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 throughout 2014. We sat down with Terri Sabol, a 2011 Ph.D graduate, to learn more about her experience at the Curry School of Education and her professional life after graduation.
Terri Sabol, Ph.D is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. Starting September 1st, 2014 she will transition into an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University.
Question: What are some of the main duties of your current position and how did the VEST program prepare for that?
Sabol: In my current position, I have a pretty big range of skills that are similar to grad school, but just scaffolded up. I do project management, grant writing, budgeting, paper writing, overseeing of graduate students and undergraduates, and working and collaborating with other researchers. I felt like I got very strong methods training in the VEST as well as interdisciplinary training. I also had a really good training in terms of thinking about classrooms and children’s school readiness. These are all skills I use in my current job.
Question: How has the VEST program impacted your research interests and future work?
Sabol: I received training both the in-depth processes that happen in classrooms and how to test those with rigorous statistical methods. I have carried those training pieces into my own independent research. The VEST Program was a unique training opportunity where I could do on the ground intervention work as well as some policy work; the combination of these things made it a very strong training program that is the foundation for my current work.
Question: What aspects of the VEST program were a benefit for your future work?
Sabol: I think the VEST program has a very collaborative environment where you have the opportunity to work with multiple researchers and learn their perspectives. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to take advantage of those different. I also think it’s highly unusual how intensive the mentorship model is in the VEST Program. The mentorship I received made me a much better researcher. It also made me a better mentor. I now advise undergrads and graduate students and my experience at U.Va. prepared me for that.
Question: What advice would you give to students who may be interested in educational science or the field of research?
Sabol: Everyone should take advantage of those one-on-one meetings or dinners with the symposium speakers or pro-seminar talks. It was the sort of thing I was hesitant to do as a graduate student, but I remember each of the conversations I had with those faculty. And it was good exposure to other people and to learn more about different disciplines. Every single time I individually met with a researcher I was able to ask questions, obtaining information relevant to my research, and gain valuable advice about career trajectories.
Question: What’s next in your research? What projects do you have on the horizon?
Sabol: The one piece that I started in graduate school is a question regarding early childhood education rating systems, called “Quality Rating and Improvement Systems”. These systems focus on the ways that states actually assess the quality of preschool programs in order to both affect and improve the quality. In graduate school, Bob Pianta helped me to get a grant through the Administration of Children and Families to do a small pilot study in Virginia with their QRIS, and then we continued that work, writing a paper that replicated ten states’ Quality Rating and Improvement Systems. More recently, I’m hoping to do more work with QRIS using secondary data, as well as running interventions within current QRIS. My training in VEST really set the groundwork for launching and developing my own independent line of inquiry.