Research Project

Challenges in education

Meghan Caven was an NICHD fellow in 2015-2016 during her fourth year as a Sociology PhD student. She researches education, race, and ethnicity. Here she describes her fellowship year.

The PSTC fellowship has provided me the time, intellectual community, and material resources to develop my research focus, design my dissertation project, and advance a number of ongoing projects. Over the course of this year, I have refined my master’s thesis and submitted it for publication, done the literature review, fieldwork, and begun analysis for a side project, and designed my dissertation project. 

The paper that began as my master’s thesis, "A Decision Without Seeming to Decide: Public School Closure and Quantification," is currently under review at The American Journal of Sociology. The intellectual community at the PSTC has seen me through multiple versions of this paper, providing invaluable feedback on many drafts along the way. The multidisciplinary setting of the PSTC has been especially helpful in moving this (mixed-methods) project forward, illuminating innovative ways to combine methodologies and research perspectives. 

This year, I have also dedicated considerable time to a side project that uses ethnographic methods to interrogate how teacher-student identity congruence influences students’ educational experiences. While this project’s scale is much too small to yield population-level findings, it speaks to a body of work that uses population-level data to argue that minority students benefit from identity-matching with their teachers. Existing research does not test the mechanisms that underlie this relationship; the qualitative case study approach begins to populate an account of how identity matching operates in individual classrooms, highlighting directions for future study. My engagement with the PSTC has prepared me to frame this project in the context of existing scholarship, strengthening my inquiry and argument.

Finally, crafting my dissertation project and writing my proposal have been significant undertakings this year. I worked closely with my committee chair and PSTC mentor, Margot Jackson, to refine my questions, tailor my methodological approach, and weave together two sides of a mixed-methods project that examines the relationship between school-level disciplinary policy/practice, and students’ outcomes in the criminal justice system. Zhenchao Qian also serves on my committee and was very helpful in directing and expanding my research focus and literature review. My project was particularly influenced by Becky Pettit, who presented at the colloquia series. I was grateful to have the opportunity to attend a student meeting with Becky that afternoon, and our conversation resulted in the refinement of the qualitative side of my project. I would highly encourage PSTC fellows to attend graduate student meetings with visiting scholars. The opportunity to get individualized feedback from stars in the field has been invaluable. I defended my proposal on May 10, and was awarded a dissertation writing fellowship from the graduate school for next year. 

The PSTC fellowship has provided me the time, material resources, and intellectual community that were instrumental I’n advancing my work and my graduate-school career, and I am honored to have received it for the academic year 2015-2016.