2011 PFIG Recipient Kim Howard
College of Arts & Sciences
Economics and Psychology Major
2012 Graduation Year
Internship: Department of Education: Institute of Education Sciences
Notes on the first week
“Sorry we couldn’t get you a window” my supervisor says as I laugh at my unnecessarily large office. I am working for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research branch of the U.S. Department of Education. IES stands separately from the rest of the Department, being non-political, and luckily for me that means we are in a different building where there are no cubicles to be had. Specifically within IES, I am interning in the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), a small office that oversees government-funded research projects in Special Education.
A week earlier, while sitting pool-side, ten weeks had seemed to me quite a long time to spend in an office. But my first week flew by, making me think that the rest will do the same. I spent much of my first week becoming familiar with the task of NCSER. Most of the work is recruiting researchers to apply for grants, guiding their designs and applications, assisting them with issues that come up while conducting the research, and making sure they stay on track to produce worthwhile findings. This is especially clear during staff meetings, when there are discussions on topics like the use of a trendy methodology or a statistical problem that a grantee has encountered. I was especially excited to be able to attend a presentation to IES by Sue Dynarski from the University of Michigan, whose research I am familiar with from my Economics of Education class this past year.
My goal for the summer, in its shortest form, is to ask questions. I want to get a good grasp of current research in Special Education and the work that my office does to encourage and guide it. More broadly, I want to see if I could be interested in working for the government and what positions exist in the world of education research and policy. Coming from a university which receives IES grants, and planning to do research myself, it is already incredibly interesting to view the research process from the government angle.
My other goal is to take advantage of all the time I will be spending in DC. Although I have lived next to the District all my life, it is an entirely different experience to be working here and I am really looking forward to my weeks ahead.
It takes time to tell people what I do at work, partly due to the Department of Education’s love of acronyms. Also, as I expect is the case with many internships, I work on a lot of small projects so my job can change from day to day.
I spend a large part of my time giving NCSER a better sense of what it has funded over the years so that they can continue to guide the field of special education research. For example, I have worked on a spreadsheet that tracks the number of grants and the amount of money going to each topic area, such as Early Intervention or Math/Science, per year. I have also created spreadsheets within topic areas, to understand trends in research and to elucidate where there are gaps in the existing work.
One project I am working on is pulling together all recent publications from grants that IES has funded in the topic area of Cognition and Student Learning (CASL). This is the first step in the process of creating a synthesis of these results for wider use, so I am going through databases and contacting researchers when necessary to create a sort of “collected works” of CASL findings. I am also identifying research within this collection that has produced an intervention with positive effects on teacher quality and/or student learning. We submit these articles to What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) where they will be evaluated once again for strength of design and significance, and then used to create guides for educators.
The Department of Education does a great job of organizing events for its interns, such as brown bag lunches with interesting people in the Department. Last week we sat down with Joanne Weiss, who is the Chief of Staff for Arne Duncan, and we discussed the current initiatives of the Department, hot topics in education, and careers in education policy. I also had a great day playing with kids from the DC area that came for our first “Let’s Read, Let’s Move” event, a series intended to encourage summer learning and support the Michelle Obama campaign against childhood obesity.
Overall, I am really enjoying my time here. I am not sure that working in an office is always so exciting but in the month that I have been here there has been an engagement, new babies, and new houses. So along with everything else that I have learned here, I have seen that there is still fun to be had after college.
First of all, I would like to thank the Parents Committee and my office for such a great experience! After this summer I feel much better prepared for working on my thesis this year and for entering the job market after college.
Before this summer, I did not even know that the jobs of NCSER and NCER existed and I have left with a much better understanding of research funding. Much of what I learned came from exposure, rather than direct instruction, so it is useful to reflect on what I have gained from working at IES.
To summarize quickly, I learned about the logistics of government-funded research, what directions education research is heading in, and which researchers are big contributors to the field. I learned how IES is trying to make research into something readily usable, and assisted in the process. I also learned a lot of valuable lessons for my own future research, especially the difficulty of finding results even when doing everything right.
This summer confirmed my interest in education policy and solidified my intentions for graduate school. An internship is really an ideal way to see the career paths of people who are interested in the same thing that you are.
Overall, I am incredibly glad I was given the opportunity to spend my summer at IES. Thank you again!