IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Leveraging Multiple Funding Sources to Train Special Education Researchers: Part 2

This blog is part of a series that highlights the experiences of graduate students in special education research who receive funding through the Department of Education. In the initial blog, two doctoral students shared their experiences with training opportunities made possible through OSEP and NCSER funding. For this second blog, we interviewed two additional scholars and included varying OSEP training mechanisms funded under the Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results Program, including the Preparation of Special Education, Early Intervention, and Related Services Leadership Personnel grant program (ALN 84.325D) and the National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention funded under the Doctoral Training Consortia Associated With High-Intensity Needs grant program (ALN 84.325). We asked them to discuss their experiences as OSEP Scholars, their work on NCSER-funded research grants, and how both opportunities prepare them to conduct research in special education.

Nathan Speer, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Headshot of Nathan Speer

I have had a great experience as an OSEP Scholar! From the beginning, I was excited about the opportunity to pursue a PhD in special education intervention design, an area I have always been interested in as a professional educator. The funding and support I receive is comprehensive and practical. The OSEP-funded Research Interventions in Special Education (RISE) project funds my tuition, pays a non-work stipend, provides support for expenses associated with completing my degree program (including books, supplies, travel for required meetings or conferences), and helps with research by providing technology, software, and dissertation support.

I have been working on the IES-funded WORDS (Workshop on Reading Development Strategies) for Pandemic Recovery in Nebraska project for approximately a year. The research focuses on investigating the efficacy of professional development intended to aid teachers in implementing a tier 2 reading intervention for students in kindergarten through third grade who are at risk for reading disabilities. For the project, my roles are primarily conducting data analysis and coding. These two experiences have worked well in tandem. I have been able to attend several conferences and trainings thanks to the RISE grant that have positively impacted my work on WORDS, and my work with WORDS has provided me with an opportunity to participate in serious research as a PhD student.

Both experiences are helping me work towards a leadership role in academia and research in special education! WORDS provides me with experience participating in impactful research and RISE provides countless opportunities to learn and grow as an educator and build a professional network both on campus and in my field of interest. In the future, I hope to work in academia, preferably as a professor of practice working with undergraduate and graduate educators in special education. More specifically, I would like to focus my research and instruction on behavior (for example, applied behavior analysis, functional analysis, and behavior intervention planning).

Blair Payne, University of Texas, Austin

Headshot of Blair Payne

The National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention-2 (NCLII-2) training grant prepares special education leaders to have expertise in supporting students with complex and comorbid learning disabilities and behavior disorders. As a cohort of scholars, we meet two to three times a year for small conferences, which are centered around topics such as preparing for the job market, supporting education policy, or conducting and disseminating research. NCLII-2 provides scholars with tuition to one of the universities in the consortium, travel funds, and funding for our dissertation or a small research project. During our meetings, we can meet faculty and students from other universities to create mentorship or collaboration opportunities. 

Over the past 4 years, I've had the privilege of working on three IES-funded research studies. The project on which I have worked the longest is Developing an Instructional Leader Adaptive Intervention Model (AIM) for Supporting Teachers as They Integrate Evidence-Based Adolescent Literacy Practices School-Wide (Project AIM). Project AIM is a partnership with Dr. Jade Wexler at University of Maryland and Dr. Elizabeth Swanson at University of Texas, Austin. As the Texas project coordinator, I have supported material creation, educator training, test administration, recruitment, data preparation, and dissemination. Since the grant is a development grant, it has been a remarkable experience to learn the boots-on-the-ground requirements of working in schools.

My work as an OSEP Scholar has provided me with the background knowledge that I need to conduct research. Through my work on IES grants, I can use this background knowledge to support project implementation. Both funding sources work together, hand-in-hand, and I am incredibly grateful that I have been able to learn so much from both experiences.

My future goal is to work at a research university as a faculty member. Through my IES work, I am getting direct experience on how to implement school-level research. I hope to one day support schools through this research, and when I do, I'll be able to lean on my experiences from various IES projects to support this endeavor. My experience as an OSEP Scholar supports this goal by building foundational knowledge of special education research, which is instrumental to take into a faculty position in which I may wear many hats for a department. The NCLII-2 grant has helped to ensure that the graduates of the training grant are prepared to enter the field of special education with up-to-date knowledge from the field. As future faculty, we will enter the field ready to prepare the next generation of teachers and providers and build their capacity to serve and support children with disabilities and their families.

While OSEP and NCSER are separate funding mechanisms, they can be leveraged to work synergistically by providing student scholars a comprehensive research experience that includes training in research methodologies and opportunities to apply this knowledge within current research projects. Thank you to Nathan and Blair for sharing their experiences as OSEP Scholars working with research supported by NCSER. NCSER looks forward to seeing the future impact you will have in your field!

This blog was written by Shanna Bodenhamer, virtual student federal service intern at NCSER and doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University. Shanna is also an OSEP Scholar through RISE.

Supporting the Pipeline of Scholars of Color with Research, Training, and Mentorship

In recognition of Black History Month, we interviewed Dr. Tamara Bertrand Jones, an associate professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Florida State University and co-principal investigator of the Partners United for Research Pathways Oriented to Social Justice in Education (PURPOSE) program, funded by the IES Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program. In this blog, Dr. Bertrand Jones discusses her experiences conducting research on the professional experiences of underrepresented populations as well as her work supporting emerging scholars of color.

Tamara Bertrand Jones photoHow has your background and experiences shaped your research on the graduate education and professional experiences of underrepresented populations, particularly Black women, in academia?

My dissertation research centered Black perspectives on cultural competence in evaluation. For the first 10 years of my academic career, I worked as an administrator, primarily in student affairs. When I transitioned from administration to faculty, I extended my research to Black experiences in academia. Microaggressions (such as unsolicited advice) that derailed my productivity and diminished my self-confidence immediately greeted me. For example, I was told that my research would be labeled navel-gazing (excessive self-contemplation) because I was a Black woman studying Black women and that this negative label may present challenges for my career. It took time, lots of positive self-affirmation, and validation from my mentors and close Black women colleagues to silence those voices and walk confidently in my contribution as a scholar and my personal purpose for pursuing an academic career. After these experiences, I doubled down on my commitment to demystify the hidden curriculum in the academy and support emerging scholars by being responsive to their identities, experiences, needs, and aspirations.

What is the PURPOSE training program, and what have you learned from administering PURPOSE?

We created PURPOSE to help develop more underrepresented and minoritized education researchers. To date, we have had seven cohorts of PURPOSE Fellows, totaling more than 80 fellows. The program includes critical discussions about social justice and educational inequities, mentoring, professional development, and service-learning research apprenticeships. During their training, we also encourage fellows to reflect on their own identities in terms of race, gender, and social class among other identities while they develop their individual researcher identities. These experiences culminate in capstone research projects related to social justice in education that fellows develop from inception to dissemination during the fellowship year. Taken together, these experiences foster capacities to conduct meaningful research and provide socialization into the rigors of research and graduate school.

We found that fellows experience socialization into education research in ways that help them 1) develop a researcher-identity, and 2) prepare products that demonstrate strong research potential for graduate school. Our fellows have experienced positive gains in their self-efficacy for carrying out a variety of research skills such as conducting literature reviews and working independently and in teams. We believe our approach to culturally relevant education and research methods and valuing the voices of our diverse fellows and mentors will lead to changes in future teaching and research practices.

Based on your research and experiences, what do you see as the greatest needs to improve the education and professional pathways for Black scholars?

In the over 14 years I have been a faculty member, I recognize that there are myriad ways to be successful in academia while remaining true to who you are. Through my work on early career professionals in partnership with Sisters of the Academy (SOTA), a community of Black women in higher education, I strive to create an environment where emerging scholars are exposed to scholars who represent diverse ways of being in academia. These models can shape emerging scholars’ vision of their future possible selves and help them develop their own pathways that are congruent with who they are. If institutions lack those models in their faculty, I urge leaders to intentionally connect with groups or organizations like SOTA that have the expertise and access to individuals who can serve in those roles from their emerging scholars.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

Often emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups are not encouraged to engage in work that speaks to their soul or can meaningfully impact the communities they serve. As in my experience, underrepresented emerging scholars are often told that doing research on our identity groups or researching issues that these groups experience is limiting, pigeonholing, and too self-reflective. Emerging Black scholars, in particular, are told they must approach their work in ways that are contradictory to their values or diminish their self-concepts. These messages can stunt growth and hinder the ability to identify innovative solutions to education’s most-pressing problems.

Because of this, I encourage all emerging scholars to consider the following reflective questions, guided by my emerging professional development framework—the 5 I’s, to help align their education research careers with how they see themselves, individually and in community.

  • Identity: How does my identity influence my research?
  • Intention: How can I create synergy between my research and scholarship, courses I teach, service I perform, and who I am as a scholar?
  • Implementation: How does my positionality influence my research design choices?
  • Influence: Who needs to know about my work? How can partnership extend the impact of my work?
  • Impact: How can my work be used to create better educational environments for marginalized or minoritized communities, or change education policy, research, or practice in meaningful ways?

This interview blog is part of a larger IES blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the education sciences. It was produced by Akilah Nelson (akilah.nelson@ed.gov), a program officer within the National Center for Special Education Research.

Leveraging Multiple Funding Sources to Train Special Education Researchers

Through different programs within the Department of Education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act authorizes funding that can provide doctoral students with valuable training in special education research. These different funding mechanisms work independently or, in some cases, can be leveraged to work synergistically. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides support for doctoral-level students The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides support for doctoral-level students through grant programs that are part of the Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results Program to help prepare future faculty, researchers, and administrators for leadership positions. Through this program, OSEP awards funds to institutions of higher education to provide doctoral students (OSEP Scholars) with advising, mentorship, and research experience. In exchange for service to the field following graduation, scholarships may cover such student expenses as tuition and fees, health insurance, books, supplies, and research-related expenses.

IES grants allow faculty to hire doctoral students on their NCSER-funded research projects, providing another potential avenue for these students to obtain research experience. Sometimes OSEP Scholars receive their research experience and mentorship through work on NCSER-funded research projects, as either their primary research focus or an additional research training opportunity. When this occurs, the benefits of both funding sources can provide students with opportunities to apply their training and knowledge in true research settings under the guidance of seasoned researchers.

In a new blog series, we will interview doctoral students who participate in both kinds of federally funded opportunities to better understand the unique contributions of each and how the two funding sources complement one another. We asked each doctoral student to tell us about their experience as an OSEP Scholar, their work on IES-funded grants, the synergy between their OSEP supports and NCSER grant work, and how they believe these experiences will help them achieve their career goals.

Matt Klein, Texas A&M University

Headshot of Matt Klein

I am in my third year as an OSEP Scholar, supported through the Research Interventions in Special Education (RISE) Scholars Network—a partnership among Texas A&M University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to train future faculty in special education. This program has provided me with access to numerous learning experiences, including the opportunity to collaborate with high-caliber doctoral students, work with leading researchers at multiple institutions, and take research method courses that would otherwise not be available to me. The funding and tuition coverage that I receive as an OSEP Scholar has allowed me to focus on my studies and research without worrying about needing to take outside employment that may be unrelated to my training in education research.

I also work on an IES-funded meta-analysis project that looks at augmentative and alternative communication interventions for children with autism and/or intellectual disabilities. I love this project because I had worked as a teacher for children with autism. Currently, I code the data from the articles that are included in the analysis. This process has certainly been a learning experience, but it is so much fun because I read about interesting research that serves as inspiration for my own future work.

My work on the IES project and my experience as an OSEP Scholar inform one another. I began my doctoral program as a research assistant on the IES-funded project, and in my second year I became an OSEP Scholar. During my first year, I gained valuable research experience while working on the meta-analysis. This experience was crucial in my second year when, as an OSEP Scholar, I took a class on systematic review with intervention studies. My training as an OSEP Scholar has, in turn, given me the tools to lead a sub-project on the IES-funded meta-analysis.

Although I am still considering my future career goals, ideally, I would like to conduct research on interventions that can be used to support advocacy for play-based learning opportunities for children with disabilities. The research experience I receive as an OSEP Scholar and through IES-funded research will help build my knowledge base. The ongoing collaboration with other OSEP Scholars provides a natural forum for me to develop and refine research ideas as well as build a professional network for future collaborations even before I graduate.

Taydi Ray, Vanderbilt University

Headshot of Taydi Ray

I’m a first-year doctoral student, supported by an OSEP-funded training grant—Preparing Leaders to Unify Social, Behavioral, and Communication Interventions for Toddlers (Project PLUS-BC)—a cross-site collaboration between Vanderbilt University and the University of Washington to prepare scholars for leadership roles in early childhood special education with a focus on toddler language and social-emotional development. My short time as an OSEP Scholar has allowed me to visit our partner site, attend national conferences, and participate in a cross-site prenatal-to-three seminar. The training grant has also covered school-related expenses, such as tuition and a stipend I used to purchase a new computer. The project provides mentorship, training, and research opportunities with faculty from both universities. 

EMT en Español, an IES grant, introduced me to academia before I became an OSEP Scholar. This efficacy trial strives to improve language and school readiness skills for Spanish-speaking toddlers. I joined the research team in May 2022, primarily serving as an interventionist to deliver a naturalistic language intervention, Enhanced Milieu Teaching (EMT), and train caregivers to use the strategies, too. This project was an excellent introduction to special education research.

Although I continue to work on this project, as a current OSEP Scholar, my primary research efforts and training occur through another IES-funded project—Toddler Talk. Toddler Talk aims to improve language development in toddlers at high risk for persistent developmental language disorders and poor social and academic outcomes. I currently serve as a data collector for this project, which entails learning, administering, and scoring classroom-based assessments with teachers and toddlers. I have enjoyed this unique opportunity to engage in classroom research.

Before pursuing a doctoral degree, I worked as a bilingual speech-language pathologist (SLP) in schools. I would love to combine my background in speech pathology with my budding knowledge of special education research by serving as a faculty member in a communication disorders program. Ultimately, I hope to prepare future SLPs to confidently work with culturally and linguistically diverse children with disabilities and their families. I believe that my work on Project PLUS-BC, Toddler Talk, and EMT en Español will prepare me to be a well-rounded leader in special education.

Both OSEP and NCSER provide student scholars access to a variety of experiences that include training in research methodology and opportunities to apply this knowledge and build skills within current research projects. These opportunities can comprehensively prepare doctoral students to be future leaders who will contribute to meaningful research and teach the next generation of teachers, interventionists, and providers to use evidence-based practices to serve and support children with disabilities in their communities. Thank you to Matt and Taydi for sharing their experiences as OSEP Scholars working with research supported by NCSER. NCSER looks forward to seeing the future impact you will have in your field!

This blog was written by Shanna Bodenhamer, virtual student federal service intern at NCSER and doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University. Shanna is also an OSEP Scholar through RISE. Sarah Allen manages OSEP’s Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results Program.

Creating a Community of Writers

The Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program in the Education Sciences was established by IES to increase the number of well-trained PhD students who are prepared to conduct rigorous and relevant education research. IES encourages our predoctoral fellows to develop strong writing skills in addition to subject-matter and methodological expertise. In this guest blog, we asked IES predoctoral fellow, Todd Hall, co-chair of the Black Scholars in Education and Human Development Writing Group at the University of Virginia, to discuss how participating in this writing group has helped his development as an education researcher. Todd, is part of the IES-funded Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) program and studies early childhood education policy as well as school discipline in both early childhood and K-12 settings.

How did you become involved in the Black Scholars in Education and Human Development Writing Group?

I started my PhD in education policy in August 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic made networking and simply making friends awkward. During my first week in Charlottesville, VA, I watched wistfully from my window as a Black person jogged past my house. For me, the jogger represented communities of color at UVA that I did not know how to connect with.

Enter Dr. Edward Scott and Dr. Miray Seward, then students and co-chairs of the Black Scholars in Education and Human Development Writing Group. They sent me a personal email invitation to join the group’s first virtual writing retreat. When I joined the Zoom room, I found the affinity space I was looking for. I connected with graduate students whom I later turned to for informal mentorship, course recommendations, tips on navigating the hidden curriculum of grad school, insights from job market experiences, and examples of successful written proposals. The laughs shared virtually during check-ins between writing blocks helped ward off the pandemic blues.

I resolved to pay it forward, so I began shadowing Edward and Miray. When they graduated, I stepped into a leadership role alongside my co-chair, Sasha Miller-Marshall.

How has participating in the writing group helped you develop as a scholar?

The writing group has reminded me that I am not the only one who experiences writer’s block and has provided me with writing process role models. The professional development sessions we host have been one of the few opportunities that I have found to see faculty expose and reflect on their own writing challenges, from protecting their time for writing to incorporating critical feedback. This provides a unique perspective on the writing process—I often see faculty discuss works in progress, but the format is usually an oral presentation with slides rather than something written.

In the Black Scholars Writing Group sessions, speakers often share candidly about their own process, including writer’s block and how they overcome it. For example, a senior faculty member shared that they used voice memos to process their thoughts when they feel stuck. That disclosure normalized my experience of writer’s block and made me feel comfortable sharing that I write memos on my phone when I feel stuck. Moments like these have provided tools to overcome resistance in my writing process and normalized the experience of strategizing about writing rather than expecting words to flow effortlessly.

The presenters who lead sessions with our group have diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, but the focus of the group on creating affinity space for Black doctoral and PhD students allows me to be less concerned about stereotype threat. Whereas I am often the only Black person in other rooms, I am never the only Black person in this writing group. That alleviates any concern about being perceived as a token representative of Black people, or worse, as less capable if I choose to share my difficulties. In one session, I was able to unpack with the faculty speaker that a particular piece of writing was difficult because I had not yet answered the simple question of why the work was important. I got to that realization because the speaker modeled vulnerability about their own writing process, and I felt at ease to discuss my own.

How can the broader education research community help graduate student researchers develop as writers?

Where appropriate and feasible, education researchers can share their successful conference proposals, grant applications, budgets, reviewer response letters, and perhaps even dissertation chapters. If it does not make sense to post them publicly, researchers could offer to share materials with graduate students that they meet at speaking engagements, conferences, etc.

Successful models have given me helpful guidance, especially when tackling a new format. Beyond the writing group, I am immensely grateful to the alumni of my IES pre-doctoral fellowship who have provided many of their materials for current students to reference.

What advice can you give other student researchers who wish to further develop their writing skills?

Cultivate authentic relationships with a network of mentors who are willing to share examples of their successful writing and review your work. My advisor is amazing and thorough with her feedback. That said, it has been useful to strategically ask others who bring in complementary perspectives to review my work. For example, my advisor is a quantitative researcher, and I recently proposed a mixed methods study. Researchers who do qualitative and mixed methods work were able to challenge and strengthen the qualitative aspects of my proposal based on their expertise. You might also be applying for opportunities or submitting to journals that other mentors have succeeded with or reviewed for. They may help you anticipate what that audience might be looking for.

In addition, when you receive feedback, do so graciously, weigh it seriously, and ask yourself if there’s a broader piece of constructive criticism to apply to your other writing.


This blog was produced training program officer Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov) and is part of a larger series on the IES research training programs.

Training the Next Generation of CTE Researchers: A Conversation with the CTE Research Network

IES funded the Expanding the Evidence Base for Career and Technical Education (CTE) Research Network (CTERN) in FY 2018 in order to increase the quality and rigor of CTE research, specifically by (1) coordinating IES-funded researchers studying CTE using causal designs and (2) training new researchers in causal methods to address CTE-related research questions. In this guest blog, the Network Lead’s PI, Katherine Hughes, and Training Lead, Jill Walston, from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), discuss the evolution of the institute across four years of training supported by the grant and what they learned about the components of effective training, in the hopes of sharing lessons learned for future IES-funded trainings.

About the Summer Training Institute

Each summer since 2020, CTERN has held summer training institute on causal research methods in CTE.  Across four summers, we had 81 trainees, including junior faculty, researchers in state or university research offices or institutes, doctoral students, and researchers in non-profit organizations. During the institutes, we had expert CTE researchers and national and state CTE leaders deliver presentations about CTE history, policies, theories, and recent research.

The major focus of the training was on research designs and statistical methods for conducting research that evaluates the causal impact of CTE policies and practices on student outcomes. The participants learned about conducting randomized controlled trials—considered the gold standard for causal research—as well as two quasi-experimental approaches, regression discontinuity and comparative interrupted time series designs. After presentations about the approaches, students worked with data in small groups to complete data analysis assignments designed to provide practical experience with the kinds of data and analyses common in CTE research. The small groups had dedicated time to meet with one of the instructors to discuss their analyses and interpret findings together. The combination of presentations and practical applications of data analysis with real data, and time in small groups for troubleshooting and discussion with CTE researchers, made for a rich experience that students found engaging and effective. The students received an IES certificate of course completion to mark their accomplishment.

Making Continuous Improvements Based on Lessons Learned

We had a continuous improvement mindset for our summer institute. After each week-long session was completed, the CTE research network director, training coordinator, and instructors met to review their perceptions of the training and most importantly the feedback students provided at the end of the week. We applied the lessons learned to make improvements to the agenda, communications, and student grouping approaches to the plans for the following summer.

Over the course of the four years of the summer institute training, we made a number of adjustments in response to feedback.

  • We continued to offer the institute virtually. The institute was originally intended to be held in person; an earlier blog describes our necessary pivot to the online format. While we could have safely changed to an in-person institute in 2022 and 2023, feedback from our students showed that the virtual institute was more accessible to a geographically diverse group. Many trainees said they would not have even applied to the institute if they would have had to travel, even with a stipend to help cover those costs.
  • We added more time for the students to get to know one another with virtual happy hours. Compared to in-person trainings, virtual trainings lack those natural opportunities for informal communications between students and with instructors that can foster engagement, trust, and joint purpose. While we couldn’t replicate in-person networking opportunities, we were able to improve the experience for the students by being intentional with informal gatherings.
  • We expanded the time for the small groups to meet with their instructors. Students reported that this office hour time was very valuable for their understanding of the material and in interpreting the output of the analyses they ran. We extended this time to optimize opportunities for discussion and problem solving around their data analysis assignments.   
  • We made improvements to the data assignment guidance documents. In the first year, students reported that they spent more time on figuring out initial tasks with the data which left less time for running analyses and interpreting their output. We modified our guidance documents that accompanied the assignments to spell out more explicitly some of the initial steps to shorten the time students spent on set-up and maximize their time doing the important work of coding for the analyses and examining output. We also provided links to resources about the statistical packages used by the students for those that needed time to brush up on their skills before the training began.
  • We doubled down on efforts to stay connected with the trainees and supported ways to have them stay connected to each other. For example, we let them know when CTERN’s researchers are presenting at conferences and invite them to connect with us and each other at these conferences. We’re now organizing a LinkedIn group to try to develop a community for our training alumni.

Our summer training institutes were a great success. We look forward to continuing this opportunity for researchers into the future, with a new version to be offered in the summer of 2025 by the CTE Research Network 2.0.


Jill Walston, Ph.D., is a principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research with more than 20 years of experience conducting quantitative research, developing assessments and surveys, and providing technical support to researchers and practitioners to apply rigorous research and measurement practices. Dr. Walston is the lead for training initiatives for the IES-funded Career and Technical Education Research Network.

Katherine Hughes, Ph.D., is a principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research and the principal investigator and director of the CTE Research Network and CTE Research Network 2.0. Dr. Hughes’ work focuses on career and technical education in high schools and community colleges, college readiness, and the high school-to-college transition.

This blog was produced by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), a Program Officer in the National Center for Education Research (NCER).