Alumnus Myles Durkee Discusses His Research on the Racial Experiences of Minority Students


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 continues a Question and Answer series with VEST alumni. We sat down with Myles Durkee, a 2013 graduate of the Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science program, to learn more about his experience at the Curry School of Education and his research career after graduation.

Myles I. Durkee, Ph.D. is currently a William. T. Grant Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago, and is transitioning to a post-doctoral position at the University of Michigan.

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Myles DurkeeQuestion: How did you secure your current job?

Durkee: While at U.Va. I was researching the racial experiences of African-American college students and how that mapped on to their sense of racial identity and well-being. While presenting at the SRCD conference, I approached a professor presenting research on similar work and we conversed about our shared research interests. She was looking for a post-doc and I was on the job market. We stayed in contact and ultimately submitted a grant proposal to the William T. Grant Foundation which was successfully funded and supported my position under her guidance for 2 years at University of Chicago.

Question: What is some of the work you are doing in your current position?

Durkee: Fortunately, I was able to join a new longitudinal study at the early phase of development which evaluates the early college transition and persistence of students of color at predominantly white universities. This project is called the Minority College Cohort Study (MCCS) and my early work on it centered around study design and implementation, including efforts to establish partnerships with multiple universities in the state of Illinois that vary in terms of selectivity, geographic location, and racial composition. I also helped with establishing an advisory board comprised of key stakeholders. A major advantage of joining the MCCS at an early stage is that I was able to implement several research questions that arose from my dissertation and this opportunity has enabled me to advance the work that I began during my training at U.Va.

Question: How have your research interests in educational science evolved?

Durkee: My core interests around the racial experiences of minority students in college environments have stayed the same, and I attribute this steady focus to the stellar mentorship I received in the VEST program. VEST significantly helped me to develop my research ideas into a burgeoning program of research and the work I am doing now has allowed me to examine these same interests using longitudinal data across multiple higher education institutions. One of my goals for the MCCS is to examine how incongruity between the racial composition of high schools and universities influence the campus experiences of ethnic minority study entering college. I’m transitioning into another post-doc position where I will also be examining social experiences among early college students to determine how inter- and intra-group racial interactions that occur with members of different racial groups and members of the same racial group influence social identity development and academic behaviors (e.g., academic engagement, study habits).

Question: What advice do you have for students interested in the VEST program?

Durkee: Do not be discouraged by how broad educational science is and all the different topic areas in the VEST and Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science programs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, talk to faculty, and allow them to support your individual research interests. VEST is an interdisciplinary program, but that means the faculty come from different training backgrounds that offer rich perspectives from developmental and social psychology to education policy. You will be able to find a fit within the VEST program in the Curry School of Education! I cannot rave enough about how much I enjoyed my VEST experience and how invaluable the research training was for my career.

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Durkee is the sixth VEST fellow alumni interviewed in this series. Read the other Q & A articles with Wei-Bing Chen, Erin Dunlap, Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch, Terri Sabol, and Laura Brock.

For more information about the VEST program, please visit our website or email CurryVEST@virginia.edu