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 will be launching a new Question and Answer series with VEST alumni that will be released throughout 2014. We sat down with Wei-Bing Chen, a 2010 Ph.D graduate from the Applied Developmental Science program, to learn more about her experience at the Curry School of Education and her professional life beyond U.Va.
Dr. Wei-Bing Chen is currently an Early Childhood Researcher for the Center for Education and Human Services at SRI International in Menlo Park, CA. After graduation, she worked as a post-doctoral research associate at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) at the Curry School of Education.
Question: What are some of the main duties of your current position and how did the VEST program prepare for that?
Chen: I would say that 90% of my job is program evaluation, and some technical assistance work, which was totally new to me coming out of academia. I do project management, interface with clients, and write reports. I also do research design, and write proposals. The skills that I learned while I was in the VEST program have served me well, and are kind of fundamental, like research design, writing skills. I don’t do a lot of academic writing but many other skills carry through in different tasks that I have to do, like data collection. And so, I do a lot of the stuff they train you to do in grad school or the VEST program, except for the heavy analytical part.
Question: How has the VEST program impacted your research interests?
Chen: I feel like you can always learn new content areas, which is what I’m expected to do in my job now. For instance, I have a project that’s a preschool through 3rd grade literacy initiative. I feel like, as far as content goes, that’s one of the areas that I came out of U.Va knowing little about because I didn’t even take a course regarding literacy development. But my time in the VEST program provided me with fundamental content about child development that I think was really essential too. My experience at Curry was less about my research interests and more about the skills that I’ve been able to apply to the work that I do now, which I feel like was very, very key in what I learned when I was in the VEST program.
Question: What aspects of the VEST program were a benefit for your future work?
Chen: I feel like a lot of the real world experiences were very valuable for me. For example the travel funding, this pushed me to learn how to make presentations, and the encouragement the faculty does in the expectation that you submit to conferences. I feel like that’s extremely valuable, and even though I’m not in academia anymore, the skills that I learned are very applicable with the clients I work with now.
I also feel like the speaker series was really valuable too because you get to hear perspectives from the best in the field, from all over the place. And so you’re not limited to just the professors we have at U.Va. You get to have real conversations with the speakers where they share about their career development and trajectory, and even though the vast majority of them were academics, I think that gave us a lot of perspective in terms of future career paths.
Question: How did the VEST program prepare you for your current work?
Chen: The core ideas of a strong qualitative and quantitative research program were very helpful for me. There was a lot of training in research methodology and research design, as well as some on the ground research experience where you work with somebody and you learn how to design a study (or at least see how they do it and the kind of considerations that have to be made). I got to go into schools or community-based programs to collect data, and also interface with people. The VEST program taught me about entire research process, including writing a paper at the end and going to present it. The opportunity to have a full range of experiences throughout the research process were very helpful.
Question: What advice would you give to students who may be interested in educational science or the field of research?
Chen: I feel like the VEST program encourages students to think about what kind of career path you would like and what’s important to you in terms of what you want professionally. So think about building your skills, research, and publication record accordingly whether for academia or something else. Think about if you want to work more on the project management side, or writing research design type of person, or being a content specific person. I think in academia, as an assistant professor sometimes you do all of that, which is what the VEST program really tries to prepare you to do. Think of your skill sets, like programming or running analyses, and try to understand the distinctions that employers will look at. So think about where you want to go and then what kind of skills you need to go there.
Chen is the first VEST fellow alumni to be interviewed in this series.