Developing the Next Generation of Education Researchers: UCLA’s Experience With the Spencer Foundation Research Training Grant
by Aimée Dorr, Emily Arms & Valerie Hall - 2008
Background/Context: In the early 1990s, the Spencer Foundation instituted an Institutional Research Training Grant (RTG) program to improve the preparation of the next generation of education researchers. UCLA received an RTG in the first round of competition.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: UCLA’s Spencer RTG program sought to develop excellent researchers focused on educational issues associated with urban students of color and students with special needs. An evaluation was conducted to learn more about the experiences and career paths of participating Spencer students, the value added by RTG program participation, and institutional changes associated with the RTG program.
Population/Participants/Subjects: Participants were all 52 UCLA education PhD students who received a Spencer RTG Fellowship in the first 9 years of the program, 52 matched comparison students, and 10 Department of Education faculty.
Intervention/Program/Practice: Spencer and comparison students participated in the same PhD program courses and requirements, mentoring/apprenticeship model, research practica, and research apprenticeship courses. Spencer students in addition had 3 years of full financial support, came from all areas of the Department of Education, participated in a special seminar every 2 weeks for 3 years, had a personal professional development fund, and were offered many opportunities to network with students and faculty from other Spencer programs.
Research Design:This in-house evaluation employed multiple approaches. Institutional data provided information about RTG program goals and activities and student characteristics and performance. A Web-based questionnaire and individual interviews provided quantitative and qualitative data about the performance and opinions of all 52 Spencer students and 52 comparison students. Dissertations were scored for engagement with Spencer program areas of emphasis. Individual faculty interviews provided opinions about the RTG program itself and its implications for the PhD program.
Findings/Results: Nearly all students were successful and benefited from courses, mentorship, and opportunities. Spencer students benefited particularly from financial freedom to pursue specific research interests and opportunities for networking and support. They valued highly interacting with PhD students from the Department of Education’s entire range of epistemologies and research traditions. They were seen as an elite group, particularly groomed for academic positions. Significantly more Spencer than comparison graduates were in professional positions in which engaging in education research was highly valued.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The study underlines the following contributions: value of the apprenticeship/mentoring model; strengthening of sites for exploring diverse research traditions and epistemologies; value of belonging to local and national communities of practice; utility of multiyear funding packages; and enhanced faculty interaction around improved research preparation.
INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT FOR UCLAS RESEARCH TRAINING GRANT PROGRAM
UCLA received a Spencer Foundation Institutional Research Training Grant (RTG) in 1993, in the first round of competition. The first cohort of UCLA Spencer RTG Fellows began in fall 1994, one year after the Department of Education had differentiated and revamped the PhD and EdD degree programs. The PhD program had been redesigned to prepare education researchers using an apprenticeship, mentoring model. Although the department was not able to offer support to all PhD students, faculty committed to provide full-time support for at least one of the first 3 years during which the student would have intense, on-campus engagement in his or her scholarly development. Throughout the entire PhD program, each student was expected to participate in the newly established Research Apprenticeship Course (RAC). Each course was led by an individual faculty member and brought together PhD students at all stages of the program, usually all the faculty members PhD advisees, for a yearlong 2-hour-a-week seminar focused on the students development as independent researchers and professionals.
Organizationally, the Department of Education then was, and still is, conceptualized as a matrix, distributing ladder faculty across the graduate scholarly programs on one axis and the graduate professional programs and an undergraduate minor on the other. Over the last 1015 years, 250300 graduate students have been enrolled in the PhD program in education; an equal number (and in recent years, a larger number) have been enrolled in the professional degree programs. The department is one of two in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies (GSE&IS), which was formed in a 1994 merger of the two named professional schools. GSE&IS has about 25 research and professional development centers and a laboratory elementary school. The faculty, particularly those in education, are active in obtaining extramural funding, bringing in an average dollar per faculty member that is among the highest on the UCLA campus, excluding the health sciences.
UCLA is one of 10 campuses of the University of California, the states land-grant research university. UCLA is the most comprehensive, with a large College of Letters and Science, which enrolls most of the campuss undergraduates, and 11 professional schools (arts and architecture; education and information studies; engineering; law; management; public affairs; theater, film, and television; and the health sciences schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing, and public health). Founded in 1919, UCLA is a youngster among major American research universities.
UCLA is located in the city and county of Los Angeles, which are both large and extraordinarily diverse in terms of any population characteristic that one wishes to examine. According to information available on the U.S. Census Bureau Web site,1 the county had an estimated 9.9 million residents in 2003. In the 2000 census, 45% of the population identified as being of Hispanic/Latino background, 31% as White (not Hispanic/Latino), 12% as Asian, 10% as Black, and 1% as Native American. Among all residents, 36% were foreign born, and 18% were living below the poverty line. Among those aged 5 and older, 54% spoke a first language other than English. The city population of 3.7 million is similar to that of the county, with even higher percentages of people of color, foreign born, those living below the poverty line, and non-native English speakers. In Los Angeles and elsewhere throughout the state, our once-vaunted public K12 educational system is long gone, and educational achievement gaps between various subgroups are large and stubbornly resistant to narrowing. For UCLAs Department of Education, the nature of Los Angeles city and county is an important determinant of its intellectual and professional endeavors.
PURPOSES OF UCLAS RTG PROGRAM
UCLAs RTG program began with a focus on developing excellent education researchers in the areas of urban education and risk studies and on using multiyear fellowships to recruit high-quality students to the PhD program. The former goal remained constant throughout the life of the RTG program. The latter was amended after several years so that half of the new RTG students each year would be in their first year, and half in their second year. The RTG program operated as an add-on to the recently redesigned PhD program and itself reflected the planned emphasis on a mentoring/apprenticeship model for developing education researchers. When it came time to select RTG fellows, faculty were attentive to ensuring that the RTG program would include students from all subunits in the PhD program and a wide range of faculty advisers. These choices virtually guaranteed that the RTG program would engage students with diverse epistemologies, research methods, and cultures.
COMPONENTS OF UCLAS RTG PROGRAM
The Spencer RTG program was open only to PhD students in the Department of Education. Students could be in any one of the departments five divisions: Higher Education and Organizational Change (HEOC), Psychological Studies in Education (PSE), Social Research Methodology (SRM), Social Sciences and Comparative Education (SSCE), and Urban Schooling: Policy, Administration, Curriculum, and Teaching (US). Spencer Fellowships were awarded for 3 years. All fellows participated fully in the departments one PhD program, with variations determined by the students division and individual interests, andwhen actually receiving the fellowship fundingin all aspects of the RTG program as well.
In the departments PhD program, all students complete about 2 years of full-time coursework, a written (and sometimes also oral) qualifying examination, a preliminary oral examination focused on the written dissertation proposal, and a final oral examination on the completed dissertation. The normative time-to-degree is 5 years. UCLA is on a quarter system with three quarters in the academic year. All students must be enrolled full time. PhD coursework must be primarily in scholarly (as contrasted with professional) graduate-level courses. In addition to coursework in the students division and other education divisions, at least three courses must focus on quantitative and/or qualitative research methods and statistics, three on the divisions research practicum, and three on a cognate in another UCLA department that offers the PhD. Via the cognate and the requirement that at least one member of the dissertation committee be from another department, some of UCLAs rich intellectual resources are incorporated into the experiences of all education PhD students. Throughout the PhD program, students are expected to participate in the RAC described earlier.
The RTG program was guided and overseen by an all-faculty advisory committee that set policy, selected fellows, approved exceptions in fellows work, reviewed activities and fellows progress, and worked with faculty who led the seminar each year and faculty who, for a few years, led a special summer institute for students primarily from underrepresented groups who were interested in a PhD in education. For several years in the middle of the RTG programs life, a researcher specializing in higher education student development was engaged to work directly with RTG fellows and manage much of the operation of the program. Over the years, three different ladder faculty led the RTG seminar. They varied in their epistemologies, research methods, and focus on urban education or risk.
The RTG program deliberately focused on education research in a delimited intellectual area. In the initial application, this was described as the issues associated with at-risk children. This phrase was used to denote both contextual issues in urban education and young people with disabilities, or the constellation of issues associated with at-risk children, youth and families across urban educational settings, including higher education. Throughout the life of the Spencer RTG program at UCLA, at-risk or risk was very often the shorthand description of the intellectual focus. Over the years, there was increasing discomfort with the implications of using at-risk to refer to young people in urban educational settingsmost often people of color and lower socioeconomic status, often part of immigrant families with little command of English. In later years, the focus was described as issues relating to the educational experiences of Students of Color or of at-risk populations. This too was found problematic for various reasons, including the implications of using at-risk to refer to young people with special needs. At the time this article was written, as the RTG program entered its last year, there was still no agreed-on shorthand term(s), but participating students and faculty held fairly similar views of the focus. In this article, we will use the terms urban students of color and students with special needs to denote the populations whose educational issues were the focus of the UCLA program.
Although there were changes over the years that UCLA had a Spencer Foundation Institutional Research Training Grant, there were some prominent features that were evident for most or all of the grant period. The intellectual focus and the 3-year fellowship have already been described. The fellowship was used primarily to recruit applicants to UCLA. In the early years, all fellows in each cohort were first-year students. In later years, half of each cohort were first year and half were second year, a compromise that sought to continue to use the RTG fellowship for PhD student recruitment, to increase the information available for choosing the most appropriate PhD students for the RTG program, and to open competition for the fellowship to all interested first-year PhD students. Fellows were nominated by the divisions and selected by the faculty advisory committee so that each cohort reflected a mix of divisions (providing diversity with respect to intellectual focus and theoretical and methodological orientations) as well as diversity by gender, race, and ethnicity. There was also an effort to engage a diverse group of faculty advisers, each with a reputation for excellent research and student mentoring.
Over the years, each new Spencer Fellow cohort had an average of about six to eight members. Each fellow received 3 years of full funding for all education fees, any out-of-state tuition, and living expenses, as well as a small discretionary professional development fund. In the first year, fellows participated in a fall orientation to the Spencer RTG program. For all 3 years of the fellowship, they engaged in a 10-hour-a-week research apprenticeship with a faculty member of their choice and in a twice-monthly RTG seminar geared to their interests and needs. Fellows were encouraged to use the professional development fund to attend and present at conferences. Various exchanges, American Educational Research Association (AERA) get-togethers, and other networking opportunities were provided via small grants and other support from the Spencer Foundation to UCLA or another RTG institution. The seminar and several other Spencer RTG activities were open to PhD students other than the fellows, but in practice, these students rarely participated and probably were not often adequately informed about the opportunity.
Thus, during the period of the Spencer RTG at UCLA, all PhD students were engaged in a program that was intended to emphasize education research, mentoring, and apprenticeship learning in engagement with ladder faculty and in multiyear student research groups. It was a program in which faculty made an effort to implement in the PhD program their scholarly understandings of excellence in educational practice. In addition, Spencer Fellows experienced opportunities not readily available to other PhD students in the department. These included guaranteed comparatively large multiyear fellowships, extended cross-divisional experience and cohort building, consistent attention to and financial support for professional development, opportunities to network with Spencer RTG Fellows and faculty at other institutions, high expectations for research, presentations, and publishing as a graduate student and for subsequent employment as an education researcher, and association with the most consistent and prestigious funder of educational research and researchers, the Spencer Foundation.
ASSESSMENT OF UCLAS RTG PROGRAM
To learn more about the role of the Spencer RTG program in the education experiences and career paths of participating PhD students and in institutional changes, as well as to use the RTG experience as an aid in improving the program for all education PhD students, multiple approaches were employed. Information was collected about the performance and opinions of all 52 students in the first nine cohorts (9 years) of the UCLA RTG program. Following a value-added model, these students were also compared with a matched sample of other PhD students on a variety of performance and opinion measures. In addition, opinions about the RTG program itself and its implications for the PhD program were obtained from selected faculty.
SPENCER RTG STUDENT
Every PhD student (n = 52) who was awarded a Spencer Fellowship in Cohorts 19 participated in all aspects of the data gathering. Spencer Fellows who did not complete the RTG program or the PhD were included in the sample. At the time of participation, about 60% of the RTG student sample were in various phases of the PhD program, and about 40% were in the early phases of their post-PhD career. Spencer students were primarily female (75%). By their own description, nearly half (46%) were White, 23% were Latino/Chicano, 17% were African American, and 14% were Asian American. About half had a mother (56%) or father (58%) who had completed college or a graduate degree, and about a quarter had a mother (25%) or a father (29%) who had completed a high school education or less. Their mean GRE score was 1243 (SD = 201), and their mean undergraduate GPA was 3.3 (SD = 0.4).
About three quarters (73%) of the students were recipients of the Spencer RTG in their first year of the doctoral program, and all but one of the remainder in their second year. They came from all five divisions of the Department of Education: Higher Education and Organizational Change (19%), Psychological Studies in Education (31%), Social Research Methodology (17%), Social Sciences and Comparative Education (12%), and Urban Schooling (21%). Compared with the distribution of all PhD students across the five divisions, there was a somewhat larger proportion from Psychological Studies and Urban Schooling, because these divisions include emphases on urban students of color and students with special needs, the intellectual areas of the Spencer RTG program. Spencer students were advised by 28 different faculty, which is somewhat more than half of all education department faculty.
The 52 comparison students were selected to be as similar as possible to the Spencer students at the time each entered the PhD program. They were retained in the sample regardless of whether they subsequently withdrew from the PhD program. All comparison students we contacted agreed to participate in both phases of the data gathering. All completed the questionnaire; all but 2 completed the interview.
Comparison students were matched to the Spencer students on the following six characteristics: year of entry into the PhD program, education division, adviser, interest in a research career, race/ethnicity, and gender. Comparison students included those (n = 15) who were nominated by faculty for the Spencer RTG program but did not receive it (in general, all Spencer nominees were outstanding, and choices were made based on consideration of divisional and adviser representation and balance), and those (n = 5) who received a fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health Training Grant in Applied Human Development. For the remaining 32 comparison students, we asked faculty members who were advising or had advised Spencer students to recommend comparable advisees on entry to the PhD program (n = 16), the advisory committee also recommended comparable participants (n = 9), and the remaining comparable students (n = 7) were identified through a variety of other sources.
The process of matching on key characteristics was successful. Statistically, there were no significant differences between the Spencer students and the comparison students in the year of entry into the doctoral program, education division, race/ethnicity, or gender. Spencer and comparison students were also successfully matched across advisers. In nearly two thirds of the cases (64%), the selection process produced an equal number of Spencer and comparison students for a particular adviser. The remaining cases (36%) only differed by one in the number of Spencer and comparison students for each adviser.
There were also no statistically significant differences in several factors that are associated with educational attainment but were not used in the matching process. These included maternal and paternal education level and the mean GPA for undergraduate work. The one statistically significant difference (p < .05) was that the GRE scores of Spencer students (M = 1243, SD = 201) were higher than those of comparison students (M = 1154, SD = 151).
In consultation with the advisory committee, 14 people were identified for individual interviews. They spanned the existence of the RTG program at UCLA, from its inception through the ninth cohort. All those who had served as dean (3) or department chair (5) during the Spencer RTG program were included, with the exception of Dorr, as were all seminar leaders (3), the senior staff leader (1), faculty active in the advisory committee (10), and faculty active in the department and PhD education but never active in the RTG Program (3). Some faculty had served in more than one of these roles. Twelve made themselves available for interviews.
DATA SOURCES AND MEASURES
Research issues were identified from the goals identified in RTG proposals that UCLA submitted to the Spencer Foundation, factors that deans of academic units with a Spencer RTG identified as contributing to the successful development of the next generation of education researchers, and interests of the Spencer Foundation itself. The advisory committee participated in all aspects of the design and interpretation of the research.
Multiple data sources were developed. Institutional data included RTG proposals and annual reports, student records, PhD program requirements, and education department records.
A structured online questionnaire was used to collect student information on such items as funding, mentoring and advising, professional and career development activities, and current careers. The structure was virtually identical for Spencer and comparison students. Several iterations of the questionnaire were pilot-tested. The final version took about 10 minutes to complete. Questionnaire responses were automatically entered into a database for later analysis.
A qualitative individual interview gathered more descriptive information from each student about the range of topics covered in the questionnaire, as well as opinions on a variety of other topics, especially best practices. For many topics, both the questionnaire and interview distinguished between two periods: the years prior to the dissertation research (the focus for the RTG program), and the dissertation year(s). An interview protocol was developed. For each topic, open-ended questions were first asked, and then more specific questions and prompts as needed. The interviewer was free to follow up responses for clarification or interest, according to her judgment and knowledge of the goals of the evaluation. The interview structure was virtually identical for Spencer and comparison students. Some questions were specifically about the Spencer program for Spencer students, and more generic (but for the same point in time) for comparison students. Several iterations of the interview were pilot-tested. The interview took anywhere from about 30 to 90 minutes to complete, about 60 minutes on average. With one or two exceptions (interviewee request), each interview was audiotaped and then transcribed for subsequent analysis. In addition, the interviewer prepared summary notes on salient points soon after the interview was completed. Interview content was then characterized thematically.
Dissertation abstracts that were available online from Dissertation Abstracts International (DAI) were analyzed. Ten faculty members (two from each division, all of whom currently were or had once been on the advisory committee) were each asked to rate 17 or 18 randomly assigned and blinded dissertation abstracts (none from their own advisees) for the extent to which they reflect the scholarly focus of the UCLA Spencer RTG program, or rather the degree to which the dissertation focused on students with special needs or urban students of color. Each abstract received three reviews (each scored on a 6-point scale ranging from not at all to totally), and the three scores were averaged to produce a single score for each abstract. Faculty were provided with brief written instructions about the coding, but no training or sample coding was provided. In general, intercoder reliability was moderately good. Out of the 58 cases, 57% received exactly the same codes from at least two of the three reviewers, and 76% were all within one point of each other. Examination revealed no obvious differences in the coding of the abstracts by individual faculty member, nor by division of the faculty member.
Faculty opinions were obtained entirely from an individual qualitative interview. Four questions asked about the RTG programs impact on RTG fellows, non-RTG PhD students, the PhD program in general, and department faculty. Two asked about what could be learned in terms of best practices, what worked and what did not work. Last was an open invitation to offer other opinions about the RTG program. Questions were broadly framed, and the interviewer asked follow-up questions as needed. The interview lasted 1045 minutes; extensive notes were taken during the interview, and most were also audiotaped. Summary descriptions were created and illustrative quotes transcribed.
Student participants were initially contacted by e-mail. The purposes of the study were explained, and participation was sought. Participants were provided with an electronic link to the Web-based questionnaire and asked to submit a current curriculum vitae to the primary researcher (Arms). Those who responded by completing the questionnaire within a reasonable time were then contacted to schedule the interview. Those who did not respond within a reasonable time were again contacted by e-mail and then by telephone. In some cases, the current or former faculty adviser or the dean contacted the individual to encourage participation. These means yielded 100% participation. The questionnaire was the first phase of the research; the interview was the second phase. All interviews were conducted by Arms.
Almost all data had been gathered from the Spencer students before the comparison students were contacted. This choice allowed us to focus on obtaining the most important information, that for the Spencer students. It resulted, however, in data that reflect the fact that at the time of data gathering, the comparison students were 612 months further into the PhD program than were the Spencer students to whom they were matched by year of entry into the program. All participants were assigned a random number that was the only identifying information available to coders. The interview transcripts had all identifying information (e.g., student name, adviser name, division, dissertation title) removed. The very few students who were particularly concerned about what they had to say in the interview were given the opportunity to review the transcript or to ask that only summary points, which they reviewed, were used.
Faculty were contacted after all student data had been gathered and preliminary analyses had been completed and reported to the advisory committee. Each person was contacted by e-mail and/or telephone to explain the study and set up an interview. Repeated efforts were made. One female staff member conducted all interviews in person or by telephone.
Quantitative results were examined using simple frequencies or means and tested for statistical significance using chi-square tests of association and two-tailed t tests as appropriate. Qualitative results are presented by including specific student and faculty quotations or paraphrases to illustrate particular points. For each, the individual is identified by group, Spencer, comparison, or faculty, and within group by unique number. Tallies were also made of the number of Spencer students, comparison students, or faculty raising certain specific points. As needed, measures were adjusted to account for the students stage in the PhD program or subsequent career at the time data were collected. When sample size is small (e.g., students in the sixth or seventh year of the PhD program), no information is reported.
UCLAs findings are organized into sections addressing the four topicsepistemological diversity; apprenticeship, mentoring, and communities of practice; funding; and institutional changethat each institution was requested to cover in its article for this special issue of Teachers College Record. To set the stage, we provide information about the professional development and career path of RTG fellows and comparison students.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND CAREER PATH
Spencer students and comparison students progressed well through the PhD program and took professional positions afterward. Overall, they largely performed as one would hope for developing and early-career education researchers. With the exception of one or two from each group who withdrew from the PhD program, students successfully completed all the major milestones at or before the expected time. As students, they were active in attending and presenting at conferences, preparing research reports, and publishing in refereed journals, although one could argue about whether their conference participation and publication rates should have been greater. Their dissertation topics were somewhat reflective of the special foci of the Spencer RTG program, and following graduation, they embarked on professional careers that would use the knowledge, skills, and values developed during the PhD program. Spencer students were more likely than comparison students to hold positions in which research was a central activity. Both Spencer and comparison students believed that a broader range of career paths should have been promoted by the faculty and that more teaching experience was needed.
Spencer students made good progress through the three major milestones of the PhD program. Counting from entry into the PhD program, on average, Spencer students took 7.7 quarters (nearly 2 2/3 academic years) to pass the doctoral written qualifying examination taken after successful completion of all required courses, 10.4 quarters to pass the preliminary oral examination focused on the dissertation proposal, and 15.0 quarters (5 years) to complete the dissertation and earn the PhD. The comparison students took just a little longer on average to meet each milestone (8.0, 10.9, and 16.1, respectively), and differences were not significant. For the entire population of Education PhD students, however, the average time-to-degree during the same period was 2124 quarters, notably longer than that for either Spencer or comparison students.
In considering the professional performance and development of the Spencer students as researchers, we looked at their participation in conferences, writing papers for publication, and writing grants for extramural support. In the years prior to dissertation work, at least a majority of Spencer students reported attending AERA (69%) or another conference (79%), and presenting at AERA (52%) or another conference (69%). Attendance and presentation decreased somewhat (56% and 62% for attending, and 42% and 56% for presenting at AERA or another conference, respectively) during the time they were engaged in their dissertation work. In terms of writing papers for publication, 50%64% of Spencer students reported coauthoring at least one research paper with a UCLA faculty member, and about 20% with a scholar outside UCLA, during the predissertation and the dissertation phases. About 42% in each phase were successful in publishing manuscripts in peer-refereed journals. A substantial minority participated in grant writing, 36% in the predissertation period and 24% in the dissertation period; success rates were 33% and 22%, respectively. Figures for the comparison students are similar in every respect.
As described in the introduction, the UCLA Spencer RTG program consistently focused on urban students of color and on students with special needs. Spencer Fellows were chosen because they evidenced interest in either of these areas, and the Spencer seminar was intended to support development as a researcher in these areas. Most Spencer students chose their dissertation topic and methods after the period of active participation in the Spencer RTG program. Based on the averaged rating from three faculty members, the 21 dissertations of Spencer students were placed about midway between not at all (Score 1) and totally (Score 6) in terms of reflecting the scholarly focus of the UCLA Spencer RTG program (M = 2.9, SD = 1.3). The 37 dissertations of comparison students scored a little higher (M = 3.5, SD = 1.5) but were not significantly different from those of the Spencer students.
Students who had completed the PhD (or were close to completion and already employed in a professional position) were asked about their current employment and whether the position required them to conduct education research. As shown in Table 1, about equal percentages of Spencer and comparison students served as faculty in Research I or international institutions, researchers in academic institutions, postdoctoral fellows, and university administrators. Despite these similarities, when graduates who were still engaged in the field of education were categorized as holding positions in which substantial engagement in education research was (and was not) expected, there was a significant difference (p<.05), with 81% of the Spencer students and 55% of the comparison students in such positions soon after completion of the PhD.
Table 1. Current Employment Among Spencer and Comparison Students Who Had Completed the PhD Program (or Were Close to Completion and Employed in a Professional Position)
As Table 1 shows, about half of the Spencer students and two thirds of the comparison students held positions that involved teaching, yet about two thirds of each group reported that their adviser rarely or never offered these opportunities, and about 10% mentioned this lack in the interviews. A very few Spencer (4%) and some comparison (17%) students thought it important to expand students knowledge of positions other than faculty appointments. These opinions are clearly expressed in the following examples:
I wish we could get more teaching experience in the Department of Ed. Here we are in education, and we dont offer students a lot of experience teaching! I did TA one year. And when I was ABD, I co-taught a course with my adviser. (Comparison 87)
I was definitely prepared to be a researcher, but the teachinghow to give a lecture, organize a class, to advise studentshave all come since Ive been at [another institution as an assistant professor]. (Spencer 108)
I dont think the school is doing a very good job of addressing the interests of students who choose not to go into academia. Those students who dont go into academia are left floating. We need to know about alternate career paths. Maybe UCLA needs to collaborate with other entities off campus. I know some of the students in my cohort were not interested in an academic career, and that they would have liked more on the practical side of educational research. While I was interested in an academic career, these friends felt a little on the outskirts. (Spencer 113)
For most of the Spencer cohorts studied, the RTG program via the required 3-year, twice-a-month seminar was a unique opportunity to engage in sustained, supportive interactions with students whose interests, advisers, and divisions reflected quite diverse intellectual traditions of education research. Even when the department-wide core course for first-year PhD students was introduced about two thirds of the way through the RTG program, the Spencer RTG seminar experience provided much more sustained cross-divisional experience and provided it in an environment in which all students were treated to a much greater degree as belonging to one group, the Spencer RTG group. When interviewed about best practices, nearly two thirds (64%) of Spencer students reported a strong sense of collegiality, particularly across the departments five divisions, as among the best experiences at UCLA. Representative comments are as follows:
One thing that was nice was the collegiality that was built between Spencer fellows. It was one of the few places where you interacted with people across divisions. At the time, UCLA was very division-segregated. Those conversations with students later became connections. When I was on the job market, another Spencer from a different division called me to say that a school was interested in my work. Theres still a feeling of connectedness with Spencer people even if I dont keep track of everyone. (Spencer 121)
I expected UCLA to have a more complex and exciting graduate student life, but there was just one lounge with mailboxes and a kitchen. Spencer, however, allowed for the exchange of ideas. If I hadnt been a Spencer, I would never have known what people in other divisions were doing. That was a big thing, the exchange across divisions. (Spencer 108)
In stark contrast, just 8% of the comparison students identified a similar sense of collegiality across epistemological diversity, and 4% identified the lack of such experience as an area for improvement; for example,
Theres no interaction between the divisions. To me its common sense. I think the school needs to work on bringing people together. Spencer does a good job of that, but its something the department as a whole isnt doing. (Comparison 179)
I forget that there are other divisions in this school. I dont know who those people are. I think if there were more collaboration here it could be better. I need to know those people. Theres a real disconnect. (Comparison 115)
Despite students positive regard for substantive engagement across diverse intellectual traditions, a value shared by the education faculty, at least some Spencer students experienced strains that arose directly from the contact between the different traditions. Over the years, there were tensions among Spencer students based largely on whether their interest was in urban students of color or students with special needs, and whether their preferred research methodology was quantitative or qualitative. Some Spencer students noted some discrepancies between their interests and the conceptualizations of risk and/or research methods that were the focus of many of the Spencer seminars, exchanges, and other meetings. The nature of the discrepancy tended to vary according to the particular focus and research tradition of the faculty member leading the seminar; for example,
Voices from some divisions were honored more than others. Some people assumed that research meant just one thing, or that risk meant one thing. Other voices were not honored. (Spencer 85)
There was a lack of interest in some of the special needs stuff. At times, I felt sort of like an advocate. If we are talking about diversity of outcomes, diversity in developmental functions is important too. At times I felt a little bit on the margins of who this Spencer was geared towards. I think there was sort of a brushing aside of the special education people. There were two of us doing special education, and we had our voice occasionally. I never felt like nobody wanted us there, I just felt that they had to sort of redirect themselves towards us, Oh yeah, you guys. (Spencer 113)
APPRENTICESHIP, MENTORING, and COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE
As described earlier, the Spencer RTG program began just as the education department was implementing an apprenticeship/mentoring model for all PhD students. Parts of the model (e.g., the RACs) in effect involved developing communities of practice. Some divisions, Psychological Studies in Education, for example, required a 10-hour a week unpaid apprenticeship during the first year of the PhD program. The Spencer program required it for all 3 years of the Spencer Fellowship. Many paid Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) positions were available on externally funded projects managed by individual faculty or large centers, such as the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) or the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI). Students who had a paid apprenticeship (GSR) position worked part time (e.g., 1020 hours per week), were paid an hourly wage, had all education fees and any out-of-state tuition paid, and had health insurance covered. Spencer RTG Fellows were provided with a unique advantage in that their funding encouraged and allowed them to be selective about which research projects they worked on.
In interviews, fully 90% of Spencer Fellows reported gaining apprenticeship experience on faculty research projects. Those who did not elected to pursue their own interests with the engagement of a faculty sponsor. Several of the faculty believed that the research apprenticeship was an important part of the RTG program; for example,
I know that they were active in research and that there was really an effort to make sure that they had solid research experiences, were well connected with both faculty who were actively involved in research but also they would get good research experiences. (Faculty 1)
For those Spencer students who did apprentice, more than half reported frequently (top of 4-point scale) learning about the process of conceptualizing a research project, collecting/coding data, analyzing or interpreting data, and sharing this information through discourse with an academic audience. Fewer students, between about 30% and 50%, reported frequently learning about developing measures to use in research, gaining access to research sites, and writing for an academic audience. There was a sizable minority who reported never or rarely engaging (bottom two of 4-point scale) in certain activities during the apprenticeship itself. About 15% reported never or rarely analyzing and interpreting data or conceptualizing research. About a quarter to a third reported never or rarely developing measures, writing for an academic audience, or accessing research sites. For comparison students, nearly as many (78%) reported gaining apprenticeship research experience on faculty research projects, and their experiences were similar to those of Spencer Fellows.
In interviews, Spencer and comparison students offered many examples of the positive learning opportunities that apprenticeship research positions provided. About half of both groups described the opportunity to learn all stages of the research process during an apprenticed relationshipthe nitty-gritty skills, as several termed itas an extremely valuable experience; for example,
I worked on three different projects [while at UCLA], and I worked really hard with data collection, analysis, writing, presenting. I learned the whole gamut of research skills that helped me become a researcher. The training was about as good as you can get. (Spencer 19)
I got to see the entire process. From general ideas, how to form a research question, how to design a study, funding to carry it out, how do you manage data analysis, present at national conferences, and how do you publish using the data. Not everybody gets to see that. (Comparison 58)
As was found for apprenticeship experiences, mentoring was prevalent and valued. In interviews, fully 92% of Spencer students and 88% of comparison students said they were mentored well or very well by their adviser or another person, usually a faculty member, who served as their mentor; for example,
I would say that I was mentored well. I feel prepared to think as a researcher, to become part of a research community, to do the things you need to do like pursuing small grants, researching, trying to get things published. (Spencer 36)
I think a good mentor makes all the difference in the world. Its the mentor that makes the difference, not the money. You can have all the money in the world, but if you dont have a good adviser who supports your work, forget it. (Comparison 87)
In both the questionnaire and interview, participants were asked about the frequency of meetings with the adviser/mentor and the kinds of activities that took place. For each of the first 5 years of the PhD program, when there are enough students to produce reasonable estimates, about 40%45% of Spencer students reported meeting weekly with their advisers/mentors. About 35% met once or twice a month in the first year, and an increasingly greater percentage did so the second, third, and fourth years, but only about 20% did so in the fifth year. The remaining Spencer students met at least once a quarter with their advisers/mentors. For comparison students, the pattern of meetings over the first 5 years of the program was quite similar.
By far the predominant activity with ones adviser/mentor was focused around research. About 75% of Spencer students indicated frequently discussing the process of conducting research, and about 40% indicated frequently collaborating on an agenda or timeline for research. In interviews, about a quarter indicated that talking about research or writing was the primary activity with their advisers/mentors and the thing they spent the most time on. Other activities included discussing course schedules and career recommendations, being offered teaching opportunities, and having grant opportunities suggested to them. In the interviews, 60% of the Spencer students reported receiving career recommendations or job search advice from their advisers/mentors. Comparison students experiences with their advisers/mentors were quite similar, with one exception: Many more (64% vs. 29%) reported in the interview that discussing research was the primary activity in their meetings. There were a few activities that some Spencer and comparison students reported never doing with their advisers/mentors: discussing course schedules (about 8% each), receiving career recommendations and advice (14%), and learning about grant opportunities (27%). The most notable absence, which was also brought up in the interviews, was never receiving an offer from their advisers for teaching opportunities (39% Spencer, 30% comparison).
In addition to faculty, student members of the RAC were important sources of mentoring. RAC members represented different points in the PhD program and offered the variety of expertise that one might expect in any such student group. As one comparison student noted, We meet in RAC every other week where we talk about AERA, job talks, big papers. The research group is there to give feedback. So, Im not only learning from my adviser, but from the older students as well (Comparison 63).
Spencer Fellows who reported strong mentoring occurring in the Spencer seminar mentioned activities such as faculty panel discussions, professional development activities, and working in small multiyear peer groups on their writing. Two Spencer students had the following to say:
The Spencer seminar was really valuable. We got exposure to faculty from all divisions, we shared research interests with each other, and got feedback from faculty. Also, it was really great to be exposed to second- and third-year students. (Spencer 160)
One of the benefits of Spencer is its strong community; listening to more advanced students talk about the dissertation, jobs, all stages of scholarship is invaluable. (Spencer 159)
Many Spencer (31%) and comparison (50%) students reported serving themselves as mentors to other students. This opportunity not only benefits the mentored student, but it also benefits the mentoring student by promoting his or her learning, as well as teaching ability. The mutual benefits to mentor and mentee were among the reasons for establishing the RAC (students at all stages, usually of one faculty adviser) as a requirement for all students throughout their time in the PhD program, and for creating the Spencer seminar, again as a group of all current Spencer Fellows and hence students spanning the first 3 or 4 years of the PhD program. Students reported mentoring other students in the RAC and also in projects they were working on with their adviser or other faculty, as well as in the Spencer seminar; for example,
I supervised four to six other graduate student researchers for an evaluation I worked on. I mentored them in collecting and analyzing data, and writing up the results. It spilled over into how to write a dissertation proposal and everything along the way. (Spencer 51)
I mentored one masters student on conducting the curriculum part of an evaluation we were working on. In several other cases, I informally mentored other graduate student researchers on how to use statistics programs, and have spent a lot of time training several undergraduates on the process of coding data. (Comparison 157)
Communities of practice
When students were asked in interviews to identify best practices, both Spencer and comparison students described a variety of practices that create a community of education researchers. Just over 80% of Spencer students named the Spencer seminar as a best practice of the UCLA RTG program. Fellows reported that the seminar fostered a community of scholars who met regularly and were committed to educational research about urban students of color and/or students with special needs. Among comparison students, 52% identified the RAC (all PhD students working with one faculty member), and 20% identified the Research Practicum yearlong course (all PhD students in the same division and same year in the program) as best practices that provided a similar sense of community; for example,
RAC was pretty good for me. We could discuss papers on our topic, theories that are applicable. Thats the one place where I felt I had community. (Comparison 56)
RAC was really good; it really worked. It was a forum for our cohort to build relationships. (Comparison 7)
I thought the 299 research practicum course was great. Talking about the research process with faculty and peers gives you a circle of peers to talk about research. We gave feedback to one another. In fact, I am suggesting it at my current university [where she is now a faculty member]. (Comparison 72)
Many Spencer students also found a national Spencer network that they believed had enduring value. They reported that their participation in Spencer exchanges at other institutions (i.e., Penn and Northwestern), as well as their attendance at Spencer-sponsored AERA events, were especially powerful experiences in which they were able to network with preeminent people in the field of education and with students who would become their colleagues and competitors in the field. Several Spencer students who had completed the PhD voiced that they still feel part of the Spencer network. They keep in touch with other fellows from their cohort, or with people they met at Spencer exchanges or AERA events who have similar research interests.
The majority of the faculty members interviewed (n = 7), including 5 who had contact with the Spencer program in its later years, viewed the seminar as a positive experience for Spencer students. One member discussed the new intellectual space created by the seminar and how students could explore in greater depth issues that they might not have otherwise encountered.
One of the better parts of this project is the seminar, because I think the seminarI mean this is what Ive heard from my studentsthat it gives them a space to talk frankly about some issues that they need to talk aboutabout research, about career, about otherwhat some people might call socialization issues within our program. (Faculty 10)
Four faculty also saw the network formed across divisions through the seminar and the community it created as beneficial to students. Possibly because students generally take classes within their own divisions, such collaborations did not often take place during regular coursework.
This is probably most fundamental: they have become part of another community which creates a network of support. They, beyond that seminar, they use each other as resources, theyll shout out to who can help with this, and we have a reference here, or. . . . So I think that theyve created the kind of network that I think we want them to have as professionals. (Faculty 7)
The Department of Education at UCLA offers an attractive PhD program but limited financial support. Most doctoral students receive financial support from a variety of sources, but many are limited in dollar value, a quarter to a year in duration, and/or tied to research or teaching that is not closely linked to the students scholarly development needs or intellectual interests; many must be obtained after one enters the doctoral program. In contrast to some other well-funded institutions in the RTG program, UCLA chose to use most of its RTG funds to offer 3-year fellowships that covered all fees, provided a living stipend, financed professional growth activities, and offered maximum flexibility in research apprenticeship experiences. It was the only source of multiyear support in the department, although the university offered a few such fellowships in conjunction with recruiting underrepresented minorities. The Spencer RTG was an important factor in attracting to UCLA the high-caliber students who often weigh financial support with departmental reputation. The support also provided flexibility in terms of work and conveyed a degree of prestige (and obligation) to the recipient.
UCLA chooses to invest in first-year fellowships both to enhance recruitment and to provide new students with an easier first year and opportunities to establish meaningful funding in succeeding years. Consequently, Spencer and comparison students were equally likely to have fellowship support their first year, although Spencer students were likely to have more extensive support. According to survey data, 73% of the Spencer students were offered the RTG fellowship when admission to the PhD program was offered. About 4 of every 5 (82%) said that the fellowship offer influenced their decision to attend the UCLA program, and 1 in every 3 (33%) said it was the main reason they chose to attend UCLA. Among comparison students who reported having a significant fellowship (n = 35), a significantly lower percentage (60%) reported that it influenced their decision to attend UCLA (p < .05), and a somewhat smaller percentage (23.7%) reported that it was the primary reason (difference was not significant).
Sources of support other than the Spencer Fellowship included merit-based internal and external scholarships and fellowships, tuition remission and stipend from GSR or graduate student instructor (GSI) positions on campus, and sometimes loans. During the first 4 years of the PhD program, 94%100% of Spencer students reported having some funding. For each of those years, a somewhat smaller percentage (84%96%) of comparison students reported having some funding. Only during the second year were Spencer students (100%) significantly more likely than comparison students (88%) to report any funding (p < .05). In the fifth year, when no student would have been receiving a Spencer RTG Fellowship, about two thirds of both groups had some funding (78% Spencer and 80% comparison).
Despite the comparable percentage of students with any funding for each of the first 5 years of the PhD program, the type of funding was different. A larger percentage of Spencer students had fellowships (significantly more for the second, third, and fourth years), and a smaller percentage worked in GSR or GSI positions (significantly fewer for the first, second, and third years). Overall, at least half the comparison students and fewer than half of the Spencer students held GSR or GSI positions during the first 5 years of the PhD program. Many GSR positions were with students advisers, and so comparison students often worked side by side with Spencer students. In the interviews, when asked if they had ever received a substantial fellowship, nearly 60% (31) of the comparison students replied that they had. Each of these fellowships provided a level of support comparable with that of the Spencer RTG program; however, it was typically only for 1 year and did not have the variety of other activities nor an active cohort associated with it.
Sources of support during the dissertation year were examined separately. The dissertation year was typically the fourth or fifth year, and in rare cases, the third, sixth, or seventh. During this crucial year, 15%20% of both Spencer and comparison students received a fellowship from outside UCLA. One Spencer and one comparison student received Spencer dissertation awards. Both Spencer and comparison students relied heavily on fellowship support from within UCLA (35% and 26%, respectively) and GSR/GSI positions were also a common means of support (32% and 45%, respectively). Only 5 Spencer and 5 comparison students (or about 13% of each group) said they received no funding during their dissertation phase.
During the interviews, Spencer students offered many comments about the attractions and value of the Spencer Fellowship. The majority (54%) spoke of the freedom that the fellowship allowed them, providing the opportunity to gain valuable research apprenticeship experience regardless of whether the work would be compensated. As one student (Spencer 127) said, [With Spencer] I was able to work on only projects I was interested in. And have the freedom to be shaped as an educational researcher, not as a researcher who is tied to funding concerns. So, that was huge. No Spencer student described worrying about finding support, scrambling or hustling for a research position, nor having apprenticeship work interfere with her or his own intellectual development and progress toward completion of the degree. In contrast, 16% of the comparison students did: It seemed like every year I had to piece together support. I didnt know year to year what to expect. One year I didnt get anything. My last year I was a GSR. It was frustrating (Comparison 58).
Faculty believed that the funding package had a major impact on Spencer students. Three quarters mentioned the financial award as either a notable recruitment tool or as beneficial to the Spencer students throughout their graduate careers. Several noted the benefits of the multiyear package as well. Faculty 7 is representative: Having the luxury of that kind of funding just relieves so much more pressure from them . . . financially, theres just no question. Including the trips, you know, some assistance with trips and the stipendits the kind of thing every student should have. Two recognized that the Spencer RTG program indirectly helped to support other PhD students; for example, one said, Theres a substantial amount of funding thats available through this grant. Thats freed up money to fund other students, so thats certainly been a positive impact, just to increase the amount of resources available overall (Faculty 1).
Several Spencer students (15%) mentioned that the Spencer Fellowship offer was a major attraction not only because it provided essential financial support, a finding from the questionnaire, but also because the UCLA program focus was a good fit with their interests. A few (8%) mentioned that the benefits extended to their personal lives or sense of competence and value. And 2 (4%) described the sense of privilege that the fellowship conveyed. Three faculty also mentioned the prestige factor as a positive feature of the RTG program, and one mentioned it as a negative feature. The following presents examples of student perspective on each of these points:
If it wasnt for Spencer, I wouldnt have come to UCLA. I had an offer from Berkeley and a sizeable fellowship, and I was living in the Bay Area, so it would have been very convenient to stay there and go to Berkeley. The Spencer Fellowship was much more appropriate to my interests, though, because the only kind of evaluations Ill take on are those looking at at-risk populations. Id been working with at-risk populations for 8 years before I went to grad school. So it was a perfect fit. (Spencer 51)
On a personal level, Spencer was a huge confidence builder. I kept thinking someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and say, Im sorry, you dont belong here. It helped me cement my place in this field and helped me become a confident and contributing scholar. It allowed me to become more comfortable in my place here. (Spencer 110)
Students who get that extra support are much more competitive with students who come out of other universities. For example, at Stanford, all the students are fully funded. Having the Spencer allowed me, coming from a public school, to compete with those from Stanford or Harvard. (Spencer 121)
Both Spencer and comparison students reported in interviews how important it was to them that they felt encouraged and supported to attend conferences. Some Spencer students (14%) specifically mentioned and appreciated the Spencer Foundations financial support of their conference travel, and a smaller percentage (8%), the extra networking opportunities afforded them. About a quarter (26%) of the comparison students noted encouragement and support from the faculty and department.
I think its really good how the department pushes you to go to AERA. They help financially. This is a good practice. (Comparison 87)
[At the AERA Spencer Breakfast meeting] I got to meet a lot of people, big name professors from Penn, Harvard, Wisconsin. The best part was meeting other grad students from other schools, getting real with them. (Spencer 135)
[Spencer] has encouraged me to attend conferences. It pays for the plane ticket and research materials. Thats been really helpful, to just do things that I couldnt really afford. (Spencer 178)
Probably the most frequently identified problem area related to the Spencer RTG program was the funding and opportunities it provided, compared with what was generally available in the department, and the limited number of students selected to participate in it, as well as lack of knowledge about the selection criteria and process. A notable proportion of Spencer (19.2%) and comparison (28.0%) students specifically reported feeling uncomfortable with the privilege that was afforded Spencer students and the tension it created among students in the department. Students were confused about the criteria for being a recipient of the fellowship, suspected bias in allocation of the fellowship based on how proactive the adviser was, and suggested greater transparency in the process of allocating the Spencer Fellowships. These sentiments are clearly expressed in the following quotations:
Being a Spencer was like being in the GATE [gifted and talented] program at first. It sets up a status differential, which was a little bit uncomfortable. For example, I think most people thought that the seminar was positive, but that everybody [in the PhD program] should get that experience. I was uncomfortable with the sense of privilege. It seemed to be contrary to UCLAs focus on social justice; it felt contrary to what we were trying to do. (Spencer 16)
Overall, it was a great surprise to get the Spencer. I dont know how I was selected. UCLA should consider how they give the Spencer, and it should be public what the requirements are. The perception was that people who received Spencer fellowships had advisers who spoke the loudest. They need equity and consistency. (Spencer 85)
Spencer is perceived as a club that differentiates them from us. I didnt buy into that, but I was close to 2 Spencers and it did foster a sense of privilege, almost like tracking. It meant more opportunities for them, more attention to grooming them for academia. It does a good job, but it does feel like an elite club. (Comparison 141)
At UCLA, institutional changes occurred over the lifetime of the RTG program. One was in the RTG program itself: In later years, half of each cohort was selected from first-year students, all of whom had been informed about the program criteria and activities and how to apply for the program. This effort to open up and explain the opportunity structure carried over into the departments approach to awarding other fellowships and awards.
Another change, a concerted effort to establish multiyear support packages for student recruitment, is directly attributable to the RTG program. Education faculty have always understood that increased amounts of student support, promised at admission and spanning several years, were important recruitment tools, but they were reluctant to create such packages because they required commitment of their future resources. The high percentage of Spencer students who said the fellowship determined their choice of UCLA, as reported earlier, led the dean to establish several 3-year support packages involving first-year fellowships from donor funds; a second or third year of GSR, GSI, or other support from the recipients division; and the other year again a fellowship from donor funds. The packages do not have the cachet of the Spencer Foundation, nor are there as yet as many in a given year, but they mark the beginning of an important effort that was occasioned entirely by the results of the Spencer RTG evaluation.
The RTG program also enhanced, if it did not directly cause, a variety of efforts to increase mentoring of doctoral students and to provide more experiences across methodological and epistemological divisions. Seven faculty mentioned how the RTG program had influenced mentorship either for students without Spencer fellowships or within the PhD program in general. Two also noted that the RTG influenced faculty and student conversations regarding the types of methodologies with which education researchers should be familiar. These points are illustrated in the following comments:
I see [RACs] as an outgrowth of that, if not the program itself, at least the planning that led up to the program. (Faculty 12)
I think that the increased discussions about research methodology have been in part promoted by the presence of the Spencer grant. (Faculty 1)
As described earlier, both Spencer students and faculty found the seminar to be a place in which diverse research traditions and epistemologies were encountered and generally embraced. For PhD students in the early days of the RTG program, the seminar was the only place. Later, there were at least two other mechanisms. One was that PhD students could satisfy the methods requirement with a combination of both quantitative and qualitative courses, not just one or the other. The other was a required core course that brought together all first-year PhD students for both inter- and intradivisional learning experiences. The Spencer seminar was definitely a forerunner of both of these innovations. Moreover, the Spencer RTG Advisory Committee brought together faculty from all five divisions several times a year to consider what the Spencer program was doing, how it was working, and what to do next. It seems likely that faculty experiences in the advisory committee and reports from seminar leaders and RTG students about the seminar provided some of the motivation for these two institutional changes.
During the period of the RTG program, we have been developing teaching positions as a result of enlarging the undergraduate minor in education. In addition, a faculty member who is a superb teacher and concerned about graduate student development has, for the last few years, offered a short course on teaching that many graduate students have taken and benefited from. The course was first offered soon after she began to lead the RTG seminar, an environment in which student development and preparation for academic careers are emphasized and in which students play a strong role in determining their activities.
Finally, given the particular focus of the UCLA RTG program and the effective recruitment that the fellowship provided, the RTG program brought into the doctoral program strong students interested in scholarship about urban students of color and students with special needs. Somewhat more than half the RTG fellows were themselves students of color. Over the years, these students and the seminar have strengthened and increased UCLAs work in this area, particularly examination of educational issues for urban students of color. The RTG program has also increased the racial and ethnic diversity of the doctoral students. These changes have been incremental and only become noticeable when considered over the life of the RTG program.
The Spencer RTG program has been a boon to UCLA and its education PhD students. The multiyear Spencer RTG Fellowships were instrumental in recruiting highly attractive students and providing them with support that greatly enhanced their opportunities and inclinations to develop as education researchers. The program enhanced departmental efforts to use an apprenticeship/mentoring model of student development and spurred institutional changes that increased students engagement across epistemological and methodological boundaries. In some areas, it accomplished less than we envisioned in the first application to the Spencer Foundation, but overall, it accomplished much more. Moreover, it provided usvia the program itself and via the evaluation of itwith useful guidance and cautions, as well as new questions, as we seek to prepare high-quality education researchers in our PhD program.
We have seen that the apprenticeship/mentoring model is an effective and valued approach to developing education researchers. Nearly all students were positive about this approach and viewed it as an effective means of learning how to carry out all aspects of education research and succeed professionally as an education researcher. Most identified productive relationships with their adviser or another faculty member as important to their development as researchers. The RTG program provided exceptional opportunities and impetus for learning via apprenticeship and mentoring, and for doing so in the areas and with the faculty most relevant to the Spencer students particular interests and needs. The success of this model clearly depends on active engagement by ladder faculty to ensure that every student is effectively engaged in the apprenticed learning that she or he needs. Ladder faculty are the models, inspirers, implementers, resources, and resource developers for every PhD program. It is important that the faculty see themselves in these roles and actively pursue them.
We have also seen that it is important to students development as education researchers to create the sense that they belong to a community of scholars, which can be achieved by a variety of means. During the more than 10 years covered in this research, the research practicum course (ED299), the Research Apprenticeship Course (RAC), and the Spencer seminar were the three main vehicles for creating a community of student scholars. In addition, some students participated in ongoing research groups organized around a particular project, some created their own dissertation groups and study groups, and a few created writing groups. For any of these groups to work well, students must find a basis of shared interests and goals and meet regularly over a sustained period of time. Faculty involvement is desirable but not always necessary. To the extent that one wants to guarantee that students are likely to become engaged in a community of scholars, at least one good vehicle must be required, and faculty need to be vigilant to see that the vehicle is operating well and that all students are participating. Groups that incorporate students in many, if not all, phases of the PhD program seem especially useful to creating a community of scholars. The evaluation suggested that the Spencer seminar, for Spencer students, and the RACs, for both Spencer and comparison students, were especially effective means of creating a community of scholars.
Ultimately, ones community of practice includes colleagues from across the country and around the world. The RTG program provided Spencer students with well-defined opportunitiesexchanges, conferences, and special AERA functionsto meet and get to know PhD students from other RTG institutions, which are among the best education research institutions in the country, and to access faculty who shared their research interests. Spencer students consistently identified these opportunities, the information gained, and the networks created as a valuable part of the Spencer RTG program.
In participating in the Spencer seminar, students came from all five department divisions and became intimately engaged with the diverse intellectual traditions of education research. They, in the presence of that experience, and comparison students, in the absence of that experience, identified it as highly desirable. In the latter third of the RTG program, the department established the cross-divisional core course for all first-year PhD students. Both the core course and the Spencer seminar experienced strains that arose directly from the contact between different traditions. Tension and disagreement are not in themselves bad and can be part of very productive processes of coming to understand both ones own research approach and those of others. In bringing adherents of and aspirers to different intellectual traditions together, special efforts need to be made to consistently communicate and expect from all participants respect for each traditions strengths, as well as acknowledgment of its particular challenges. Without a doubt, an ecumenical faculty leader with great skill as a facilitator is a must if these highly desirable engagements across diverse intellectual traditions are to be successful for all concerned.
When the Spencer RTG program was first proposed, we believed that it would increase the pace at which students finished the PhD program and increase professional activities such as attending conferences, presenting at conferences, and publishing. The Spencer program improved time-to-degree, but it is debatable whether time-to-degree has improved as much or as consistently across Spencer students as one could reasonably want or expect. It is also debatable whether Spencer students should have attended and presented at conferences and published research to a greater degree than they did. What percentage is a reasonable target? We could not find benchmarks to guide us; advisory committee members argued among themselves about reasonable expectations. We had viewed the Spencer program, with its ample funding, 3 active years, and close cohort of achievers, as likely to influence timeliness, conference engagement, and research publishing, and we emphasized all three within the seminar and in written communications. Clearly some good things happened in these areas, and Spencer students recognized our valuing of them. We will need more investigation to decide what to make of how Spencer students performed and what to do next to influence student performance in these areas.
We need do nothing more to recognize the value of the funding provided via the Spencer Fellowship. Both Spencer and comparison students told us that the funding offer received with the admission letter made a big difference in their decision to attend UCLA, especially when the Spencer Fellowship was offered. Once at UCLA, the comparatively high funding level for Spencer provided students with a valued flexibility in arranging research apprenticeship positions that met their intellectual interests and needs without regard for remuneration. This is, of course, highly desirable. However, many students will be supported as research assistants, and such positions can be superb apprenticeship opportunities. As both Spencer and comparison students told us, it is therefore important to develop many different positions so that every research assistant can obtain funding that both meets financial needs and also supports development in the research methods and topics of interest to the student. In addition, funding opportunities that provide teaching experience should be part of the packages available to all PhD students.
In considering the implications of findings about the Spencer students and how they relate to those of the comparison students, it must be kept in mind that both sets of students were in the same PhD program and that neither set is representative. They are neither a random nor a stratified sample of UCLA education PhD students. Both the Spencer and comparison students were likely to be among the more promising, better advised, and more research-oriented of the students in the PhD program. A higher percentage of them are students of color. In addition, we were not able to identify a feasible means of assessing the quality of the education research that Spencer and comparison students carried out, and important, useful aspects of the Spencer RTG program (e.g., activities for deans, department chairs, and ladder faculty) have not been considered in the work reported here.
It is also important to realize that individual research participants were part of the PhD program and the Spencer program at a particular point in time in the decade-plus spanned by the full sample. During these years, there were changes in department and school leadership, ladder faculty, Spencer program leadership, PhD program offerings and requirements, Spencer program offerings and requirements, the field of education, education research, and so on. We have been mindful of these changes while handling and interpreting data and results, but in some ways, one cannot fully account for the complexity that changes with time create. In this vein, we note that some criticisms reported in the results were about matters that had already been addressed at the time that the evaluation was carried out. Other criticisms or negative findings with implications for the PhD program are being shared with the education department chair, Spencer Advisory Committee, and other education faculty who will consider how best to address them.
Finally, throughout the research, we have been aware of the multiplicity of individual, programmatic, and environmental factors operating to produce the educational experiences of the Spencer and comparison students, and their performance as graduate students and subsequently as education professionals. Mixed methods and multiple data sources were used in an effort to develop meaningful understandings of what happened and why. Our challenge was like that of any education researcher studying innovation and achievement in real-life schools. Generalizations presented here neaten up reality; our goal has been to do so without losing sight of the complexity and contextualized nature of education and achievement in graduate school and beyond. Taking everything into account, the Spencer RTG program has made an important difference in the lives of the Spencer students and in the life of the department. Moreover, it has changed or contributed to changing the department and enhanced faculty understanding of the characteristics of an excellent PhD program for education researchers.
The authors wish to acknowledge the thoughtful contributions of the student and faculty participants in this evaluation, the UCLA education faculty who rated the dissertation abstracts, and the Spencer RTG Advisory Committee who advised at every step of the evaluation. We are also grateful to Monica Gilchrist, who conducted the faculty interviews, and to Gregory D. Stevens and Linda Kao, each of whom carried out data analysis and prepared drafts for particular parts of the evaluation. In addition, many conversations among the leaders of the Spencer Foundation and of the academic units receiving Spencer Foundation Research Training Grants enhanced and clarified our thinking about what to assess at UCLA and how to do it. Finally, UCLA faculty and students are profoundly grateful to the Spencer Foundation for the generous support it has provided to help develop the next generation of education researchers and to the ancillary support that it has provided faculty and institutional leaders in their efforts to do so.
1 See http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/06037.html