Student Perspectives

 

EPSA CEHCourtney Hall
Quantitative Methods

Background
Before coming to UW – Madison, I received my Bachelor’s degree from Brown University in math and public policy and my Master’s degree from Brown in urban education policy. Along the way, I worked in a variety of education policy-related positions at the RI state government, as well as at a non-profit that focused on making data accessible to policy makers. I was particularly interested in the communication bridge (or lack thereof) between policy makers and researchers. Since I also had a strong interest in math and statistics, I decided that the best way that I could impact education policy was by studying quantitative methodology and by helping others to conduct high quality quantitative research.

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Why did I choose UW-Madison?
I chose UW-Madison because my research interests (quasi-experimental design) matched extremely well with the interests of my advisor, Dr. Peter Steiner. When I visited campus I immediately felt a warm rapport between students and faculty in the quantitative methods area – despite the fact that it was the middle of January in Wisconsin! It was obvious that the environment here is much more collaborative than competitive.
What are my research projects like/what is a typical day?
My research is about propensity score analysis with multilevel observational data. My primary method of research is simulation – I generate fake (but realistic) data with known treatment effects and run analyses on the data thousands of times to see how close the estimated treatment effects are to the truth. What this means on a day-to-day level is that I spend most of my time programming. I meet with my advisor twice a week – once for an individual meeting to update him on my research and once as a group with his other advisees to discuss group projects. This year I am presenting at two conferences and writing my Master’s thesis, so I also spend a lot of time writing and preparing presentations.
What advice do I have for incoming students in educational psychology?
My best piece of advice is to create a positive working relationship with your advisor!

 

headshot3Elizabeth Toomarian
Human Development

Background
I graduated from UC San Diego in 2011 with a B.S. in Cognitive Science (specializing in Neuroscience). I then conducted research full-time for two years as a lab assistant in the Developmental Neuroimaging Lab at UCSD, where we investigated the neural correlates and developmental trajectories of face processing.

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Why did I choose UW-Madison?
I chose the Ed Psych department at UW-Madison because it provided a unique opportunity to apply cognitive science and neuroscience research to educational questions. I’m particularly interested in numerical cognition, and the Educational Neuroscience Lab was the perfect fit for me!
What are my research projects like/what is a typical day?
Recently, I’ve been collecting behavioral data for a project investigating how people represent fractions on a mental number line. For these studies, UW undergrads come to our lab and spend 20-40 minutes making decisions about a series of fractions, such as which of two fractions is larger or smaller. This work is the basis for upcoming fMRI studies that will investigate which parts of the brain are involved in making these decisions. Between classes, meetings, behavioral and neuroimaging research, I often split my time between the Educational Sciences building, the Waisman Center, and other buildings on campus.
What advice do I have for incoming students?
Actually read the emails you receive from the graduate school and university! They often advertise interesting events, useful campus resources, funding opportunities, and other helpful information that you might not hear about anywhere else.

 

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Stephanie D’Costa
School Psychology

Background
I received a BA in Human Development with a minor in Cross-cultural Language Development from California State University in Long Beach, CA.

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Why did I choose UW-Madison?
When I interviewed here, I was struck by the friendliness of the current graduate students. They really seemed to support one another in his process. There were also many opportunities for professional and academic growth within this department and the university as a whole. Lastly, I really felt like I could belong in this community—study in these coffee shops, attend farmers markets and make strong personal connections.
What are my research projects like/what is a typical day?
I am currently working on a few research projects. My main one is my dissertation research of which I am examining the effectiveness of a modified guided reading intervention in promoting the academic language of English Language Learners (ELLs). I am also working on a grant that examines universal screening measures for ELLs. Lastly, I have just joined a project that is examining the effectiveness of a mental health intervention on Latino/a families. All of these projects are directly related to my interests in working with immigrant populations to promote their academic and mental health outcomes.
What advice do I have for incoming students?
My advice would be to take your first year of graduate school and explore as many opportunities as you can. Volunteer at different practicum sites, conduct research and work in the community. The more you put yourself out there, the sooner you find out what you’re truly passionate about.

 

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Libby Pier
Learning Sciences

Background
I grew up in Brookline, MA, about 10 minutes outside of Boston. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2008. After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles, CA to teach 8th, 9th, and 10th grade English through the Teach For America program. While teaching, I earned my masters degree in urban education from Loyola Marymount University. I decided to return to graduate school in the fall of 2011 to join the Learning Sciences program in order to study how people learn, in order to better support teachers and improve student outcomes.

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Why did I choose UW-Madison? 
The Ed Psych department here at UW is consistently ranked as one of the best departments in the country. There is exciting, innovative research going on here that I wanted to be a part of. My advisor conducts exciting research that I am interested in, and he allows me to also pursue my own research interests.  Madison is also a phenomenal city to live in, and the graduate students here have created an amazing community of scholars, teachers, and friends. UW-adison is a world-renowned R1 (research 1) university with an exceptional program in a fabulous city. Why would I choose anywhere else?
What are my research projects like?
I am currently in between two research projects. The first grant that I worked on for my first two years engaged in a huge variety of research activities, such as video taping math and science classrooms in Madison and Milwaukee, coding video data, writing up conference and journal submissions as a research team, conducting laboratory experiments, and analyzing data. My next project, which starts in Fall 2014, will investigate the use of animated avatars for instruction, based on research demonstrating the importance of instructional gesture for student learning.
What is a typical day?
The best part of grad school for me is that there is no “typical” day. In a given week, I may work from home on Monday (doing class work, reading journal articles, or writing up my research), spend Tuesday going to classes and holding office hours as a TA, work at a coffee shop on Wednesday, go to classes again on Thursday, and have meetings and my own scheduled work time in my office on campus on Friday. And then the next week may be totally different! There’s a ton of flexibility with my advisor to make my own schedule, work on my own time, and work in the way that is best and most productive for me. This is different from advisor to advisor, but across the board, every day brings something new and exciting. Balancing being a student and taking classes with doing research (both your own and any grant you work on), as well as teaching or being a teaching assistant (if you do so) means that you have many diverse responsibilities, and so no two days are alike!
What advice do I have for incoming students?
It’s best if you can find an advisor to work with who not only does research that aligns closely with your interests, but also encourages you to branch out to explore your own passions and interests. Also, when moving to Madison, it’s important to take advantage of all of the amazing activities that the city has to offer–whether it’s having a beer on Memorial Union terrace, going to the farmer’s market, biking along John Nolen Drive, or sampling all of the different food courts at Memorial Library, diving in right when you get to Madison is the best way to find out what this city has to offer. In terms of grad school, balance is super important! Make sure you carve out time for yourself, to hang out with friends, watch TV and relax, and exercise. It will always feel like there is work you “could” or “should” be doing, but the key to lasting in grad school for the long haul is definitely balance.

 

Evenstone Wilderness Headshot

Amanda Evenstone
Learning Sciences

Background
I am a PhD student in Educational Psychology focusing on Learning Sciences. Previously and also at UW, I received my Master’s in Environment and Resources studying student perceptions of environmentally responsible behavior and my Bachelors of Science in Biology, Psychology, and Women’s Studies. In the past, I have worked on projects that focused on finding ways to foster engagement and small group work within large lecture introductory seminars. I’ve also taught interactive classes on environmental science, introductory biology, gender studies, non-profit leadership development, shared governance, grassroots organizing, prejudice and discrimination, and grant writing.

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Why did I chose UW-Madison?
As someone who has always been passionate about practicing what you preach, I was very impressed that this graduate program truly championed a cognitive apprenticeship style to graduate training. For this reason, you will want to choose an adviser that you admire and want to learn to think and research in the same way. The program is a nice blend of academic requirements that provide the foundational knowledge and statistics to apply these ideas to your lab’s research projects. I was really impressed by the level of responsibility and trust that advisers provided to their students so they could start learning the skills and practices of educational psychology from day one. On a more personal note, I fell in love with Madison the day I set foot on this campus. It is welcoming, freeing, and the sort of place I knew I wanted to raise my family.
What are my research projects like/what is a typical day?
Typical is hard to define as everyday is a little different depending on the stage of research and implementation of your project. Common tasks are searching for and reading journal articles, contributing to grant proposals, brainstorming and developing theoretically-grounded curriculum and experiments, staring at data and trying to figure out a story, going to class, and much more. Our research group develops and tests group learning in a technology-rich inquiry-based middle school STEM curriculum. Within this project I am able to insert my learning principle questions and consider different types of analysis in the project. While our lab often develops physics or biology curriculum, people on our project approach their own research through the lenses of multiple texts in reading, gender differences in group work, teacher influences, science practices, and more. I am currently studying how we might track evidence of internalization/appropriation of physics concepts and relationships during concept-mapping activities and understanding how working in a group might transform a student’s conceptions of these relationships.
What advice do I have for incoming students?
I think the two most important pieces of advice are to Take Initiative and Establish a Routine. Everyone around you is busy and working on their projects. If you want to connect more with your lab group, become the person who finds a meeting time and schedules weekly design meetings. If you haven’t met with your adviser in a while, email them instead of waiting for them to check in with you. There are a lot of academic and social opportunities, so search them out and join. Opportunities don’t often just happen, you have search them out and make them happen.
As for time management, graduate life is wonderfully flexible. The nature of research is variable and some weeks you will be super busy and others you’ll feel like you have nothing to do. Always stay ahead and use those slow weeks to your advantage. It’s like going for a long distance bike ride. You work your butt off climbing that hill and when you get to the top it’s easy to just coast until you hit the next hill. Don’t coast through grad school. Feel the rush, take a quick refresher, but start working hard not too soon after. New projects and difficult work will soon fill your schedule again.

 

VuongDongVuong Dong
School Psychology

Background
I graduated with a BA in psychology from UW-Madison in 2011. I really had no idea what I wanted to do, so I volunteered in Vietnam, moved to Los Angeles, took jobs at daycares and YMCAs, before returning to Madison to start the Ed Psych program in 2013.

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Why did I chose UW-Madison?
I honestly did not think that I was going to get into the Ed Psych program here, since it ranks as one of the best in the nation. Since I went here for undergrad, I already knew how great of a school and city this was. So when I found out I’ve been accepted, it was a very easy decision. Also when I interviewed, all of the faculty and current students were so down to earth and welcoming. It really put me at ease and I knew I would fit well with the department.
What are my research projects like/what is a typical day?
I’ve been involved with research projects that investigated interventions to promote academic language of English Language Learners (ELLs), universal screening measures for ELLs, and Interventions to promote Math fluency. My typical day involves going to classes, attending meetings, finishing up TA duties, doing a lot of reading and writing, and hopefully having some time for a beer at the terrace.
What advice do I have for incoming students?
Keep your end goals in mind, but take it day to day. It is really easy to feel overwhelmed in grad school, there is always something you “need” or “should” be doing, and for me at least, I get paralyzed by these feelings of doubt and anxiety. Take some time out for yourself and remind yourself you got in here for a reason: you’re smart and capable. Also getting your Ph.D is a marathon, not a sprint. Try to enjoy the journey.