The Curry School of Education continues to support the Virginia Education Sciences Training (VEST) pre-doctoral 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. We sat down with Maria Fitzpatrick, a 2008 graduate the Economics Department, to learn more about her experience at the Curry School of Education and her professional life beyond U.Va.
Maria Fitzpatrick, Ph.D. is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University. Prior to Cornell University, Fitzpatrick held a post-doc position at the Stanford University Institute for Academic Policy Research for three years.
Question: What does your current position look like day-to-day?
Fitzpatrick: I am a professor on the tenure track so my main duties are to teach, mentor students, and conduct high-quality research. I enjoy teaching students about economics and education policy and the intersection of the two. I also really enjoy conducting research and producing information that can provide information about how we can most efficiently spend resources in education. My research interests have grown throughout my career so my day-to-day work looks different depending on the research project. In graduate school, I brought the tools of economics to bear on early childhood education issues and policies, particularly universal preschool. More recently, I have also done work on the changing nature of enrollment in higher education, teacher labor markets, and how the teacher compensation affects the behavior of teachers.
Question: How did VEST prepare you for your current position?
Fitzpatrick: VEST provided me with a foundation for how to conduct high quality research in education policy. It also helped me learn how to teach and communicate research methods and findings to students and policymakers. There were formal learning opportunities, like presentations and grant-writing courses, but the program also provided ways to develop through seminars, group meetings and research opportunities. VEST complemented the economics training that I was getting by providing me a broader background in education policy.
Question: What work is on the horizon for you?
Fitzpatrick: I just recently secured funding for a study that includes researchers from sociology, history and other disciplines. We are working on understanding the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the United States. A focus of this work is to examine educational programs for prisoners to understand how they help families and individuals’ well-being, long-term wage opportunities, etc. It is a very interdisciplinary project that involves collaboration with members of other disciplines, policymakers and practitioners. My participation in this study would have been a lot less likely without my experience in VEST. The VEST program provided opportunities to interact and engage with people of other disciplines.
Question: What advice would you give students interested in interdisciplinary research?
Fitzpatrick: I’d advise them to get a very grounded training in their own discipline of interest, whatever that may be, but to be open to collaborating with and learning from researchers and practitioners in other areas, too. Don’t be afraid to engage with people from other disciplines, especially if they are tackling similar questions. Dive in both vertically and horizontally to these areas and allow other people that are interested in the same issues to shape your thinking. The broader knowledge base I gained in VEST shaped my research agenda, and helps me connect to a wider audience.
Fitzpatrick is the seventh VEST fellow alumni interviewed in this series. Read the other Q & A articles with Wei-Bing Chen, Erin Dunlap, Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch, Terri Sabol, Laura Brock, and Myles Durkee.