Alternative Summer Experiences

I have been very fortunate during my graduate school years to explore alternative options for my summers besides remaining in the research lab, working on my thesis, and teaching summer courses. These experiences have allowed me to develop skills and to network with people I would not have had access to otherwise.  I spent two summers on these “alternative” options taking a break from teaching and research.

The first type of alternative summer was early in my graduate career when I attended a course at the Marine Biological Laboratory or MBL in Woods Hole, MA.   Woods Hole is where famous life scientists go to play, learn, and teach the next generations of scientists during the summer break.  The Woods Hole website calls it “a salty sea spray village that brings the Nobel Laureate and the fisherman together in harmony.”  Of the several courses offered at the MBL, I was lucky enough to be admitted into the Microbial Diversity Course, a 6.5 week intensive crash course on all things microbiological.  We spent the first few weeks attending morning lectures followed by exploration of local fresh and saltwater marshes, bogs, and streams in an attempt to culture the various resident microorganisms.  The second half of the course was spent developing individual mini projects and additional instruction by world-renowned scientists.  However, it was not all work and no play as the scientists and students would mingle at the local beaches and bars in the afternoons and evenings.  I was also able to visit Martha’s Vineyard and go whale watching off the Cape Cod Coast.  This course and courses like it give students the opportunity to interact with other students and scientists from around the world, greatly enriching our scientific development in ways that are not possible if we do not venture off-campus.

This past summer I decided to experience something completely different from the normal bench work associated with microbiology.  I applied and was accepted to the U.S. Department of State’s Internship Program as a Student Intern.  I was placed in the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary (STAS) in Washington, DC for a 10 -week period.  In this office I was surrounded by science PhDs who were using their knowledge to further U.S. international relations in regards to science policy and science diplomacy.  My responsibilities included drafting talking points, updating program information, and initiating a memorandum of understanding between State and a non-governmental entity.  I was free to attend numerous meetings, seminars and lectures within the State department and the surrounding DC area that caught my interest.  I worked on one initiative, the NeXXt Scholars Program and a research project on the Benefits of International Research Collaboration.  The NeXXt Scholars Program was initiated to increase the number of women from Muslim majority countries coming to the U.S. to pursue undergraduate degrees in STEM fields.  This was achieved by partnering with New York Academy of Sciences and U.S. women’s colleges.  Rutgers Douglass Residential College is one of the 38 women’s colleges that participates in the program.  During this internship I was learning how to apply the professional skills I was developing during my PhD training such as project management, organization, communication, and writing.  I learned how important it is to convey an overview of information in a clear and succinct manner, very different from the more in-depth analysis that graduate students do on a daily basis.  Being in DC provided me with the opportunity to network daily with professionals in related fields, experience the inner workings of the government, and discover numerous other possible career directions after graduation.

These two experiences, in addition to the normal teaching and research, have helped to round out my graduate education.  I learned and honed valuable skills that I may not have had the chance to develop if I had only remained on-campus.  Therefore I suggest you immerse yourself in another experience by taking advantage of internships, courses, field work, study abroad and other off-campus opportunities.  It will broaden your perspective and allow you to come back to your research with fresh eyes.  For many of these experiences the time to apply for next summer is now so act quickly!

Educational Jargon

As I have moved through my career as an educator and student of education, I have encountered numerous terms that, though unfamiliar at first, are now a part of my everyday vocabulary. Unlike terms associated with specific scientific disciplines, or even with other areas in the social sciences, educational jargon is present, at some point, in all of our lives. However, it is rarely explained and educators often forget that these are terms that they once did not know either.

When I teach Introduction to Education, I am constantly reminded that many educational terms are specific to the discipline rather than universal. One of the most commonly used terms is “pedagogy”, which I often explain as fancy way of saying “teaching style”, although it also involves a person’s philosophical beliefs about education and how children learn. In recent years, many terms related to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) have entered into everyday educational talk. For example, educators regularly refer to the ability of a school to make AYP, or adequate yearly progress. This refers to whether or not the required percentage of students in a given school have passed the state exams. It also refers to whether the correct number of students in each subgroup have passed the exams. This term “subgroup” is another piece of the jargon and refers varius groups present in schools, including racial/ethnic groups, English Language Learners, students with IEPs (individualized educational plans), and economically disadvantaged students. Whether or not a school meets AYP has an immense impact on how schools are run and the funding they receive, and it is often used without explanation. Other commonly used terms, like “tracking” and “inclusion”, refer to specific practices that are often debated in education. In order to make sense of what is written and said about education in the United States today, it is important to understand these terms.

In writing this post, I found two useful websites that give an overview of some common educational jargon. The Dictionary of Educational Jargon (http://www.teachervision.fen.com/pro-dev/new-teacher/48466.html) provides two pages of commonly-used terms defined for those entering the educational profession. The Glossary of Educational Terms (http://www.schoolwisepress.com/smart/dict/dict.html) provides a more extensive list of educational terms defined to assist parents in navigating the educational world. Both sites are useful if you would like to learn more about educational jargon, or, like many of us, simply understand what everyone is talking about!

Educational Research

In the field of education, there are many opportunities for research using a variety of methods. As part of the doctoral program, all students are required to take 4 courses in research methods divided between qualitative and quantitative methods. Depending on the research interest of the student, they may select either methodology, or a combination of both. Quantitative research is research that uses numerical data analysis to support a hypothesis. This type of research is done when conducting program evaluation or when looking for statistical support for a position. Qualitative research is done when the researcher is looking to explain a particular phenomenon. This includes case studies, ethnographies, narrative descriptions, etc.

As part of the research sequence, many doctoral students in the field of education conduct a pilot study. These studies, although they are conducted as part of the qualitative methods course, tend to combine qualitative and quantitative methods to some extent. The pilot study allows students to go into a setting similar to that in which they hope to conduct their dissertation research and get a first-hand sense of what conducting qualitative research is like. In this study, students may take field notes, conduct interviews, analyze documents, survey individuals, and practice any other techniques that they may find useful in their future research. Overall, the research methodologies sequence at the Graduate School of Education is extremely useful in identifying the methods that will be most helpful in conducting dissertation research.