The Curry School of Education continues to support the Virginia Education Sciences Training (VEST) predoctoral fellowship program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. This interdisciplinary program has been supporting Ph.D students at U.Va for over 10 years!
With more than 75 alumni across education, economics, sociology, and psychology departments at U.Va, VEST has produced highly trained professionals who hold positions from postdoctoral scientists to education statisticians to assistant professors. The VEST program applies rigorous research methods and analytical techniques in the social sciences field to study school and classroom effects.
The Curry School of Education continues a Question and Answer series with VEST alumni throughout 2014. We sat down with Laura Brock, a 2008 Ph.D graduate, to learn more about her experience at the Curry School of Education and her professional life after graduation.
Laura Brock, Ph.D is currently an Assistant Professor at the College of Charleston in the Teacher Education Department. Prior to attending U.Va., Brock was a classroom teacher in Charleston.
Question: What are some of the main duties of your current position and how did the VEST program prepare for that?
Brock: I hold an academic position at a liberal arts college where I focus my efforts on research, teaching, and service. Since leaving U.Va., I’ve maintained contact with colleagues and continue to collaborate on research projects. As a VEST fellow I had the opportunity to be project coordinator for a research study where I learned an invaluable skill set that included relationship-building with schools, teachers, and families. The projects I manage locally are successful because of the skills I learned as a VEST fellow.
Question: How has the VEST program impacted your research interests?
Brock: I entered the VEST program after several years as a classroom teacher where the achievement gap caused by social inequity felt insurmountable. Back then I didn’t really know how to articulate the problem or be an active part of the solution. After entering the VEST program, I was able to narrow my focus to the development of self-regulation and socio-emotional skills. Now I’m a part of a team that evaluates the effectiveness of interventions that are aimed at bolstering these skills and in turn ameliorating the achievement gap. The VEST program helped me see my part in solving larger social issues which includes conducting rigorous research so that policy makers and economists have the best information available in order to allocate finite resources.
Question: How did your experience in the VEST program shape your future work?
Brock: The VEST program definitely helped me define my research interests, but it also gave me a foundation for the research process. I now feel highly qualified to conduct research independently. Without the VEST program I don’t think I would have learned the value of interdisciplinary collaboration where I could see problems through a different lens. I developed the skills for listening and problem-solving in a team setting, which I don’t know I would have gained without the VEST experience.
Question: What advice would you give to students who may be interested in educational science or the field of research?
Brock: For prospective students I would suggest that they think about their broad interests and then seek out faculty who are doing work they find interesting. Learn whether there would be a place for the prospective student on a particular team and ask about ongoing and upcoming projects. Think about the ideal postgraduate position and seek out new opportunities in addition to those that come your way.