Research Apprenticeship

One of the core benchmarks the PhD program in mathematics education is the Research Apprenticeship (RA). Doctoral students usually complete their RA around their second year in the program, after they have completed their preliminary exams but before they take their qualifying exams. Successful completion of the RA signals that the student has had both coursework and hands-on experience in research methodology and the application of learning theory to the study of mathematics teaching and/or learning.

In the mathematics education program, we envision the RA as a deep, collaborative apprenticeship, where student learning is supported through the co-construction of knowledge and practice with faculty members in community. Rather than viewing the RA as a “mini project” or “dissertation pilot,” the math education faculty instead view the RA as an opportunity to invite doctoral students into their own work to become legitimate contributors to their own advancing research trajectories. Through this experience, doctoral students will gain hands-on experience contributing to empirical research projects that otherwise may have been outside their own capacity to develop or execute independently.

In practice, this means that completed RAs represent collaborative work between one or more students and a faculty member. Depending on the ongoing work of the mathematics education faculty, RAs therefore take many forms. Some examples include:

  • An argumentative literature review that may be submitted for publication, or may serve as the bedrock for a grant proposal
  • The development and piloting of one or more instruments for collecting data
  • Working with research participants and collecting data for analysis
  • Developing or operationalizing frameworks into tools for analyzing data
  • Analyzing existing datasets and writing up findings for internal distribution or publication

Since the RA represents a collaboration between the doctoral student and a faculty member, it is important that doctoral students begin thinking about their RA early in their program, and communicates early and often with program faculty who might serve as their RA mentor.

Student’s role:

  • Become familiar with the research project(s) underway or previously conducted by current math education faculty
  • Select a faculty member whose ongoing projects or existing datasets offer experiences that interest the student
  • Meet with the faculty member to discuss project work that could be completed by the PhD student
  • Write a (very) short proposal for how the RA will be spent, what the anticipated outcomes will be, and the nature of collaboration between student(s) and faculty mentor
  • Carry out the portion/portions of the research project agreed upon
  • Write up final report, including central learning outcomes for the student and the relevance of these experiences to the student’s future work

Faculty mentor’s role:

  • Keep a regularly-updated list of ongoing research goals or recent project datasets that students may elect to collaborate on
  • Create a reading list for the student that will familiarize the student with relevant theory, prior studies, and/or methodological guidance relevant to the proposed RA outcomes
  • Closely mentor and monitor student progress
  • Give feedback to student on work products and written drafts
  • Determine when the RA is acceptable for submission
  • Mentor the student in selecting and submitting proposals to appropriate research conferences where they may present the product(s) of their RA
  • Depending on the stage of the progress, mentoring students in writing for publication in peer-reviewed journals