Student Spotlight: Two Ed Policy Students Reflect on the MPP/PhD Dual Degree Program

The University of Virginia's School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy offers a dual MPP/Ph.D degree program that provides students with strong research skills and an applied policy focus. We sat down with two second year students currently enrolled in the program to learn more about their experiences.

Aliza Husain received her bachelors degree in Economics and Education from Occidental College. Her current research interests include teacher and principal labor markets, with a greater focus on mobility and turnover. Katharine Meyer received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and master’s in Educational Psychology: Research, Statistics, and Evaluation from UVA. Her current research interests include finding cost-effective ways to target issues surrounding persistent income gaps in college enrollment and completion.

On Why This Program

Husain: When I was looking at graduate schools, many of the dual degree programs took 6 or 7 years to complete, whereas this one took just 5. It was exciting to me to be able to get two really great degrees in a much shorter amount of time than at any other school. The experiences I have had at each school have helped me look at my work through different lenses that are not just focused on education. This program has given me a more nuanced framework to think about the work that I'm doing and its implications in a broader context.

Meyer: This program has helped me build a network of faculty members across disciplines who I interact with regularly.

The faculty are great at giving guidance on research and steering me in the right direction, but also letting me explore and discover on my own.

The Batten and Curry Schools are both places that are committed to setting students up for a lot of different opportunities after you graduate. They're not just preparing you for your first job, they're preparing you for your career. It's more of a toolbox approach than a content approach.

On What Makes This Program Unique

Husain: This program does a really good job of letting you pursue what you are interested in. The faculty helps you personalize your learning in classes in ways that enhance your research. As a result, my learning has come from unusual and different sources — something all students should be allowed to explore. This program has also helped me develop a more policy-oriented focus, so that I present my work in ways that make sense to other people, not just researchers.

Meyer: The best thing about this program is that the Curry and Batten faculty are really committed to teaching and mentoring. They are phenomenal and do a great job communicating really complex topics. The faculty have always been very flexible to the dual-degree students adapting assignments to align with our research interests, and supporting us so that our work is interdisciplinary and meaningful.

On The Support Students Receive

Husain: The faculty interaction and mentorship is probably the program's strongest feature. It's like a family here and students develop these great relationships with faculty, staff, and other students. The faculty are consistently pushing me to be the best version of myself. Some of the experiences and expectations can be daunting, but I also know that the faculty are going to be helpful and present throughout the process. While the program is challenging, I feel supported and encouraged all the time.

Meyer: I was drawn to the tight community in this program and the really amazing faculty researchers. Students get regular one-on-one and group interactions with faculty. I don't think the students even realize how lucky we have it! Our faculty have open-door policies, and I know that no matter what, if I needed to meet with a faculty member, they would make the time.

On What Students Walk Away With

Husain: I came in with an education focus so the policy perspective of this program really helped me developed a broader base for my research.

My courses, the faculty, and my peers helped me understand the policy relevance of my work and how other stakeholders come into play when thinking about the external implications of my research. This policy-oriented lens is very important because otherwise you forget the motivation and relevance behind what you're doing.

Meyer: My courses are mostly filled with future consumers of research, and the questions they ask about the readings and lectures help me be more thoughtful about my own work. They push me to communicate findings and methodology in a way that's going to make sense to a broad, non-technical audience. In classes, students challenge each other to think about real-world applications and implications. In other professional moments, such as our speaker series, we have meaningful ways to have substantive discussions about our own research.

Both Husain and Meyer are past student researchers at EdPolicyWorks and pre-doctoral fellows in the Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) Program which is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

EdPolicyWorks is a joint collaboration between the Curry and Batten Schools that brings together researchers from across the University of Virginia and the State to focus on important questions of education policy and the implications for the workforce.