Professor Luke Miller has worked in the field of education since college in a variety of roles from a public school substitute teacher to an education journal editorial assistant to a researcher at non-profit think tanks.
Miller developed an interest in social security policy as an undergraduate participating in an economic policy seminar in Washington, D.C. and was accepted into the MPP program at Georgetown University.
“During my college summers I would substitute teach and work at a town summer recreation camp,” explained Miller. “During one summer, I shadowed a high school student who was having behavior issues and found the experience beyond discouraging.”
At the student’s IEP meeting, Miller learned more about the challenges parents, teachers, and school administrators were facing in the education system.
“I was really frustrated by how low the expectations were for this student,” said Miller. “It got me thinking about where my passions lay, and acknowledged they lay more with education than social security.”
Miller continued to explore these interests in his degree programs at Georgetown (MPP) and Stanford (Ph.D.). He worked at the Urban Institute and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) before transitioning to an academic setting at U.Va.
Now Miller is a research assistant professor at EdPolicyWorks who teaches, conducts research, mentors students, and leads multiple research teams. We sat down with him to ask him five questions.
Question: How do you describe your education policy work?
Miller: I actually have a hard time fitting my research in an “elevator speech” as my work cuts across lots of different policy areas. I view education as a complex system. In my work, I try to identify policy levers that hold the greatest promise for helping that system operate more effectively and efficiently; hence, my recent work on teacher labor markets and early childhood education.
Question: What research is on the horizon for you?
Miller: I’m very interested in the supply side of the teacher labor market. What types of teachers are applying for teaching jobs where? And what types of teachers are schools looking for? Most of the current research base rests on the results of the hiring process not the process itself. I’m interested in how policies can improve the distribution of teacher quality across communities.
Question: What is the best advice you have given to students?
Miller: It is OK to have self-doubt. It is not a sign of failure. You will never know everything in your field, and, as a researcher, your job would be beyond boring if you knew everything. Use your self-doubt to deal with the challenges of graduate school and your career moving forward. Also, make sure to have something else in your life that you enjoy, something that has absolutely nothing to do with graduate school!
Question: What is one of the most rewarding moments as a professor?
Miller: The most rewarding thing for me comes when I’m teaching and a student asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to. First, it pushes me to enhance my knowledge, but second, it also shows me that the student is paying attention, engaged, and moving beyond just what I’m presenting. Sometimes I wonder if I have any impact on students, but in those moments I know the student is making connections and working hard.
Question: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Miller: Jane Hannaway at the Urban Institute taught me the value of pithiness, which as an Irishman, I needed to learn. Less is more. Learn to communicate, in both written and spoken forms, in ways that gets your main points across without losing peoples’ interest and engagement. As researchers we collaborate and interact with a variety of stakeholders, making communication skills essential.
Miller is a faculty member of the Virginia Educational Science Training (VEST) pre-doctoral fellowship program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences.
EdPolicyWorks is a joint collaboration between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. EdPolicyWorks brings together researchers from across the University of Virginia and the State to focus on important questions of educational policy and implications for the workforce.