Got Data?

October 30, 2019

How partnerships make it easier for doc students to get much-needed data for research

One of the hallmarks of student research, especially for doctoral students, is having good data to back up findings. But getting your hands on that data, especially when it involves asking — sometimes begging — an already overworked state agency or school district to help out, can be difficult.

Students like Ph.D. candidate Kirsten Slungaard Mumma, Ed.M.’15, have seen this up close.

“Before I was a graduate student, I worked in the central offices of a charter school network and Chicago Public Schools,” she says. “I understand firsthand the competing demands and political pressure that can come with working in an education agency. Working with researchers isn’t always a priority under these conditions.”

Unless, of course, that researcher has been embedded full time in your organization and you’re now on a first-name basis. This is exactly what happens when students like Slungaard Mumma become fellows through the Partnering in Education Research (PIER) program, housed in the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University. Through an immersive summer internship, Ph.D. students in the social sciences at Harvard spend 10 weeks in the trenches in a school district or education organization conducting quantitative research as they help the partner find answers to problems they are unable to explore on their own.

“Without a pre-existing relationship, it’s very difficult for students to get access to the kind of data needed to conduct rigorous quantitative research,” says Slungaard Mumma, who interned with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). “A program like PIER helps build trust between agencies and emerging education researchers, paving the way to meaningful partnerships.”

Ph.D. student Mark Chin, Ed.M.’16, also found it difficult before he was a PIER fellow to get the data he needed for his research, partly because he wasn’t sure where to start.

Read more at Harvard Ed. Magazine.