Supporting Early Career STEM Education Researchers

Photo of Catherine McCullochCatherine McCulloch leads national initiatives focused on bridging STEM research and practice to improve outcomes for students. She is the Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education (CADRE) and STEM Smart, and a member of EDC’s Interactive STEM R+P Collaboratory team. In this post, Catherine discusses the need to better prepare and support early career STEM education researchers. Since its launch in 2008, CADRE has worked to meet this need through the CADRE Fellows Program and by publishing a wide array of resources. This post spotlights a comprehensive new resource, the CADRE Early Career Guide: Tips for Early Career STEM Education Researchers, that presents great advice on how to become a successful researcher in the field of STEM education that experienced NSF investigators have shared with CADRE Fellows. The guide also provides a close-up look at the CADRE Fellows Program.

Our increasingly complex world makes it more important than ever for our citizenry to be able to engage with data and tools, evaluate evidence, and solve problems. STEM education provides a foundation in these skills. To support the availability and improvement of STEM education for all students, our education and employment pipeline needs to include development and retention of researchers who are committed to studying education improvement, preparing future teachers, bridging the STEM disciplines and learning sciences.  To be successful, these researchers need a breadth of knowledge and skills that extend beyond the typical graduate syllabus. “For more than a decade, graduate students have reported that in addition to preparation in research and scholarship in their disciplines, they seek professional development opportunities in graduate school for careers both inside and outside of academe” (Council of Graduate Schools & Educational Testing Service, 2010).   

Unfortunately, as reported in Early Career Researchers and Developers in the DRK–12 Program: Needs, Supports, and Recommendation (Riley & Butler, 2014), the professional development that early career STEM education researchers need is left largely unmet by their graduate programs (see Table 1). There are ways to fill this need, however. Research shows that approaches such as informal mentoring can play a critical role in professional development, and affect career decisions, research productivity, and academic success (Quality Education for Minorities Network, 2016).

Table 1. Difference Between Supports that Early Career Researchers Need and Receive

The Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education (CADRE), a network for STEM education researchers who have been awarded grants by NSF’s DRK–12 program, has developed a program that engages experienced researchers in informal mentoring of early career researchers, along with other learning activities. Through the CADRE Fellows program, early career researchers participate in capacity-building activities to learn about DRK–12 research beyond their own projects, receive career advice from diverse perspectives, gain insight into funding and the National Science Foundation (NSF), network with researchers from a variety of institutions, and learn more about what it takes to be successful and effective in the field of STEM education research.

One CADRE Fellow alumnus reports “…a better understanding of the NSF, of academic careers, and of the field in general will positively impact my ability to operate in the field. In addition, I will have long-term contacts at various institutions for collaboration and networking.”  In fact, one hundred percent of CADRE Fellows in a recent study reported that they anticipate collaborating or communicating with other Fellows after program completion, suggesting that the Fellows program is establishing a sustainable network of support for alumni in STEM education research and development

Over the 9 years of the CADRE Fellows program, experienced researchers have offered early career researchers a lot of great advice. To capture and share that advice, CADRE developed the CADRE Early Career Guide: Tips for Early Career STEM Education Researchers, a guide to becoming a successful researcher in the field of STEM education, and a profile of the CADRE Fellows program. Early career researchers may independently access the resources in the guide or share them with a study group of graduate students and professional peers. Advisors, supervisors, mentors, and program leads who work with early career researchers may use the guide when providing informal or formal early career researcher support.

The guide includes briefs (listed below) that can be used as independent resources; links to additional resources; and a detailed description of the structure and objectives of the CADRE Fellows program, and the design of the learning activities.

  • Tips for Pursuing Academic and Non-Academic Career Pathways: Whether you are interested in pursuing a career in academia or exploring opportunities in industry to the nonprofit sector, these tips offer guidance in searching for positions, developing your application, preparing for the interview, and getting started in your new job.
  • Tips for Writing for Publication: These tips offer insight into developing ideas for your manuscript, the writing process, navigating authorship, choosing the right journal, and the journal review process.
  • Tips for Building Professional Networks:  These tips provide guidance on networking strategies, how and where to make connections, and how to sustain professional relationships.
  • Tips for Developing NSF Proposals: The advice offered in these tips guide you through the proposal development process, from the earliest stages of developing your proposal idea through the NSF review process and beyond.

Additional CADRE resources for early career researchers include tips for working with graduate students and guidance for mentors.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - 10:45am