The Spencer Research Training Grant at the Penn Graduate School of Education: Implementation and Effects
by Thomas A. Kecskemethy - 2008
Background/Context: The Research Training Grant (RTG) program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education aimed to create strong research training experiences for predissertation fellows through generous financial aid, mentored research apprenticeships, and cocurricular experiences. Collectively these offerings sought to broaden knowledge of urban education and exposure to diverse research methods. Initiated in a context of significant institutional growth and change, the RTG also sought to improve the research training experiences of PhD students outside the RTG program, making broader discussions of urban education, educational research, and social research more integral to the general PhD student experience and to the life of the school. This was attempted with the launch of a schoolwide seminar series on educational research, the introduction of an annual student research symposium administered by the RTG fellows, and continuing faculty attention to policies affecting doctoral student mentoring and research training.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The article describes the aims and organization of the program and discusses strengths and challenges identified by students and faculty.
Research Design: This is a qualitative case study.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The operation of the RTG program at Penn offers several insights into how education schools might get the most out of their investments in doctoral students and doctoral education: (1) Its support of rigorous, discipline-based research training complemented by opportunities for interdisciplinary exposure seems to be important. Further, such initiatives are systematically supported with investments by the faculty and the administration. (2) The opportunity for students to approach research and problems of practice from multiple disciplinary perspectives was a significant perceived benefit of the RTG program’s operation at Penn. (3) A flexible model of research apprenticeship, creative seminars, and symposia all helped to illuminate the strengths and limitations of discipline-based research. (4) Penn GSE PhD students who engaged in discussions that promoted epistemological diversity were better off for it. This sort of work is unlikely to occur at the level of the individual degree program, so engagement and support from the whole faculty are implied. (5) “Institutionalizing” these sorts of experiences and opportunities for students may mean consideration of structures and supports for doctoral student training that are unconventional, multidisciplinary, and collaborative.
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