtually all the funds awarded by the Spencer Foundation to the RTG institutions were dedicated to the support of individual students raises obvious questions about the sustainability of the RTG program at the conclusion of the grant. Recognizing the importance of multiyear fellowship awards to recruiting talented students, UCLA created its own multiyear fellowship program consisting of 3 years of support, with the first and third years funded by donors, sandwiched around a year in which the academic unit funded a student in a research or teaching position. But this initiative depended on external fundraising and could still only support a small number of students. Penn committed to providing full support for all incoming PhD students for 3 years, which would not have been possible without the impressive expansion of external research funding over the past decade.
Prospects for sustainability were more tenuous at the University of Wisconsin. Leonard and Fennema (2008) report that faculty were aware that the costs of the RTG initiative would have to be borne by the school of education, and many were not persuaded that the program would be a high priority when pitted against other needs or initiatives. Nevertheless, the scope of faculty participation in the RTG ensured that when . . . the departments revisit their doctoral program . . . some of the DRPs [RTGs] practices will be up for discussion.
It is relatively easy to talk about the Spencer RTG resources in dollars and cents; each participating institution received a particular sum of money, and the lions share of that money was channeled to direct student support, primarily for tuition and living expenses, but also, in small doses, for professional development such as conference travel, books, and research materials. It is much more difficult to discuss the impact of the RTG on the stock of social capital on each participating campus. In most sites, the RTG created stronger ties between students and faculty, and stronger ties among the participating students. Importantly, these ties crossed the subgroups of departments and other academic units, as well as groups defined by methodological proclivities. Thus, they opened opportunities for resources to flow more freely throughout the system, especially intellectual resources such as ideas, conceptual frameworks, research designs, and methods. The most durable impact of the RTG initiative may rest on the sustainability of these expanded social networks within institutions.
STRUCTURE: HOW FLUID? HOW FIXED?
A critical feature of an academic organization is the arrangement of its contentshow it is put togetherand how those contents are made to interrelate in the construction, transformation, and delivery of that organizations central offering to others. We will refer to this feature of a school of education as its structure. In this view, structure refers to the arrangement and interrelation (and thereby, availability) of context, curriculum, financial and intellectual resources, and other academic and organizational contents not explicitly discussed here; all may bear on the substance of doctoral students learning experiences.6 We can view doctoral students as entering a graduate school of education and as undergoing a set of substantive educational, mentoring, apprenticeship, socialization, and other experiencesformally and informally, alone and in the context of work with otherstoward the creation of selves as doctoral degree recipients of that school. We focus especially on the interrelation of those elements of the education graduate school that prepares at least some subset of a school of educations doctoral students to become education researchers.7
Our working assumption in this view is that every school of education, like every university, reflects a unique internal structure for doctoral students preparation as researchers. In terms of our definition of the word structure, a school of education brings its diverse contents together in distinctive ways, offering its doctoral students unique learning experiences and opportunities for growth to prepare them to carry out education research. Schools of education may vary in their commitments to one preparatory approach or another (for example, favoring survey research over qualitative research, or ethnography over other qualitative methods, or alternatively emphasizing connection to practice more so than connection to policy, and so on). These schools internal structuring (arrangement and interrelation of intellectual, financial, and other content) will reflect those commitments, emphasizing certain knowledge and activities over others. The four RTG cases vary in their structures along one or more of the following dimensions: (1) connectedness (or distance) of the RTG activities to the school of educations established bureaucratic/administrative structure (departments/programs/other academic governing bodies largely comprising faculty), including degree to which participating students programs of study are anchored in these bureaucratically defined units or more loosely coupled with one or more of them; (2) fluidity of the advising relationship (professor-student), monitoring of participating students academic and developmental progress, locus of authority over the specifics of participating students program progress, and oversight of the advisement function overall; (3) approaches to mediating tensions between participating students access to a broad range of substantive mentoring and peer-learning opportunities, and these students needs, eventually, to commit to completion of a dissertation project within a circumscribed educational area; and (4) opportunities for exposure to the internal workingsincluding substantive theories, perspectives, methods, and epistemologiesof the multiple communities and subcommunities of the practices of education research, beyond those with which a student is formally associated.
Drawing on these four organizing features for an RTG, and realizing that different case writers were differentially attuned to them, we describe the structuring (and thereby design) of the four RTG programs.8
Given the four preceding features of structure, the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Educations RTG and that of UCLAs Department of Education suggest the following image: (1) clear distinction (including a good amount of breathing room) between students programs of study and the bureaucratic (administrative) structure of the institution, (2) relative fluidity in an academic advisement process that is closely monitored by a central (vs. departmental) advisement group, (3) open but guided (and monitored) opportunities to engage in diverse research learning communities that appear to be decoupled from formal organizational units (for example, departments), and (4) opportunities to participate in cross-community forums in which diverse research traditions may be reviewed in light of each other.
Kecskemethys (2008) presentation of the University of Pennsylvanias RTG, for example, reflects an image of mentored flexibility, and drawing on his report, we may well imagine the leaders of Penns Graduate School of Education as striving for an open but sensible balancing between crystallized organization on the one hand (and the rigidity that implies) and full participatory autonomy on the other. This balancing between formal structure and flexibility was achieved in part by the strategic assignment of RTG monies to students in the form of transportable fundsand even as passports of sortsthat allowed students to travel, work, and learn within diverse communities of research practice across Penns school of education. In other words, at Penn, departments and communities appeared to remain as they were before the RTG (thereby retaining bureaucratic/administrative stability), but RTG-student flow among those departments and communities (via boundary crossing) appeared enhanced. However, it must be noted that at Penn, the transportable funds, as Kecskemethy refers to them, did not provide students with an anything goes sort of freedom. Rather, students cross-boundary learning activities, across diverse GSE-based communities and organizational units, were monitored closely by a central faculty steering group that reviewed and discussed students coursework, apprenticeships, and related learning experiences. The central faculty group stood in as an advisement body to the RTG student participants, and it also oversaw the advisement that other faculty provided. That central faculty steering group offered RTG student participants ways into opportunities connected to their interests and research learning needs, and, if needed, ways out of unproductive relationships. It thereby helped students overstep bureaucratic lines when it was to their educational advantage to do so. The steering group monitored progress, offering students substantive guidance as needed, at times about the nature of advisement itself. It served, then, in something of a meta-advisement role: advising about, toward, or away from certain forms of advisement.
This is not to say that all participating students stayed on course at Penn, for as Kecskemethy (2008) notes, some used their transportable funds to travel from advisor to advisor in undirected ways. Yet in these cases, the central faculty steering committee would reach out to students exhibiting such behavior as in need of special guidance. The Penn RTG also included opportunities for schoolwide colloquia within which researchers, working in diverse disciplinary traditions, could compare views and learn out loud from each other. When this final piece is added in to the larger image of students moving, in fluid yet guided ways, across program boundaries that otherwise might divide and even compartmentalize their learning experiences, a larger picture of the Penn RTG site emerges: one of constant flow, balancing breadth of exposure with in-depth experience. Learning in the Penn RTG, defined as an activity for all facets of the Graduate School of Education, seems anything but confined in space and time; it happened within and across the GSE as a whole, in flexible yet guided ways.
UCLAs RTG reflected a similar design: Students carried some amount of transportable funding, though possibly not cast publicly in that way. The UCLA RTG was fully inclusive of all programmatic areas, much as it was at Penn, and no academic units opted out of it (as, in fact, occurred at Wisconsin). At UCLA, much as at Penn, a faculty committee oversaw the RTG, yet it functioned less as a steering committee (in the Penn model) than as a governance body that, as Dorr, Arms, and Hall (2008) explain, set policy, selected fellows [participating students], approved exceptions in fellows work, reviewed activities and fellows progress, and worked with faculty who led the seminar each year. Like Penn, the UCLA RTG featured cross-departmental bimonthly seminars for participating doctoral students and faculty; although others could attend, these sessions were not as widely advertised within the Department of Education as were those at Penn. A unique and reportedly helpful feature of the UCLA programand one that set it apart from the Penn RTGwas the Research Apprenticeship Course built into the UCLA program prior to the RTG but clearly fueled by it. In the context of a RAC, students in all phases of a doctoral program came together under one faculty advisor to listen to and mentor one another, even as the advisor mentored them all. The RAC helped to expose students, at all programmatic stages, to all phases of the research process at any one time so that beginning students could interact with students facing the challenges of advanced dissertation work while advanced students could watch and listen to junior students struggling with basic issues that might be useful for them to recall at their more advanced stages of study. At UCLA, much as at Penn, the RTG loosened up previously rigid bureaucratic boundaries that otherwise might have constrained student movement. In doing so, the RTG at both these institutions created opportunities for participating students cross-organizational flows toward meaningful research-learning opportunities, but it also held them firmly accountable for progress in that learningfor example, by way of reports to the central guiding committee, along with the constant monitoring that the RAC might provide.
If at UCLA and Penn, RTG monies were directed at participating studentstoward their use, with guidance, for learning and self-development across multiple communities of research practiceat the University of Wisconsin, those monies were directed toward the construction of proseminars as instructional sites to which fellows came to learn research from acknowledged experts. The model appears to assume the following: that as scholars and researchers, certain faculty, well established as education researchers, possess the expertise needed to frame doctoral students learning of research in desired ways. RTG monies also sought to increase departmental boundary crossing by students and faculty, on the assumption that such cross-organizational movement can enhance students research training in the long run. The cross-college proseminarthe high point of the University of Wisconsins RTGwas cotaught by two colleagues representing very different research traditions (and usually coming from different departments and academic areas within education). Unlike UCLA and Penn, Spencer RTG funds at UW were not directed at enhancing participating students interdepartmental movement toward varied apprenticeship opportunities (UW had nothing comparable to the passport that Penn provided). Nor were monies used to fund the work of a cross-school of education steering or monitoring group comparable with that at Penn or at UCLA. Rather, the RTG at the University of Wisconsin funded students to work within faculty-run proseminars, framed as classes. Much of students learning about education research occurred within those classes rather than outside them. As is obvious, UW faculty who were not involved in the RTG gained less from the overall RTG experience than those who were involved as proseminar leaders or RTG architects. And some of the faculty units within the School of Education chose not to participate in the RTG at all, thereby deriving no clear benefit. In brief, the enhanced cross-school flows evident at UCLA and Pennstudents, faculty, and ideas crossing established organizational boundarieswere constrained at Wisconsin, bounded within the small circle of RTG and proseminar participants, faculty and students alike.
The RTG experience at Michigan State University differed from that of Wisconsin, UCLA, and Penn. At Michigan State University, doctoral student participants in the RTG carried a dual citizenship of sorts, simultaneously retaining their primary program (and departmental) membership and their membership in the newly developed RTG community existing in parallel. Within the Spencer RTG communitymarked by a specially assigned room in MSUs College of Educationstudents interacted with one another and with faculty appointed to RTG work or invited in for special sessions. Boundary crossing was then rampant at MSU, and in helpful, cross-disciplinary ways, but in a territory cordoned off for the Spencer RTG project. Yet the arrangement was anything but exclusive, for at Michigan State University (for most, yet not all, programs and departments) cross-department crossover is a common experience for students and faculty alike. Boundary crossing (albeit at selected ports) is a cultural, historic, and valued fact of life in Michigan State Universitys College of Education. A unique feature of MSUs RTG experience was its emphasis on practicein this case, the practice of research, to parallel a longstanding institutional concern with the practice of teaching. Whereas the other case write-upsUW, Penn, and UCLAstrongly feature cross-school discussions of major epistemological issues, MSU factored into this mix talk about the nitty-gritty of researchers work and lives: Its series entitled Research Confidential, as Steven Weiland (2008) spells out, is but one case in point. The MSU faculty appeared to have grafted the RTG onto the cultural strengths of the institution, including boundary crossing.
In sum, then, our major point of learning in review of the four RTG structures is that RTG money supported students and, in selected cases, served as a powerful organizational solvent: It helped weaken the power of organizational glue that, through years of patterned campus activity, can turn flows of peopleand their relationships, work, and ideasinto crystallized spaces that cut them off from others whose work (and thought) falls at some distance from theirs. The solvent effect seemed most obvious at Penn, and also at UCLA, possibly because of the effects of organizing strategies already well in play. As indicated in the section on context, both these institutions had been remaking themselves for quite some time prior to the introduction of the RTG. Yet the solvent effect was evident at MSU and UW as wellat MSU as a reflection of cross-departmental movement long under way, and at UW too, though in newer, more confined, and challenging ways. As suggested in the context section, it is conceivable that the Wisconsin RTG experience might have been strengthened had the glue that held it together been loosened somewhat prior to the infusion of RTG monies, much as it had been at Penn and UCLA. As this concluding point of learning suggests, the leaders and faculty of each of the four case RTG institutions had to address at least two challenging organizational questions: first, how best to arrange and bring together key site offeringsintellectual, social, financial, and so onand also how to minimize the untoward effects of the bureaucratic and administrative artifacts of modern academic organization while putting these to work in support of the RTG, and second, how best to blend desirable features of the historic (existent) institutional culture and newer visions of doctoral education, broaching improvements in curriculum, pedagogy, and resource use. As the cases indicate, different institutions attended to these issues in different ways.
In presenting this final view, we must nonetheless reflect on a remaining indeterminacy regarding the relationship between structure and institutional culture. Our analysis suggests that, for the most part, RTG institutions chose structures that were consistent with their preexisting institutional cultures. Some organizational theorists would argue that this choice maximized the likelihood of success, because organizational cultures are quite difficult to change, and a structure that was not congruent with a powerful and enduring understanding of how we do things here would likely fail. On the other hand, from the standpoint of organizational learning, a structure that simply mimics the existing organizational culture may not provide opportunities for the institution to learn something new. In this view, it would be desirable for there to be some tension or dissonance between structure and culturealthough perhaps not too much. Perhaps most important is to take a close look at the organizational culture, including an institutions vision, as an essential first step in designing a research training program.
The Spencer Foundations Research Training Grant program was perhaps the most generous gift that a philanthropic foundation has offered the field of education research toward its self-improvement. It would be remiss of the field not to pause, at the grants conclusion, to reflect on what the diverse activities of the RTG helped the field to learn about how best to support the development of knowledgeable and skilled education researchers. Our aim in compiling this special issue of TCR has been to articulate such thoughts and insights.
What then might a university-based school of education do, with or without external financial support, to improve its programmatic efforts to prepare education researchers? A few points emerge from the preceding discussion:
First, with regard to context: The RTGs came to life in university-based schools of education. Institutional context can matter a great deal in the reform of doctoral education. We suggest that school of education leaders take the onus for large-scale organizational change off of researcher development programs. As the cases indicate, it is extremely challenging to create an RTG and to situate it, supportively, in a school of education, even when it comes with a large dose of financial support. The creation of an RTG, with or without new funding, requires opening up a school of education to the aims of that new researcher development program; that in itself is a major undertaking that may frame the functioning and sustainability of the program being implemented. Relatedly, it might be wise to carry out desired organizational change (for example, by way of self-study, program review, and reorganization) prior to the introduction of a researcher development program, thereby allowing that program later to aid the institution in moving toward its change plans. That is, in fact, what appeared to happen at Penn and UCLA. In this view, the researcher development program need not bear the burden of initiating large-scale change while also carrying out its own central aims, which, we believe, was the case at UW. At MSU, the RTG became a mirror of the College of Education, with its fostering of research on practice. Though the RTG may well have benefited future researchers at MSU, it is unclear that it inspired a sense of self-study or self-reconsideration among the faculty. It perpetuated the existent culture there, and though that may well have been desired, we are unclear as to whether this issue was ever discussed.
Second, with regard to curricular cores: Well-specified bodies of common knowledge or ways of knowing, set out as the content of a program or learning activityand referred to often as a curricular coremay be more meaningful to the faculties and academic leaders who strive to update, staff, and maintain such programs (or learning activities) than to research-oriented doctoral students. We say this because although we believe that a doctoral student in education may well need (and want) some core competencies and shared knowledge to get her or his feet on the ground with regard to research, we also believe that a future researcher is in the business of constructing his or her own core from the intellectual resources available to her or him in the graduate school of education that she or he has joined. It is conceivable, then, that thoughtfully guided opportunities to craft personalized programs of study, perhaps in the image of a personal core rather than a common core, may be especially meaningful to doctoral students defined as early-career learners of research. Guidance for this task might come by way of carefully selected advisement, orchestrated perhaps by a meta-advisement function (consider the role of the steering committee at Penn). Indeed, doctoral students may want some vision of a core of knowledge to which they can hold, or from which they can begin the work of learning research. But the core that the student may later claim as his or her own might be viewed as growing, equally, from core curricular experiences and from the educational passions that brought that doctoral student to educational study in the first place. We offer the following idea for future debate: that being a doctoral student, and becoming an educational researcher, may entail the building of such a personal core. In this view, a primary institutional objective is to create contexts in which students can construct a personal core with the guidance of faculty and peers.
Third, with regard to resources: A researcher development program, especially one that is well funded, has the power to purchase opportunities for doctoral students growth, whether by way of the monetary support it provides (financial resources), the access it offers to key ideas and their crafting and validation (intellectual resources), or the occasions it may offer for learners entrée to researcher communities (social resources). But researcher education also has its costs and pitfalls: Programs may abridge a valued sense of autonomy and freedom among faculty who view doctoral education as extensions of their own scholarly effort (see discussion of context as well). They may symbolically elevate some members of a doctoral student community over others, in unhelpful if not outrightly harmful ways, by way of the status markers (i.e., future researcher) that it can confer. Program activities can take up time, space, and commitment in students lives that might otherwise be devoted to the learning of other equally valuable educational practices (teaching, administration, counseling), especially so in schools of education that do not purposively connect such practices. These risks, which are largely independent of the number of dollars invested in researcher preparation programs, require further attention.
And fourth, with regard to structure, and we emphasize here the boundaries that define it: Institutional leaders may want to consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of the bureaucratic boundaries used to organize and divide the curriculum in the modern American research university. A school of educations departmental and programmatic organizational structure may be more useful for financial management, administrative regulation, personnel action, and other organizational functions than for oversight of students substantive learningand perhaps too for the conduct of research and engagement in scholarly activity. In this view, bureaucratic boundaries helpfully define, regulate, and mediate human and monetary resource flows in a school of education defined as a formal organization. Through the formal department and program structure that typically emerges, administrative leaders and faculty gain the means to rationalize, direct, and constrain resource flows in the university. In contrast, doctoral students gain more from a view of departmental boundaries as tools for defining communities of substantive research practice as discrete and/or connected to one another. These are very different visions of boundaries, of what they divide up, and of motivations, then, for boundary crossing. A boundary may usefully constrain and contain, but it can just as usefully define. School of education leaders need to be attuned to both of these functions and their uses, strengths, and limitations.
Some additional points bear mention. It seems clear that the RTG advanced the causes of the four case schools of education at certain points in their histories, and it seems likely (or it may be hoped) that some of the changes made through this period will persist: the learning that doubtless occurred among students and faculty within the proseminar at the University of Wisconsin; the schoolwide seminars and discourses that grew up at Penn; the effort to secure funds to support students at UCLA; and the cross-departmental discussions of researcher practice at MSU; among others. What is not so clear is whether the changes enacted represented deepened learning, within sites, about what doctoral students learning of research entails, what kinds of pedagogical approaches enhance it, and what kinds of organizational structures support the effort overall.
The seeming success of these efforts masks two other, harder questions: First, did institutional leaders and faculty know more about how to prepare researchers after the RTG than they did before, and did that knowledge then feed their continuing researcher preparation efforts? Second, did doctoral students learning of research actually improve as a result of the RTG initiative? It is well known, by virtue of these institutions selection as outstanding schools of education, that good things were already happening at the RTGs outset. We have the sense that constructive learning about researcher preparation happened at Penn and UCLAbut maybe not specifically because of the RTG. We suggest, rather, that at these sites, such learning occurred through the institutional self-reflection, self-review, and self-reform that took place prior to the implementation of the RTG and that continued through the course of that effort. We do view the efforts at MSU and UW as exemplary as well, but we are less clear, from the case data provided, whether the RTG spurred forms of institutional learning there that were quite as deep as those at Penn and UCLA. This is not to say, of course, that UCLA and Penn did it better, only that they appeared to make themselves collectively more open to learning and to organizing themselves to advance their doctoral students learning of research.
Regardless of whether students learned more as a result of exposure to the RTG, it seems likely that participating students did experience enhanced opportunities to learn education research. And so, we think, did the individual faculty members who worked with these students, even as they taught, advised, and mentored them. Many of the professors involved in the RTG also began to contemplate how beginning researchers learning of research proceeds and how to organize the teaching, learning, organization, leadership, counseling, and advising practices that constitute the social activity of education. In light of all this learning that we propose occurred, we close with an observation on our own effort. All that we have been able to offer here is an organizing or programmatic perspective on doctoral students learning of education research. What we have not yet begun to tapand what we think is sorely neededis far deeper pursuit of how and what doctoral students learn about research. Getting a grip on such questions will, we believe, likely strengthen efforts to build programs that strive to produce education researchers oriented to lifelong learning. It is very hard to organize a program to advance the learning of research if we do not know what such learning means, what it looks like, and what it requires.
We close with the following sense: that those of us who participated, as faculty or students, in one or more Spencer RTG programs sponsored by the universities in which we worked and studied gained substantially through the years of the grants existence. Our RTG work spurred our thoughts about education research and about what it means to be an education researcher, including why we do it and what hopes we have for it. We hope, too, that the reflective moment that this special issue of Teachers College Record represents will help to extend some of that learning into the future and into university sites other than those that the RTG was able to support.
1 As the preceding cases indicate, these challenges varied greatly in meaning and intensity in the various sites, and they varied too in the degree of attention that case writers were able to devote to them, given varying institutional approaches to documentation of the local RTGs.
2 Terms of usage: For consistency, we refer to the four case university programs, funded under the Spencer Foundation Research Training Grant, as RTGs even though locally, other names might be in use. For example, effective 2001, the Spencer-funded research training grant at the University of Wisconsin was renamed as the Wisconsin-Spencer Doctoral Research Program (DRP) so as to reflect financial and intellectual contributions from both the foundation and the university; our text refers to this program as RTG. Also in the spirit of clarity, we occasionally refer to the university-based homes of the RTG with the generic terms school of education, school, or college, yet whenever possible, we do refer to the local name in use (Graduate School of Education at Penn, Department of Education at UCLA, College of Education at MSU, School of Education at Wisconsin). Finally, the case reports do not make clear whether doctoral students participating in the RTG carried special names, though some case writers do refer to these students consistently as fellows. We typically refer to these individuals as student participants in the RTG, RTG participants (when it is clear that we are not referring to faculty), and the like.
3 Peterson was on the Michigan State University College of Education faculty from 1987 to 1997, and Pallas and Neumann from 1990 to 2000.
4 Interestingly, in March 2001, UCLA hosted a 2-day conference for RTG institutions to discuss the possibility of creating a common core of courses for doctoral training of education researchers. One of the present articles authors, Penelope Peterson, attended that conference. Although most of the RTG institutions sent representatives to the conference, during which a lively discussion ensued about the possible development of common core for doctoral training, conference participants arrived at no substantial agreement on this issue.
An added note: As the Spencer Research Training Grants began winding down with the end of the funding, the deans of the RTG institutions began discussing the need to continue to work on the improvement of doctoral training in education. Specifically, they expressed some dissatisfaction with the lack of consensus around doctoral education and proposed to create some common standards for doctoral training of educational researchers. Accordingly, in July 2007, they submitted a proposal to the Spencer Foundation stating,
It seems timely to establish a task force with one representative from each of the participating institutions; the function of this would be, in general terms, to tease out and if necessary elaborate upon what has been learned, and to feed the results back to the respective institutions to guide future improvements to their training and assessment activities. Ultimately the goal is to produce something that could be used as a guide for other schools of education endeavoring to improve research training.
In more precise terms, the members of the task force, informed by the insights about rigorous doctoral training gleaned from the RTG experience at their own institutions, shall deliberate and report upon, in as concrete and performatively specific a manner as possible:
(i)The key elements that need to be addressed in the doctoral-level training of high-quality educational researchers who will work in one of several important empirical traditions. Issues to be reported upon will include: (1) the depth of specialized methodological training in the relevant tradition, (2) the breadth of acquaintance with alternative methodologies, (3) the degree of awareness of the values and epistemological assumptions that form the intellectual context for research activities, (4) the mechanisms by which relevant contextual knowledge is or can be acquired, and (5) possible illustrative exemplars of work within the respective traditions that embody the kinds of desiderata indicated above and which will be amplified during the task force deliberations.
(ii)The ways in which the member institutions currently assess the effectiveness of their research training practices, and any recent results of such assessments. (Phillips, Stipek, Pearson, & Dorr, 2007)
This issue-of common standards, or common views, around what learning research should entailappears as a continuing puzzle, meriting continued exploration by the faculties of graduate schools of education seeking to prepare educational researchers.
5 Some sites, such as Penn, involved the entire faculty by making the RTG a point of departure for discussions about doctoral training at faculty meetings.
6 We have, so far, emphasized doctoral students substantive experiences in relation to context, curriculum, and resources. In discussing context, we referred also to organizational features of their graduate school experience. We return here to that topic, for example, in discussion of boundaries that cordon off departments, programs, offices, and so on, because these may influence students experiences. Other organizational features, not fully discussed here though bearing, directly or indirectly, on doctoral students learning experiences, include the political and collegial, as well as the cultural and symbolic.
7 Most graduate schools of education aim to train and otherwise prepare doctoral students for other roles as wellto become teachers, administrators, policy makers, and so onand thus, their internal structuring and curriculum reflect those objectives alongside those of researcher training. These institutions may prepare any one student for one role alone or for multiple roles.
8 We relied on these four organizing features for an RTG (derived through the initial cross-case analysis) in an open and flexible way to guide consideration of similarities and differences across the four case institutions. Although they were helpful in guiding our case reviewdirecting our attention, systematically, across all four for each sitein writing up this section, we allowed the case data to lead, rather than over-reifying framework elements by running data through them. We note that these four features may not represent a complete view of what matters in the setup of an RTG (more may well be at issue) and that each of the four bears closer study.
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