In January 2019, the POWER Steering Committee met with Barbara Wasik, Ph.D. during a
meeting in Washington D.C. We had a lively conversation about mentoring, advice for education
research, and work-life balance.
POWER: Can you describe the mentoring you received during your career and how your mentors
● Early in my career, I was mentored and really protected by two senior women, who I
worked with. They supported me and provided me with advice about work load, salary
and taught me how to navigate our organization. These two women were key. They
always said “Make yourself marketable to the larger professional field not just your
immediate university community.” For example, they said your standards for your
academic performance should be based more on what the larger market dictates rather
than your particular institution at the time.
● They helped me understand when I should advocate for myself as a junior researcher.
These were issues ranged from having difficult conversation with senior researchers
about authorship decisions to asking for an office that was more than a tiny closet. It took
me weeks to work up the courage to have one of these conversations, but it was the right
thing to do. On the other hand, there were some tasks that they helped me understand
would make me a better researcher—like spending time in schools collecting data and
observing in classrooms. This was valuable advice that I still follow today.
POWER: What advice to you have on how to be a good mentor to female education researchers?
● First, you have to know the criteria on which they are being evaluated. Then, get to know
how they allocate their time. Find out what they enjoy and what makes them anxious.
You might find that more junior people spend more time doing things that don’t make
them anxious but these activities may not are not the best use of their time or in their best
interest as they work towards tenure and promotion. Also, I would suggest that they
examine the types of service that they are involved in and determine the cost/benefits of
the service. If it is very time consuming or not the best use of their time, I would suggest
that they look for other opportunities.
● An important area for helping mentees is with networking, such as helping them learn to
network at conferences and contacting people who do similar research as they do in order
to make professional connections. Sometimes this includes peer mentoring or writing
● As a mentor, also know you can only do so much. This profession requires a lot of self-
motivation and self-regulation, so the mentees have to do their part.
POWER: What advice do you have for negotiating through research career ladders?
● Regarding promotion and tenure, I would recommend that you get advice from not only
your department/college but also the university level on matters of tenure.
● I think my approach has been to speak openly about issues that arise in the professional
setting. If there are policies that you may object to or decisions that you may not agree
with, seek out more senior people for advice and try always to be fair and try and see the
other side’s perspective. My instinct has always been to talk about things when
something uncomfortable happened.
POWER: What advice do you have for someone considering promotion or tenure?
● As you approach promotion and tenure, there can be a lot of noise and uncertainty around
what criteria your institution values. I would suggest you pay attention to the college and
university-based guidelines and seek advice from colleagues who have recently gone
through the tenure and promotion process at your university. Another key aspect is to
demonstrate that you have developed an independent research trajectory.
● If your institution requires letter writers you do not collaborate with, start by searching
for researchers who have cited your work. Your letter writers need to be familiar with
your work in order to write a strong letter of support.
What advice do you have on grant writing?
● I think the most important thing is to find colleagues with similar interests with whom
you can write grants. One person writing a grant is a lot to do independently. It is helpful
to have a small group of colleagues (inside or outside your organization) who you can
effectively collaborate and who you trust.
● I try to always put in two grants a year because most of the time, they don’t get funded on
the first submission. It is a balancing act of making sure you don’t put in so many grants
that you don’t do anything well. Another important thing is to remember you don’t have
to be a Principal Investigator (PI) on everything; being a co-investigator also covers
allows you to play an important role in a grant funded project while you are PI on other
● It’s also important to consider funding for graduate students when writing your budget.
● There are some funding mechanisms I would not do again, such as grants that require
matching funds. It was a lot of work to find additional foundation funding for those sorts
How did you approach the balancing act of being a researcher and having a family or other
● In the beginning, I was really focused on doing a good job with my research, but I also
had two young kids. I was able to create a schedule during those years as a research
scientist where I could put my children first (attend my children’s events at school, be
home after school, etc.) and that was the right choice for my family and me. You know,
you are going to remember memories about your children more than that journal article.
● You have to decide how you will carve out your time for work versus your family or
other life priorities. Some institutions are better than others in supporting work-life
Many thanks to Barbara for sharing her time with this group and for her commitment to
mentoring many women in education research.
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