Ph.D. Candidate Profile: Kelly Edwards

By Laura Hoxworth

Dean's Fellow and first-year Research, Statistics and Evaluation Ph.D. student Kelly Edwards shares how research methodology can translate data into meaningful impact.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric and writing, Kelly Edwards thought she might want to become a clinical psychologist, so she got a job as a research assistant in a psychology lab. Instead, she found herself enamored with the research process itself. “When I started working in a lab, I just became really interested and excited about research – designing experiments, analyzing data, that kind of thing,” she said.

Kelly is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Research, Statistics and Evaluation at the Curry School, studying research methodology – in short, what separates good studies from bad ones. While research methodologists develop a wide range of skills including project evaluation and qualitative methods, Kelly is particularly interested in quantitative methods. Data crunching may seem like a far cry from rhetoric and writing – but for Kelly, they’re two sides of the same coin.

“They’re both very analytical,” she explained. “Analyzing a text to uncover how language is used to construct meaning, and then how we use numbers to construct meaning – it’s two different mediums, but the process of interpreting and analyzing is very similar. Ultimately, we’re looking to find some kind to knowledge in whatever data we’re looking at, whether it’s text or numbers.”

Studying education research, in particular, was a natural fit for Kelly. She developed an early interest in education and has worked as a tutor in the U.S., Africa, and Australia. Seeing firsthand how quality education research can make a real impact in the world, she enrolled in the Research, Statistics and Evaluation M.Ed. program at the Curry School, which she graduated from in August.

By studying methodology, Kelly has been able to participate in all kinds of education research. “One of the things that drew me to this program is the ability to get involved in so many different areas,” she said. “Everyone’s always looking for a methodologist to help out on their project.” So far, she has worked on a range of research projects at the Curry School, including the classroom simulator and the Virginia Youth Violence Project.

“Initially, what drew me to Curry was the commitment to high-quality research and the community here – being around faculty members who are on the cutting-edge of education research who also have an eye to making their work applicable to the real world and addressing some real issues of equity and diversity in education,” she said.

The research experience, interesting course content, and personal guidance from faculty made staying at Curry for her Ph.D. an easy decision. “The faculty are amazing,” she said. “The commitment they have to mentoring students is just incredibly valuable to me.”

Ultimately, however, Kelly is motivated by a strong belief in the ability of quality research to drive change. She views the work of a research methodologist – designing rigorous research projects and teasing out the meaning embedded in data – as a way to build a stronger bridge between research and practice. With her Ph.D. from the Curry School, she sees a future where she can continue both research and teaching, translating data into meaningful impact in real classrooms.