Using National Data in Dual Roles

​Angie Choi is a doctoral student at University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and is Director of Admissions for the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).  

Interview by Leah Ewing Ross 

AChoi.jpgeAIR: Please briefly describe your background and what led you to your doctoral program at UALR.  

I began my education career as a high school teacher in San Francisco and then shifted into administration at the district office. After some years, I was hired as an administrator in higher education. I’ve been in higher education administration for the past 10 years, which included a move to Little Rock to help my elderly parents. I’d like to further my understanding of data and policy whether in an administrative, faculty or institutional researcher role; this is what led me to my doctoral program. That, coupled with the encouragement of my supervisor, who is a graduate of the higher education doctoral program at UALR, led me to my doctoral program.  

eAIR: How are you using large datasets in your doctoral work? 

I’m working with two NSF datasets—the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) and the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR)—to look at disciplinary pathways into occupations and to explore productivity levels. I became interested in disciplinary frames after learning about Anthony Biglan’s work on disciplinary paradigms and applications. This initial interest led to queries about doctoral completion rates based upon disciplines, and then to research productivity questions. I used SED tabular data in the initial stages of my dissertation research. I recommend these datasets for graduate students who want to use secondary data sources for their dissertations. Students may also use NCES and NSF data in their graduate coursework to prepare for dissertation research.  

eAIR: As a recent National Data Institute (NDI) participant, what key nuggets of wisdom would you share with colleagues or peers who are hesitant to work with large datasets?  

I would encourage them to work with both NCES and NSF datasets. One of the key nuggets of wisdom is to understand how “big data” connects to federal policy-making. If we understand why the data came about, then we can better understand funding streams and how the data connect to the larger need. If people are unfamiliar with the datasets, there are descriptions for each, tutorials for relevant tools, and project officers who know the data well and can answer specific questions. I have gained valuable assistance with my research through conversations with project officers. 

eAIR: How has your experience with large datasets informed your professional role?   

In the past, I didn’t work with IPEDS in my professional role; however, I plan on using IPEDS in the future based on my training at NDI. For example, if I want to look at various admissions characteristics (like selectivity) for medical science campuses that offer public health programs, I now know how to do that. Also, working with national datasets has been helpful in asking more refined questions about data in my daily role and linking that to relevant policies. 

eAIR: How have your varied professional experiences shaped your perspective on national conversations about education-related data?  

My education experience has helped me understand how different levels of education work and how external forces like national advocacy organizations, policy-makers, and accreditors impact local institutions and programs. My experience at different levels of education has helped me interpret national discussions about education reform, affordability, and competitiveness. Although my doctoral research is focused on the disciplinary pipeline from undergraduate to masters to doctorate levels, some NCES datasets contain data relevant to the transition from high school to college. Working in both K-12 and higher education has given me the practical experience that contextualizes national data; both are important in forming a clearer picture of education. 

eAIR: Like you, many higher education professionals pursue graduate degrees while working full-time. How do you find balance and manage stress?  

It’s a challenge that many working professionals in higher education face. Higher education doctoral programs often require students to have professional experience, so a lot of us are in mid-level careers, in our 40s, partnered with children, and have elderly parents, too. I am incredibly grateful for my spiritual practice. I’m a Vedic lay monk, so I meditate daily and remain a detached observer to all the activity required due to this lifestyle. There is a tremendous volume of work to be done and constant deadlines; however, having control of my mind is what helps me in this crucible of stress. Life will always be busy, so I focus on controlling the internal rather than the external. Other ways I find balance is by eating nutritious meals, light exercise, and rest.  

eAIR: What is your favorite book of all time, and why?  

The Upanishads, because every time I read a different gita I encounter a deeper meaning. Each reading touches me differently because all are profound in their wisdom, and they console the soul. When I first read the Upanishads, I was a philosophy student, so I approached them from the intellect, but another level of understanding occurs when approached through practice or experience.