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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