VEST Two-Year Fellowships

Tough problems in education require expertise in more than just one academic discipline. For this reason, the Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) Program prepares students from psychology, economics and sociology to engage in rigorous, interdisciplinary research to address challenging problems in education.

Consider just a few of these tough questions and problems. How do we prepare teachers to be effective? What are the effects of teacher evaluation on teachers’ performance? How do children’s self-regulatory abilities develop as a function of their home and school experiences? What classroom conditions are needed to best support the need of multilingual students (English Learners)? How do we develop high quality assessments for kindergarten readiness and then implement those statewide? These are just a few examples of the kinds of education science questions and problems that require substantive and methods expertise in education, psychology, economics, sociology, or a mix of these areas.

In 2020, Sara Rimm-Kaufman, Jim Wyckoff and Bob Pianta received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Science, to train a new generation of education scientists in the VEST program. Students in the departments of Economics, Psychology and Sociology who want to pursue research related to education are invited to apply to the VEST program, a 2-year program based at the UVA School of Education & Human Development. 

VEST fellows experience an exciting set of courses, workshops and speakers. Through these experiences, fellows learn a set of rigorous experimental and quasi-experimental methods that help them develop proficiency in designs that allow for causal inference. Further, students increase their exposure and depth in at least one of four areas including teacher quality, early childhood, social and behavioral context for academic learning, and post-secondary and adult education.

The Research-Practice Partnership Experience (RPE) is a hallmark characteristic of the VEST fellowship. Too often, we see a gap between the knowledge produced by researchers and the information that policy-makers and educators need to make decisions. As part of the VEST fellowship, students work in partnership with an outside agency (e.g., state department of education, school district, education non-profit) and learn the intricacies of full partnership. Not only do fellows leave the program prepared to conduct rigorous research, the problems they choose and the approaches they take are much more relevant as a result of their training. 

Students from Psychology, Economics, Sociology and other disciplines outside of the School of Education and Human Development may apply during spring semester of their 2nd year in their doctoral programs (or later). Then, they begin the VEST program in Year 3 or later of their PhD programs after having completed the majority of required doctoral coursework in their home departments. All prospective fellows must be able to commit to a 2-year period of training. Fellows should plan on conducting a dissertation examining questions relevant to education and plan to pursue a career in education policy or education research, consistent with the stated goals of the Institute of Education Sciences, the organization at U.S. Department of Education that funds VEST.


Before Applying
Those considering applying for a Two-Year Fellowship should demonstrate their interest by being involved in some of the following activities prior to application:

Application Process
In order to apply, students must submit the following documents and they must be received before February 7.  Please note that students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents to receive fellowship funding.  In keeping with the interdisciplinary focus of the two-year VEST Fellowship, applicants may come from the Departments of Psychology, Sociology, Economics or other departments outside of the School of Education and Human Development.

  • Review the preparation form before submitting application online
  • Letter of intent (submit via email)
    • This letter should describe your professional background, interest in education science and/or policy, research goals for the fellowship period (including how your research interests are aligned with specific School mentors, how you would benefit from working with them, and how your time would be allocated among projects), and long-term career goals. (3 pages, roughly 750-1000 words)
  • CV or detailed resume (submit via email)
  • Two letters of support from current advisor/mentors describing your scholarship and offering a rationale for applying (emailed or mailed by recommenders). Letters of support will be evaluated according to the following criteria:
    • Demonstration of your depth of interest in research questions in education and evidence for the benefits of an interdisciplinary focus in your professional development.
    • Evidence of the ability to apply designs and methods necessary to establish causal inferences.
    • Likelihood career goals will have an impact on education science.
  • UVA transcript (submit via email): Unofficial or official will be accepted.

In addition, prospective fellows should correspond with VEST Coordinator (email to arrange to meet with prospective School co-mentor(s). If your interests are well-aligned, you and the faculty member should discuss specific ways that you would be involved in their project in order to include this information in your letter of intent.

Please note: Renewal for a second year is dependent upon successful progress toward completion of the program and productive engagement in research.

Core Curriculum

  • Content Focus
    • Substantive match with a program faculty member from the School of Education and Human Development (EHD) as your co-mentor.
  • Research Requirements
    • Participation in a research apprenticeship focused on educational topics including teacher quality, early childhood, social and behavioral contexts for academic learning, or post-secondary and adult education (roughly 20 hours/week, depending on the specific arrangement with your co-mentor).
    • Completion of a yearlong Research-Practice Partnership Experience (RPE). Typically, fellows begin the RPE in the spring of their first year, pursue the work intensively in the summer between years one and two, and complete the RPE in the fall of the second year of the fellowship. (Assume 4-5 hours per week in the spring, 15-20 per week in the summer, and 4-5 hours per week in the fall.)
  • Courses, Workshops, Speaker Series Requirements
    • Enrollment in 2 to 4 courses, depending on students’ prior engagement and experience with education research. These course support fellows’ ability to apply rigorous research methods to the following substantive topics: a) teacher quality, b) early childhood, c) social and behavioral contexts for academic learning, and d) post-secondary and adult education.
    • Attendance at the Education Research Lectureship Series during the fall and spring of each semester.
    • Enrollment in the 1-credit proseminar, Issues in Applied Developmental Science and Education Policy, in fall and spring during each fellowship year.
    • Participation in 2 VEST workshops per year, typically held during the summer. These will occur at UVA, however, other workshops at other institutions may be substituted with advanced permission from the VEST steering committee.
  • Dissertation Requirements
    • Fellows’ dissertation committees must include the fellows’ EHD mentor and at least one other VEST Faculty Affiliate.
    • All dissertations must focus on topics related to education, particularly one or more of these substantive topics: a) teacher quality, b) early childhood, c) social and behavioral contexts for academic learning, and d) post-secondary and adult education.

Conditions of the Fellowship

Below, we list the conditions, expectations, and financial arrangements for accepting support as a two-year VEST fellow.

  • Fulfillment of the annual progress indicators related to research training and experience. These annual progress indicators will be identified as part of an individualized contract that fellows develop with the EHD co-mentor and your current departmental advisor. These plans require writing papers for publication, presenting at national conferences, and engaging in other research dissemination activities. (See the sample Annual Research Plan Table.)
  • Attendance at one or more IES-approved national conferences each year (e.g., AERA, SRCD, SRA, APAAM, AEFP).
  • Providing service to the program through tasks such as hosting speakers, facilitating workshops, mentoring summer interns, etc.
  • Fellows must not function as a Teaching Assistant while receiving support from the IES Fellowship. This is a condition of the funding agency; the intention of this requirement is to protect your time for research training.
  • Fellows from the Psychology Department must complete their predissertations before accepting funds (i.e., the predissertation timeline must make it clear that it will be completed by end of spring semester prior to beginning Fellowship).
  • During and after the VEST fellowship, fellows are required to respond to UVA and IES to provide regular updates and responses to surveys.
  • All work conducted during the fellowship period must acknowledge VEST funding and products must be uploaded onto ERIC.

Financial Support

2-year fellows are eligible to receive:

  • Stipend of $34,000 for the program year (September 1 to August 31).
  • Up to $12,000 toward tuition and health insurance for the academic year (fall, spring).
  • $2,000 toward travel and research expenses.
  • $3,000 toward Research-Practice Partnership Experience expenses

Please note that students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents to receive fellowship funding.


Students are initially awarded fellowships for one program year, September through August.  In February, they apply for renewal by submitting their Annual Research Plan Table, updating by tracking changes. Renewal for a second year is dependent upon successful progress toward completion of the program and productive engagement in research. Successful renewal results in one more full program year. However, in some cases, the faculty may opt to renew on a semester-by-semester basis, to ensure that the student is meeting all expectations.

For More Information

Contact VEST Program Coordinator, Mary Alex, at with questions.