Concordia University Chicago

Completing Council for Exceptional Children Division of Research’s Early Career Researcher Workshops

Now What?

One year ago, I was frantically making final edits on my dissertation and preparing for my final defense. I had not given too much thought to what would be next because I wanted to give my full effort and attention to what was right in front of me; not to mention the fact that anything that might come next would require me hearing the words, “Congratulations, Dr. Bratton” from my committee chair, Dr. Elena Lyutykh. Her and I had briefly discussed my desire to submit my research to educational journals and possibly continue my research agenda, but we also decided to wait on further discussion until I passed my final defense.

I was on cloud nine for about two days after passing my final defense before my thoughts came back to “now what?” Granted, I have a full-time career as a special education director for Lutheran Special Education Ministries, but I felt a strong calling to do more with the learning and experiences from my dissertation. It might sound strange to some people, but I absolutely loved everything about the research process and writing of my dissertation.

My committee members were extremely supportive, and they all continued to have conversations with me to assist me with thinking through what was next. I had some great ideas from Dr. Lyutykh and Dr. Frkovich at Concordia University Chicago, but I felt like a bit of an imposter to think of myself in a similar category to other scholars.

Applying and Acceptance

In the fall, I received an email from the Council of Exceptional Children’s (CEC) Division of Research stating that they were accepting applications for an annual series of workshops they hold for early career researchers. These workshops typically are held in person in conjunction with the annual CEC conference, but this series would be held virtually.

The program is intended for individuals who had recently completed their doctoral degree in special education and provides mentorship to these new graduates and those in their first year of teaching in higher education. The workshops would specifically focus on developing a research agenda, getting published, applying for research grants, and other aspects of research. Dr. Lyutykh wrote me a letter of recommendation, and I was told that the 20 individuals accepted to the program would be notified in about two months.

I was unsure how they would go about selecting participants from the applications, but it seemed very timely, and I knew it would not hurt to apply. It was pretty exhilarating to open my email a couple months later and see an email from Dr. Sarah Powell at the University of Texas at Austin confirming that I would be part of this program for the upcoming year! Some people get star struck when they meet a celebrity or famous athlete, but I felt this way receiving the acceptance email from a researcher whose work I had cited numerous times in my various literature reviews during my CUC coursework.

“You have plenty of time to change the world.”

At the beginning of our first virtual session, everyone in the program and the mentors took time to introduce themselves, and I once again found myself feeling as though I was an imposter. Many of these recent graduates already had multiple publications in high impact journals, held full-time positions in academia, and were immersed in multiple research projects. In my mind, my aspirations of submitting my first publication and continuing to research special education in Christian schools seemed to pale in comparison to what these scholars had already achieved.

Then, after the introductions, one of the mentors said to us, “Remember, you have plenty of time to change the world.”  I wrote this down with a big star next to it on my notepad and continued to reflect on that over the next few days. That statement resonated with me because I had gotten caught up in thinking that what I was doing was not enough and that my work was not of the same caliber of others in the program.

I realized after that first session that I may not think I was up to par with the others in that group, but God has a plan for using my skills and my newly acquired degree. The path in how I use these gifts may look different and be on a different timeline, but ultimately, it is God’s path for me and His timing. I still have plenty of time to, “change the world”, and it will be in line with God’s timing.

Valuable Takeaways

The early career researcher workshops will culminate with an in-person day-long workshop in Orlando, Florida, at the 2022 CEC Conference. I have learned an overwhelming amount from the amazing mentors these workshops have offered; they have given me confidence to pursue my research agenda. It is what I am passionate about, and I have learned that is such an important aspect of being a scholar.

I am now finalizing a research article based on my dissertation study to submit to a journal for publication and beginning to work on a new research project with another researcher with a similar research agenda to mine. The early career research workshops have helped me fill in the, “now what?” question that has haunted me for almost a year post-graduation.

More importantly, even though these workshops are secular, they have served as a reminder that God always knows the answer to my, “now what?” Perhaps changing the world is overly ambitious, but I will never know unless I work to follow God’s plan and see where he leads me next.