Early Career Researchers and Developers in the DR K–12 Program: Needs, Supports, and Recommendations

The future strength of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) K-12 education research and development efforts depends in part on the development of promising early career researchers and developers—including doctoral students, post-docs, and first time principal investigators (PIs)—who can grow into R&D leaders and form an impactful R&D workforce.  Unfortunately, there is little written on the needs and supports related to early career professional growth in the NSF’s Discovery Research K-12 program (DR K-12).  Early career researchers and developers in the program have not been asked in a systematic way to assess the topics, types, and sources of support they need and receive.  Likewise, DR K-12 veterans have not been asked about the supports they provide to early career colleagues or what they think would be most helpful for early career growth.

CADRE[1] staff produced this brief to promote deliberation on how to improve support and guidance for early career researchers and developers in the DR K-12 program, as well as in the broader field of STEM education R&D.  While content and technical expertise are essential for a successful R&D career, here we focus on the development of professional R&D capacities that are needed regardless of one’s discipline, methods, or institution.  The brief is written for consideration by a range of audiences, including the NSF, its resource networks (particularly CADRE), R&D project leaders and mentors, academic advisors, and early career researchers and developers themselves.  Data was provided by a sample of individuals who have shown early career promise, as well by veteran PIs who were motivated to respond on this subject.  This brief explores early career and veteran perspectives related to the following questions:

  1. What topics and types of supports for professional growth do early career researchers and developers need and receive?
  2. To what extent have sources of support proven helpful for early career professional growth, and how?
  3. How might the support and professional development of early career researchers and developers be improved?

After discussing methods and the professional experience of survey respondents, the brief turns to the topics on which early career respondents said they needed and received support, followed by topics on which veteran PIs provided support.  Then, we discuss a variety of sources of early career support, along with their contributions to early career growth.  The brief concludes with recommendations for key actors involved with early career professional growth in the DR K-12 program.


[1] The Community Advancing Discovery Research in Education (CADRE) is an NSF-funded resource network that supports and connects researchers and developers in the NSF’s Discovery Research K-12 program.  More information can be found at http://www.cadrek12.org.