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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.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 7, 2008, p. 1424-1457
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14887, Date Accessed: 10/24/2017 3:42:47 AM

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About the Author
  • Aimée Dorr
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    AIMÉE DORR is professor of education and dean of the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. As dean, her interests include access and diversity in higher education and student, faculty, and organizational development. Her own research focuses on the roles of electronic media in young people’s learning and development, integration of media and technology into K–12 education, and media literacy. A representative coauthored publication is “Parenting in a Multi-Media Society,” a chapter in Handbook of Parenting, Vol. V: Practical Issues in Parenting (Marc Bornstein, ed.), Erlbaum, 2002.
  • Emily Arms
    University of Southern California
    EMILY ARMS is an adjunct assistant professor at the Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California. Prior to that, she was a classroom teacher and later an assistant professor at Loyola Marymount University, where she taught in both the master of arts and doctoral programs in the School of Education. Her areas of interest include standards-based curriculum and gender equity in education Her most recent publication is “Gender Equity in Coeducational and Single-Sex Classrooms,” a chapter in The Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity through Education (Sue Klein ed.), Erlbaum, 2007.
  • Valerie Hall
    University of California, Irvine
    VALERIE HALL is an associate research specialist in the Department of Education, University of California, Irvine. An experienced teacher educator and curriculum developer, she is currently working with the Technology, Out-of-School Learning and Human Development Project in an evaluation of an afterschool program for diverse children from low-income families. Her areas of interest include digital learning and factors influencing K–12 technology use. She coauthored “Educating for Technology Use by Students and Teachers: Inservice Teachers’ Actual and Preservice Teachers’ Proposed Technology Use in Urban Schools Serving Low Income Families,” presented at the American Psychological Association meeting in 2006.
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