Email to another young electrical engineer thinking about studying education in grad school. I figured "huh, maybe other people could use this info" so I figured I would post it. Note that I'm about to start grad school in the fall, so my experience is limited and I'm still awfully naive, so this letter should be taken for what is is - a near-peer writing about what she thought about on her own way to enrolling in a graduate program.

I'm also an electrical engineer who turned into an education geek and open source hacker... in terms of grad school and education, it depends on what you want to do with it and where you'd like to concentrate. Which...

  • Age range - K12? High school? College? Post-college (adult learning)?
  • Type of school you want to work with - public? charter? magnet? rural? community college? university? in Uruguay, or elsewhere?
  • What area of education you want to learn about or work within - curriculum development? being an actual classroom teacher? research on the effectiveness of programs? school governance? policy?
  • If there's any particular topic you're fascinated with - CS education? math teaching? kids with learning disabilities? the arts in education? cognitive science?

For me, I decided I wanted to work with college students in technical fields who were interested in making educational technology - so I could teach others to make useful (open source) tools for learning in addition to making tools myself - and that I wanted to be able to (1) teach and do good design for learning, meaning that I have to study cognitive science and curriculum design, and (2) rigorously see whether the things we're making are effective, meaning I have to learn how to do research. So I'm headed to Purdue University's PhD program in Engineering Education in the fall to do exactly that.

Other things I considered:

  • Harvard graduate school of education masters with a concentration in cognitive science (nice if you want to go into theory/research/policy)
  • MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group (they do Scratch, etc - nice if you want to be the one making experimental toys)
  • Taking up an engineering masters or PhD and doing edu stuff as electives and extracurriculars (if I wanted to hone my technical skills even more)

There are also other engineering education programs in the US and I can point you towards them if that's what you're specifically interested in (the teaching of engineering in a variety of places and grade levels). I don't know very much about programs outside the US but I'd love to swap notes with you on that if you decide to look in Uruguay or other countries (I'm hoping to study or research abroad at some point during my PhD work).

You can also go into CS education, or any other field's education and use your tech skills - for instance, if you're interested in music education, you can study music education and be "the geek in the music ed program who makes software," or physical education and be "the geek in the phys ed program who wired the gym with sensors and heart rate monitors," and so on.

One consideration: if you're thinking about becoming a faculty member later on, you'll usually be expected to do research in the field of your PhD, and research outside that field will often not "count" - so if you want to do, say, CS education research, you may want to do your studies in education (and be the educator who knows a lot of CS) rather than CS (and then struggle to be allowed to work on studying how to teach intor programming when your department chair really wants you to write more papers on compiler theory).

I think for grad school one approach is to have a project you want to work on in mind - one you currently can't do with the skills you have - and then go to the program and advisor that will teach you what you need to do in order to do that project, and give you credit for it. Worked for me.  I have some other friends from college who were into education also, and they optimized for some other things...

  • who would give them funding (important! I got lucky and got funding at my first choice)
  • the best-ranked, best-known name (imo not important, but useful if you're going to go around talking with lots of people outside the field who might not understand what you're doing but will automatically respect that you went to Harvard or whatever).

Hope this helps - basically, this is a braindump of "what I wish I'd known a year ago before I started applying to schools."