EPW Student Spotlight: The central role of mentorship in UVA’s Education Policy PhD program

A key component of the University of Virginia's School of Education offers a Ph.D. is a strong focus on mentorship through close research apprenticeships. We sat down with 5th year student, Kylie Anglin, and 2nd year student, Dan Rodriguez-Segura, program to learn more about their experiences with their faculty mentors.

Question: Who is your faculty mentor and how would you describe the intersection of both your research interests?

Anglin: My faculty mentor is Vivian Wong. Vivian and I both work to improve educational evaluations in field settings. For Vivian, this has lately resulted in developing a framework for causal replication studies so that when replications fail, we can determine the reason for failure and identify sources of effect heterogeneity. My research extends this work by focusing not just on the causal validity of evaluation impacts, but also on the interpretability of results as I develop low-cost, scalable tools for understanding treatment implementation. My research interests have intersected in multiple interesting ways as I develop my tools for assessing implementation fidelity have been used for probing assumptions in the causal replication framework. (For example, if a replication fails, is this because the treatment was not implemented consistently across the studies?). See two of our latest working papers on these subjects [1] [2]. 

Rodriguez-Segura: My faculty mentor is Beth Schueler. Beth and I are both deeply passionate about understanding how educational systems can promote equity and quality education for all the pupils they serve. Even though Beth’s primary research interests are within the U.S. context, we have definitely found common ground with research topics we are both excited to explore. For instance, we worked together on an experimental evaluation of a small-group tutoring program in Kenya, which brought together her expertise in tutoring with my interest in developing countries. That paper was actually already accepted to a journal, where we are both co-authors! Right now, we are working on another randomized evaluation of a phone-based instruction program in Kenya to minimize learning losses during school closures.

Question: How would you describe the relationship between you and your faculty mentor? How does this relationship play a role in your success?

Anglin: In short, Vivian is an incredible mentor. Early in my graduate career, she ensured that I was well-trained in rigorous research methods. Later in my development she guided me as I crafted my own unique research identity. And throughout my time at UVA, she advocated both for my career and well-being. I am very grateful for our relationship and the graduate experience she provided.

Rodriguez-Segura: I have a great relationship with Beth. Beth is a fantastic mentor, and she has supported me personally and professionally throughout my time at EPW. Beth is an incredibly insightful, accomplished, and caring mentor, who has really helped me sharpen my research interests, skills, and identity. We have frequent, hour-long meetings where we discuss our research projects, but also any lingering advising questions I may have, and Beth has always been as supportive, constructive, and understanding as anyone can be. I have no doubt that this positive environment, reinforced by our great mentorship relationship, has and will continue to be a major contributor to anything I may achieve in my career. I could not be happier with my mentor.

Question: Would you have any words of wisdom for individuals considering our PhD program and VEST fellowship, in terms of working with our faculty?

Anglin: My advice to anyone looking to start a PhD is that a PhD is an apprenticeship. So, you should choose a researcher to work under who you admire, and who you trust will look out for you. This was certainly the case with Vivian, and I imagine it is true for every VEST faculty mentor.  

Rodriguez-Segura: I think that finding the right mentor/advisor is a key step when it comes to choosing a PhD program. Professionally, a student’s mentor will determine, to a large extent, the kind of projects one can get involved with, the skills one develops during these apprenticeships, and the future opportunities that may stem from these projects. Personally, graduate school can be a rough and isolating time, and one’s mentor plays a big role in shaping one’s feelings of belonging and possibility. Picking a mentor wisely, even more so than the program itself, is crucial to make sure that graduate school is truly a time of learning and growth, while also keeping one’s personal wellbeing front and center.

EdPolicyWorks is a joint collaboration between the 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. If you are interested in applying to our Education Policy program, read more here and submit your application by December 1st.