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Evolving Training and Professional Development through STEM Education Research
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Aarushi Sharma


A broad range of career opportunities is available to individuals with PhDs, including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education research. Catherine Hueston, PhD, shares her career path and current work as a postdoctoral fellow in STEM education research at Johns Hopkins University. Hueston has a PhD in neurobiology from Duke University.


What is STEM education research?


STEM education research involves designing research studies to provide faculty members and administration with recommendations to chalk out a curriculum for career development of undergraduate and graduate students in a particular area of study. It is a new field that also goes by the name of discipline-based education research (DBER). The goals of the field are not only to address issues concerning course improvement, but also to help in professional development of faculty members, instructors, and graduate teaching assistants and evaluation of department programs.


How did you become interested in STEM education research?


During my teaching assistantship in graduate school, I was always interested in engaging students in conceptual and evidence-based learning and their success motivated me to further improve my teaching methods. Taking that interest forward into the fellowship at Johns Hopkins, I get to study the impact of various teaching methods that are in use to evolve the learning experience for students. Moreover, I also enjoy working here on methods to develop career awareness and transferrable skills in students in different programs.


How would you advise someone interested in the field?


One way to engage in STEM education research is to become involved in small projects or assignments during graduate school to develop skills in this field, for instance, by interning with the Center for Teaching and Learning or working with adjunct faculty to create questions for assessment of the course by students at the end of a semester. Written and verbal communication skills are key for many career paths, including STEM education research, so interested students should seek opportunities to develop those skills too. Interested students should network with professionals in this field through informational interviews to learn more about available opportunities. Showcasing activities and experience that demonstrate deep commitment to reforming education methods that assist students and teachers alike will make for a competitive application.


What career opportunities are available to a STEM education research fellow?


Several paths, listed in an article by Aikens et al. in CBE Life Sciences, are available to STEM education research fellows:

  • Tenure-track faculty or assistant teaching professor—a position in which one is required to teach and conduct education research on pedagogical changes introduced by the department alongside undergraduate teaching responsibilities
  • Science education research analyst—a role in which one performs research on tools to measure education success amongst students
  • Director of center for teaching and learning—a role in which one oversees the professional development of teaching staff and experiments with successful teaching and student assessment methods across campus

The amount of time one spends on research and related activities like grant-writing and publishing manuscripts could vary between positions. Some of these positions even require participation in teaching activities in coordination with faculty members, and help in evaluation of the course. The goal is to not only address the issues concerning course improvement, but also to help in professional development of faculty members, instructors and graduate teaching assistants, and evaluation of department programs.


Aarushi Sharma is a postdoctoral fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.


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