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#2019APPAM Thursday: A Day in the Life of a PhD Candidate

November 7, 2019 08:16 PM

By Melissa Lyon
PhD Candidate, Teachers College, Columbia University 

I woke up early this morning to the licks and scratches of an old friend’s new puppy. Because I am merely a poor graduate student, I spent last night on a friend's couch to save a few dollars (I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis at Teachers College, Columbia University).

After a restless night (to say the least), I made my way to the conference hotel. Immediately after I got my badge, I walked into the innovation lounge discussion on "Design Charrettes – an Approach for Collaboratively Designing Research and Evaluation By Engaging Diverse Perspectives" without having any sense of what these innovations lounges were or what to expect. I’m more accustomed to the typical paper presentation, but when I arrived (a little bit late I admit) I realized that this lounge was actually a pleasantly small, truly discussion-based section.

Although I came to the conference wearing my PhD student hat, I realized that the exact discussion that was happening in this innovation lounge was directly connected to the evaluation work that I’ve been doing in my job at a research center on campus. It was an in-depth discussion of how we could use a “human centered design process” in the design of research and evaluation. I was excited to hear a broad array of perspectives demonstrating their commitment to intentionally building in time and processes to ensure that our research and evaluations are actually answering questions that stakeholders on the ground care about.

I left the session not only with tangible documents and information to bring back to my colleagues at my research center, but also a deeper confidence in my ability to advocate for building this time into our own research designs.

I then made my way to the opening lunch where I was carried away by New York Times journalist Jason DeParle into a nuanced migration tale of a single family originally from the Philippines that moved to Houston, where I had lived for roughly a decade. I also was lucky enough to find a familiar face in the packed ballroom--I ran into a friend from my days teaching in Houston! This meant that I got to share the experience of hearing this tale of children that could have been our students while sitting right next to her. What a lovely opportunity to remember the wide world and the much bigger picture, something that I realized I often don’t do at academic conferences when I live in paper presentations about very specific (and still very important) fields of research.

Admittedly somewhat anxious about my own paper presentation, immediately after the opening lunch, I found my room and got everything set up. I was genuinely scared, especially since this was my first time at an APPAM conference, and I hadn’t actually gotten the chance to attend any paper sessions yet. Despite my nerves, I was so happy with the session and really enjoyed talking about the research that I’m working on for my dissertation. I then got the chance to talk much more deeply with the other panelists after the session at a cafe nearby, which was absolutely wonderful and thought provoking in just the right ways.

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