Episode 29: Poor readers, translational science, and supporting women scientists with Emily Solari
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Special Guest: Emily Solari
For the Episode 29 Transcript, Click "Read More" below
00:11 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to See Hear Speak Podcast Episode 29. In this Episode I speak with Emily Solari about poor readers, translational science, and supporting woman scientists. We dedicate this episode to Carol Connor, a pioneering educational scientist who always supported junior scholars, most of whom were women. We were both lucky to have known Carol. She will be greatly missed. Her legacy lives on through her impactful findings. Please check out a link to her work under this episode’s resources.
Thank you for listening! And don’t forget to check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com to sign up for email alerts for new episodes and content, read a transcript of this podcast, access articles and resources that we discussed, and find more information about our guests. If you like this podcast, don’t forget to subscribe and leave a positive rating in apple podcast or wherever you are listening.
01:15 TH: Welcome to episode 29 of SeeHearSpeak Podcast. Today, I have guest Emily Solari. And I'll have Emily start by introducing herself.
01:25 Emily Solari: Hi, Tiffany. Thanks for having me. I am a Professor of Reading Education at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development, and I am in the Curriculum Instruction and Special Education Department. But we have our own reading program within that department, and I coordinate that group right now.
01:47 TH: Awesome. And what's your background? What's your PhD and master’s and undergrad in?
01:52 ES: Yeah, so my background is... Well, my... I'm not gonna say what my undergrad is cause it's so different from what I do right now. I have a past life where I lived in Spain for a few years and that was amazing and we can have a podcast on that, another one.
02:03 TH: Oh, that's awesome.
02:04 ES: [chuckle] But, my background is special education, so I always trained both my master’s and my PhD area in special education. And my early work was really looking at kids who were both English language learners and were experiencing difficulties with reading and what that sort of looked like developmentally. And then also sort of looking at how do we intervene early with kids both in Spanish and English. Because the populations I was working with were mainly Spanish speakers in central California, and sort of early literacy areas to sort of be proactive about reading achievements, so doing kindergarten and first grade instruction... Supplemental instruction for them.
02:50 TH: And you've been to several different states throughout your career. What has been the state… or, you don't have to name the state necessarily. What have been the most beneficial policies that you think have most benefited children who are bilingual?
03:03 ES: Well I think, interestingly, Texas has been a holdout state for many many years, in bilingual education. Even in places like California. Cause I lived in California when the law was passed that you could no longer do bilingual education, which has since been reversed in the past few years. But Texas has really been a holdout state, and it has sort of a unique political history, I think, that there has always been a push for continuing bilingual and dual language instruction. Not that that's sort of an easy thing to implement in Texas, but it's always sort of been there. And when I was in Texas, we did a lot of work in the Pre-K space looking at how do you do... Cause they would have publicly funded dual language preschool programs, and we did a lot of work looking at how you can develop both Spanish and English skills for young kids as they transition from Pre-K into kindergarten.
04:00 TH: And that's really... You've seen the most beneficial for children to have both, correct?
04:06 ES: I mean... So that's an empirical question. Just kidding.
04:09 TH: Yeah, exactly. [chuckle]
04:11 ES: Yeah, I mean, I think that we always wanna advocate for children to be able to do if their families choose to maintain their home language and their primary language or whatever you wanna call it. I think that that's a really good policy. I think it's hard to measure some of this stuff empirically, and I think that maybe our... I think that our dual language and bilingual programs are not exactly where we want them to be instructionally, and so that might sort of impact just one of these long-term trajectory and outcomes that we're seeing, so.
04:48 TH: Absolutely. You have lots of work also in children with autism and high-functioning autism. What are some of the major findings from that work?
04:58 ES: Right, so that's relatively new work for me. I sort of see myself as a reading researcher who... I'm an interventionist at heart, so I do have a lot of empirical papers that sort of look at development over time. But really, I find those fascinating because I like working with statistics and working with large data sets and working with other folks who look at data, well maybe differently than me, but really, that's to drive intervention. And so, when I got... When I went to University of California, Davis in 2011, I was... It was... You know you're in the right place at the right time type situation. I had a colleague there, Peter Mundy, who had just received an IES grant where he was gonna track academic development, among other things, in kids with high-functioning autism over time. And I sort of worked with him and some of his students to develop the reading battery, and I had definitely benefited from that because that sort of start... Launched a whole new research area for me.
05:58 ES: So, we... So, I did not have to collect that data, which was amazing, so I can't take any credit for that. But he was very generous in sharing his data and sort of working through what does the data mean and what does this mean for kids with autism? And is there something unique to kids with autism that makes comprehension really difficult? Because in our sample, and other people have found that up to 60% of kids with autism have reading comprehension impairments, which as you know, is much bigger than the general population. Much larger proportion. So, we've been working through that. We're still sort of deep in that work. There's some publications that we have now out... Sort of mapping that longitudinally and then comparing that to kids who have ADHD and comparing it to kids who are typically developing, to sort of see what the differences are.
06:48 ES: And then as a … there is. My research team at UVA. I was fortunate enough to... As I was leaving UC Davis and moving to the University of Virginia, I got an IES postdoc grant, and it moved with me to UVA. Training grant. So, I have a group of postdocs who work in the autism space right now. Really looking at literacy development interventions with kids with autism. How can you look at both comprehension development, and also social communication and cognition development? And it's in one intervention, so how can we use storybooks to work on both of those skills at the same time? I have a group working on that, and then one of my postdocs is also really deep in the writing space, so working around with writing kids with autism.
07:41 TH: Yeah, that makes sense. When I'm thinking a lot about poor reader subgroups, I often think about children who have dyslexia, and children who have developmental language disorder, and I always... I have a graphic that shows children with dyslexia primarily thinking about deficits more in the form of language like the letter-sounds correspondence, and then DLD being more of the semantic grammar aspect, but then I always leave the pragmatic one out. [chuckle] And I always feel like this is kinda where the autism part would be, but I've been interested in looking at the work you're doing in that realm to see what kind of deficits they would have. Cause it does seem very heterogeneous, cause a lot of people think they're all hyperlexic, but we know that...
08:22 ES: Right. Yeah. And so we first... When I first owned that literature, there was a lot that, oh, kids with autism are hyperlexic. But it's really not the case. If you use good measures of reading, it's really probably 25 to 30% of the population in children with autism. And so our hyperlexic are really good word readers or whatever you wanna call that, and then the rest struggle. A lot of the time... We were seeing interestingly, which I think is potentially different from typical developing kids but maybe not, was that we saw that even when you controlled for IQ, so comparing to a typically developing group, they were doing pretty good on word reading, but then they weren't doing okay on text reading fluency. So connected text became really hard, and then comprehension, we saw even more of a deficit, so... But there is a group in the autism sample that does... That struggles with decoding. It's not that that doesn't exist. It does exist.
09:32 TH: Yes. Yeah. Interestingly, my first paper I did on poor reader subgroups, we called poor comprehenders hyperlexic, but they didn't have autism and so the reviewers pushed back, said, "But wait, that's only autism.", and we were like, "Oh, yeah, we don't want to confuse that because we actually ruled out children with autism." So, we ended up calling it hyperlexic-like. [chuckle] That was our kind of medium ground. We're like, "Well, we'll say hyperlexic-like." But we've since called them poor comprehenders and then we've since called them this specific listing deficit, or... And then we really have now tried to be more saying that they have language disorders, developmental language disorders. But it is kind of interesting cause those kids, by definition, have good word reading and poor comprehension, so it's kind of an interesting paradox to look at those who have autism that fall into that profile versus not, and how autism might be different.
10:27 ES: Right. And I also think some of this misunderstanding about hyperlexia and autism was because first of all, the samples were really small. Early studies of reading autism samples was very small, the measures weren't great, and in some of them, they're equating alphabet knowledge with word reading. And so... I actually am working on a paper right now. It's a profile analysis with kids who are in kindergarten and have autism, and we have a... We're really lucky to have about 400 kids with autism which is sort of unheard of, right? A really large sample. And we're seeing that if you look at the different profiles of kids, there's a group that has good phonological awareness, good alphabet knowledge. But then, the distinction is like, when they have to use it to spell or read a word, there's a lot fewer kids who sort of fit the profile where all of those things they're doing really well on. There's a group that just sort of falls off when they're asked to actually apply the skill with the reading or spelling, so...
11:34 TH: That makes sense...
11:34 ES: With reading or spelling.
11:36 TH: So, it's kind of surface-level... Looking like a surface-level strength but when you dig a little deeper, and have to apply it more, it doesn't hold up.
11:43 ES: Yeah, that's sort of what we're seeing. And that's all preliminary, but I think part of this is that, as you know, with every different sample of kids, there's heterogeneity in there, right? It's true for English language learners, it's true for kids with autism, it's true for kids with dyslexia, it's true for every group of kid. And so, really digging in to sort of see what are the differences because, like I said, I'm an interventionist and for me to be able to target intervention, I need to know where... Who are the different groups of kids and what are their intervention needs?
12:17 TH: And I think, probably coming from special education... I know coming from speech pathology, I say one of the strengths is diagnostics. We are trained to go kind of deep into what are the strengths and weaknesses of each child individually, and then I always am in awe of classroom teachers, because they have to then take that individual and then put it into a larger group, which I didn't have training on. I'm just more of a person who is observing and seeing what works in the classroom and having to have those large group dynamics is a whole 'nother level. And so, when you do this intervention work, how do you handle, kind of, the individual child within the larger group of classroom, or... And even thinking about policy?
13:03 ES: Right. So, I think... For example, we're just finishing right now... It's formally known as a goal-free study for my... [chuckle] So it's an efficacy study. [chuckle] I always... So, where we... We went into first grade classrooms, and this study took place in California and Texas, and we were basically asking the first-grade teachers to become interventionist, because there's a... Across this country, the resources are really different from district to district. And a lot of schools, especially in California, they don't have reading specialists. There's not one at each school. And so, we wanted to develop teachers that could, one, teach to their whole class. To do that chair one sort of core curriculum, but also that could identify and do intervention with the lowest 25% as the... Performance on reading. And that meant that they were doing small group intervention with those kids four days a week, so there's supplemental intervention.
14:14 ES: And so, I sort of see this as a couple of things. One is that, yeah, teachers have a really hard job because they usually have, in California, 25 to 30 first graders in their classroom, and they are asked to meet the individual needs of each kid. And, some of this stuff, you can teach sort of globally, right? But we also know... And some kids, not all, some kids are going to get it from that global instruction. But then, they also have to sort of be interventionists in a weird way. "Interventionists", because they have to be able to figure out who are the kids that are really struggling and why are they struggling and how do I target that skill?
14:58 ES: So, we taught... We trained them and developed them to do both supplementary intervention on word-level skill, so phonics and decoding and also comprehension. So, we were targeting both groups of kids. After, we had had a goal too, so development grant, to develop the curriculum. And after we sort of ran that study, I realized, this is actually like a year-long professional development for these teachers. Because we get them, and they're sort of like... They don't know what we're gonna teach them, and they're... We sort of give them all this content and then, we give them materials and we ask them to go and provide the mentoring and coaching the whole time.
15:38 ES: But over the course of the year, it becomes clear to them, like, "Oh, okay. My job is to teach to the whole class, but also that I have to sort of figure out what's going on within the education... " And of course, they know that before, but we're sort of giving the tools to do it, if that makes sense.
15:53 TH: You're operationalizing it for them, too. You're creating it within the context of their job, and how to do it...
16:00 ES: Yeah, and I think it also speaks to... We say this all the time, but so many teachers receive one day of professional development about reading and then, they're asked to go do it, and that's impossible. That's not gonna happen. You're not gonna change teacher practice with one day of professional development, right? I think we all know that, but the resources required to really change practice in classrooms there, it's a lot.
16:31 TH: Yes.
16:32 ES: And we were there every week with coaches and mentors, and they could always reach out to us. And so, it's an investment. I think you have to be willing to make that investment.
16:42 TH: Yup. Yeah, that's right. And you have an upcoming op-ed coming out. And I'd love you to tell the listeners about it and how it's related to similar work that you've done and what it speaks to in terms of the science of reading.
16:57 ES: Sure. This is breaking news. I'm just kidding... [chuckle]
17:00 TH: I know.
17:01 ES: I haven't done it. [chuckle] It hasn't happened.
17:03 TH: Hopefully, by this time this comes out, it'll be out, and I'll have it right on the website. [chuckle]
17:08 ES: Right. So, I think over the last three to five years, I've sort of come to this realization that I love the research that I do. I love engaging with teachers. I love engaging with parents. I love engaging with administrators, but... And I will continue to do that work. But we can... You and I can keep doing RCTs, and keep doing RCTs, and keep doing RCTs, and we will never see a change of scale.
17:36 TH: Yup.
17:36 ES: Right? And so, I've been thinking really... What are the levers that we have to push on, sort of simultaneously, in order to get reading achievement change? And I really hesitate to say reading achievement because I'm not necessarily someone who really buys into the NAEP scores as an end-all, be-all, right? I'm more concerned about what's happening with teachers and kids, individually, every single day in classrooms that makes them become a reader, makes them feel good about what they're engaging in and that stuff. But, for lack of a better word, how do we change reading achievement in the country?
18:15 ES: And so, I think we all know that it's an over-simplification to say that we just need to train all early grade teachers in phonics and decoding and then, the schools change. Right, that's important, but there's so many other levers we have to push on including teachers training in the university setting, state-level adoptions of curricula and screening assessments, how we evaluate our teachers in the classroom. There's so many things that have to sort of be pushed on at once and so, that's basically what the op-ed's about. We can't ignore all this other stuff and think we're gonna... No, there's no silver bullet here, right? Everything has to change at once.
19:02 TH: Yeah. I think that's really important. And you and I both work with our local state departments of education, so we have kind of a sense of the broader... That's probably some of the most rewarding work that I do, is being able to communicate at that broader level. But also, it makes me realize the... We have our little slice of the pie that we are contributing to. Even if we're doing a large, randomized control trial, it doesn't... It's still tackling a specific research question. When I work with the state department of educations, I do see the complexities, but I also feel pretty hopeful about some of the changes that can be made at a broader level.
19:37 ES: Right. I think that's exactly right. I think... I'm not gonna stop doing the RCTs. That's the fun part of my job, and that informs the science, and it's really, really important to inform the science, right? But the way that you have broader impact is by working at the state level, working with your local educational stakeholders, working with different districts and divisions. We're not gonna change the world by doing another RCT, unfortunately. [chuckle]
20:03 TH: Right. Well, but, I don't know if you were trained this way, but I was definitely trained to be like, "What is your lane, essentially?" Like, my lane is doing RCTs, doing research, and I don't do the other things. That's for someone else to do, but I've realized that as tricky as it can be, in terms of just... Our own mental health having to do so much, it is good, I think, to be broader and traverse multiple paths when you're trying to get this work done, and not just stay in the researcher lane, for instance.
20:39 ES: Right. And I think it's hard to do.
20:41 TH: Yeah.
20:42 ES: It's hard for us to do, because when somebody asks you, "Well, how do you... " Like, "What's the answer to this thing?" And you're like, "Well, that's actually an empirical question." That's not the answer that policymakers wants, not the answer that teacher wants, and I get... I get that. I know they don't want that answer. And so, it's a... I think it's a learned skill. I think... I'm always learning about how to communicate my work more broadly. I think I've... Have had some hiccups along the way that I think... And I sort of can reflect upon that. Yeah, it's hard. It's hard for us to do, because we don't want to say anything that we know is maybe not true as researchers.
21:23 TH: Yes. We're very...
21:24 ES: Or we're just not sure about that.
21:25 TH: [chuckle] We're a cautious lot. We're very... Choosing our words carefully. And I think that's a good thing. But also at times, it can... Sometimes, I'll... I almost feel like I'm more comfortable with caveats than I am with just stating pure fact. And it's like, if someone states a fact, I have to think for a moment, like, "Is that true in every facet?" Because we're so used to...
21:51 ES: Right. Or does it... "Does that apply to every single kid in the school?" You don't know. A study hasn't been done with every single... So... Or every different... Even every subpopulation of kid in the school. So, I think, yeah, that's really hard for us. But I... But I think that it's important that people hear the voice of researchers. But also, I think it's important that we know that we're not in schools every single day, and so the feedback loop from the teachers and the administrators to us is also really, really important.
22:26 TH: Oh, I think it's the most important to be honest. I have to say, the work I've done and more implementation... Science has been really about thinking about the facilitators and barriers and has been jaw-droppingly surprising, sometimes. The types of barriers that people are dealing with within a system that I never even thought about. And so then you wonder, "Well, why doesn't the work get translated well?" I think if you don't do the work more in situ, and considering the barriers right at the moment, and facilitators, that's what I think is gonna make it more powerful in the end, but that's not easy to do. And there's so many... There's so many barriers scientific-wise to that. But I know I... I feel so lucky and excited to have been a part of a paper that you led recently on translational science. And I was thinking we could talk a little bit about what that looks like, just thinking about translational science and reading.
23:25 ES: Sure, the paper was definitely a group effort, so I don't wanna take credit for it. [chuckle] But it was fun to work with...
23:33 TH: You had to herd cats. So, I mean, that's pretty amazing.
23:38 ES: Well... So yeah, I mean, part of the other thing I've been thinking about a lot, sort of really deeply, outside of my whole going back to we can't just do more RCTs and sort of solve this, "problem", is that we also have to put ourselves out there and sort of think really critically about how you... We sort of... How this stuff gets translated and put into school settings, right? And how do we become a researcher that can do that? And so, I think part of it was creating an initial roadmap for that, because the science of reading has become a hot term right now, for better or for worse, and I think... Sort of thinking about how do we as researchers, and the people sort of doing these randomized control trials and working in schools, how do we sort of have a voice in that space is really important.
24:33 TH: Yeah, I think it is too, because like we said about this idea of staying-in-your-lane situation with doing research, I think having researchers have a voice and work in actual school systems and the infrastructure is so critical so that it isn't just left to those who are reading the research and then making that translational leap. That we are part of that voice, that we are the ones that are on the ground and being able to say kind of what is happening from the research to practice, and, critically, practice to research.
25:05 TH: I do have to tell a funny story about that paper though. I don't know if... And probably, I know I'm gonna have Yaacov Petscher on the podcast at some point, but something kind of funny about that paper. I'm so passionate like you are about translational science implementation and thinking about getting research into policy and practice. So, I was at a school, actually, doing an after-school program, and I got a text from someone that said, "Hey, would you like to be a part of a paper on translational science and science of reading?" And I said, "Yes.", but I didn't know who the text was from. I didn't recognize the number.
25:40 ES: I don't care who it is.
25:41 TH: I honestly don't even care. Yes, I do. So then, probably an hour later, I was like, "Well, I probably should ask who that was from because that probably makes a difference." I'm sure... I figured I'll get an email about it. But I wrote and said, "By the way, who is this text from?" And it was from Yaacov. I thought that was pretty funny that I would say yes without knowing. I'm like, "Well, you had me at translational science, so... "
26:00 ES: The topic sounds amazing. You sure are right about that. That's funny.
26:08 TH: [laughter] Yeah, so you can kinda tell where your... Where your passions are when you're like, "Just say yes to some random text about a paper.", but I thought that paper was...
26:16 ES: Well, that's how I got brought into it too, because I knew who the text was from, but he's like, "What do you mean?" Because he and I talk about this stuff a lot. About, like, "Okay, we're at this point in our career where we can take a pause and sort of think what the next step is." And so we've talked about this idea of how do we move this stuff a little bit quicker? And is that... It's a burden on us to be a little more vulnerable and put ourselves out there. I think the answer is yes. And so, we were texting back and forth, and then he's like, "I just... I'm gonna call you and let's just talk about this." I was like, "Well, what if it's a roadmap?" and he's like, "Yes. That's it."
26:52 TH: [chuckle] It was... It's pretty...
26:53 ES: So that's our map.
26:53 TH: I'm actually very excited for it to get out there. And I know right now on Twitter some of the things that's circulating... One of the things is the graphic about it. What does the translational scientist look like, and what does the team look like? And it does... You know, it is kind of daunting when you look at all the different skills you have to amass to be a translational scientist.
27:16 ES: Right. I think the important part there is that you don't have to do all of that. Like, if you have a good team, you sort of play off people's strengths, right? And that's actually really exciting for me, because I think the best work that we do is when we're working with kid... People, not kids. [chuckle] Kids too. But people who are... Maybe adults who act like children. People who are outside of our disciplines or areas of expertise. Because you think about reading in a way that I don't, and I think about reading probably in a way you don't, just simply because of our training, right?
27:47 TH: Yeah.
27:48 ES: And so I think working with people from different areas is really important when you're thinking about such a big topic like reading.
27:56 TH: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I'll go back to something you said about... "We're in that stage of our career now.", you said, you and Yaacov said. And that... I think it's a nice transition to bring up an organization you've been... I think you started, maybe, with a group, but the POWER organization. So I'd love for you to tell a bit about POWER and what is the goal of it, why did you start it, and what are some of the writings that have come out of POWER and outcomes?
28:25 ES: Sure. So, I think... So, it's probably important to hear how it started.
28:30 TH: Mm-hmm, yeah.
28:30 ES: So, I think it was a group of six of us, and we were at, actually, the IES Conference... PI... The IES PI Conference, I wanna say in 2015. And it was... We were out to dinner, it was a group of women... Women that most of I'm close to, but I didn't know everyone at the table. And we kinda sat there, we're just sort of like, "Okay." We were chatting for a couple of... Probably a couple of hours. And like, some of this stuff started coming up that was frustrating to all of us. And that we all realized that we... There were similar themes. And for folks in educational science... Like, okay, so we did the thing we were supposed to do. We're at the IES PI meeting, we "are successful", right? But there's still all this stuff, under-the-surface stuff that's happening, and the interactions with men at our institutions, and more broadly in like professional organizations.
29:35 ES: And... So that was our first thing, "Okay, that's annoying. We followed the rules, we did what we were supposed to do, we're here at the IES PI meeting." There's all this stuff under the surface that's still frustrating us. And also, we realized... We actually sat at the table, and we're like, "And who are the women that are good mentors to us in this state?" And we realized that we could not name that many. And at this point, we're all like mid-career. Early and mid-career. And so we sort of were like, "Okay, so this is problematic. And we don't want the folks coming up behind us, especially the women coming behind us, to have the same experience. So, we're gonna start this organization, and we're gonna see what happens." [chuckle]
30:20 TH: I love...
30:20 ES: So that's how POWER started. And it's providing opportunities for women in educational research. And really, it's... Educational and human development research is sort of our lane, I guess, if you wanna say that. So, women in that space, and supporters of women in that space. And the other thing... I had been spending some time before that meeting just randomly looking at... It's something like... And I'm sure this is true, this may be true in speech as well, that it's something like 79% of PhD holders in education are women, but only 18% of the leadership is women.
31:03 TH: Yeah, that's a common thing up...
31:06 ES: Right. And so, let's talk about this leaky pipe, like, what's happening here? We have... This is a field that has a lot of women, but they're not making it to the leadership positions. Why is that? So how can we advocate for women, how can we support them, how we... Can we connect them to each other? That was sort of our goal. And it's a new organization. We've sort of sat around in 2015 or maybe 2016 and said this is a good idea. We didn't become an official organization until 2018, we kinda have... We have by-laws and stuff now. And I think we have about 500 members at this point.
31:42 TH: That's amazing.
31:44 ES: Yeah, and they're... We get really... We get some... We get very positive... People are like, "Yes, this is what we want, we need this.", we just... And we do very simple things, like we host happy hours at professional conferences, and stuff like that. Or we do different blogs, or... And people are like, "We just wanna talk to other women about what it's like to be a woman in academia."
32:06 TH: Yes, and I love how you highlight the awards. That's so cool. That you say, like, "Congratulations to these people who have received awards." But also, you highlight different awards that are out there, and even wrote a blog post about why it's important to apply for an award even if you don't get it. And just this kind of information that maybe is not so obvious. And in particular, it provides a gap in mentorship for women that many women have. I really appreciate it. And I do wanna backfill just a bit for some of our listeners that might not know. So IES is Institution... Institutes of Education Science, probably something like that, a little bit like that. And I also had a grant through them.
32:44 TH: It's the scientific arm of the Department of Education. And PI is a principal investigator. And so that means that you've really competed and received a grant, and only the top 5 to 10%, if you're lucky, grants get funded. So, when you say you are a group of people that had made it, you are not joking. It's very, very difficult. And to even be at that conference, and yet still have some of that angst at that stage, and to be so thoughtful about those who are junior coming up behind you. I think it's very powerful. And I've seen the benefit for myself, and also for my students. That group is just so well done and has such a nice network and is really expanding. What are some of the new initiatives you have?
33:33 ES: Right, so thank you for saying that. I think it's been hard, because I think when you start a new organization, we're just sort of gaining our footing. Like, we're just... What... So, couple of things, I think new organizations have to be really flexible in their goals. And so, we have a mission statement, and we sort of have what we do, but also, we wanna be really responsive to what's going on, right? And so, like, this COVID situation has sort of really blown up the lives of female... Women academics, especially moms who are academics, cause we're... I'm struggling, we're struggling right now getting it all done. And so, part of what we're doing, we actually... We have a Steering Committee, and we have meetings twice a year, and we actually had our Spring Steering Committee Meeting on Zoom last week. It was supposed to be in person.
34:22 ES: And so, we really had some longish conversations about how can we sort of respond to COVID and provide resources to women who we have heard are really struggling right now with... Especially our pre-tenure faculty or folks who are not on tenure lines and our graduate students and our... In the postdocs, who are gonna be going into this academic market that is probably going to be terrible, right? And how do we sort of support these people in the next... Not just the next 12 months, but like, three to five years? And I think universities have to really think about how we're evaluating people, both for promotion and tenure, and how... And hiring. And I... I think that there's a lot of unknown, which scares people, instantly. I think we're sort of moving into a series of different blog posts and potentially some webinars around that, about supporting people.
35:22 ES: We're also... We've been talking about this idea for a while of creating local hubs of POWER. So, any POWER member could start a hub wherever they are, and it's sort of your... It's a POWER hub where you have... You meet with people locally, sort of decide and define what your hub is and what the goals are, so that people have more vocal support and more consistent support, because we get together at national conferences. But as we all know, we don't know when those are gonna start again, number one, and [chuckle] they happen once a year and sometimes every other year, so we don't... The contact there. We were also... Talked about maybe doing some virtual hubs, or maybe there's a hub of people who are pre-tenure. And I just wanna talk about that with each other and what that means. We're trying to be creative both in the virtual space and then also, what do we do once we can all see each other again, so...
36:18 TH: Well, you wrote a fantastic blog about how to support each other during this time and then it got picked up, I think... What, by Higher Ed, was it?
36:27 ES: Yeah, Inside Higher Ed.
36:28 TH: Inside Higher Ed.
36:29 ES: Yeah.
36:30 TH: Can you tell us about... You had such concrete steps, and could you tell us a little bit... I know you're kind of talking about that now, but can you tell us exactly some of those concrete steps you said would be very helpful in this time?
36:43 ES: Well, I wrote that in a fit of anger, just so we're clear. [chuckle]
36:45 TH: Yeah, I know that. I know the backstory a little bit. I'd love to have you tell the listeners.
36:50 ES: Right. So, I had a hard day. I think it was about two weeks into this everyone-at-home situation. I had heard from a couple of my close friends who were struggling and have young kids at home just like I do. And feeling like... It's actually really hard to expect us to do all this stuff right now. And also, I think humans have short memory, like we don't remember things two and three and four years down the road. And so, I was thinking, "How do I put something on paper, that like... " So yeah, people... This is like a pretty desperate situation for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons right now.
37:38 ES: And how do we sort of talk about how we can advocate for folks and connect them and support them moving... Not just right now, but moving forward? So... And also, I had heard from some of my close colleagues about feeling pressured to be productive. And I just... That's just so counterintuitive right now for me... To pressure, especially our junior colleagues to be productive right now, I think is really... That was a really, really hard thing for me to hear. And so, I kind of wanted to caution folks around that.
38:16 TH: Yeah, I've definitely heard similar things like, "Well, now we don't have as many meetings, so you should be writing more papers.", or "I expect to see more grants in.", and, you know what, I was talking to a colleague and said something... Basically said something like, "Do you have anyone that has children at home right now on that committee to inform these decisions?" Because I do think that it can be the case that the... A lot of administrators are in an age and stage where they don't have children at home and can sometimes lose sight of that.
38:49 TH: And actually, the administrators I had who are most sensitive to it are not only empathetic people who would think about different situations, but they also have their own children are in that situation. So, it's... They're not at the age to have young children at home, but their children... So, it's basically, their grandchildren are home with their children, and they hear from them. And so, they have some... A little bit more firsthand... And, well, secondhand. But still, some experiences to draw from. But people who forget about what that looks like, or, I think you could think... I personally have felt that daycare... I have never, ever taken that for granted, at all. As a woman... Working woman, right? Just feeling so grateful for daycare and having that time. But now, we don't even have that option. Like not even... It's not even like, "Oh, just solve the problem. Hire a nanny. Get some family support." All those things are off the table.
39:47 ES: Right. And actually, I would... I don't think that all of these people had bad intent, right? They were trying, like, "But the silver lining is there's no meetings, we can all become more productive." And you say that to someone who's home with three kids...
40:02 TH: Yes.
40:02 ES: And there's a... Really? Like, that's a joke. I can't be more productive right now.
40:08 TH: I'm definitely more exhausted. And possibly... I don't know, I mean, I think it's an interesting paradox. I've never worked harder and been least productive [chuckle] in my entire career.
40:21 ES: But I also feel like all I do is pick up after people. [chuckle]
40:25 TH: Oh, that's the thing. Oh, yes. Oh my goodness, yes. It is just... It's relentless. That's been the word my husband and I use, relentless. It's never-ending. [chuckle] Oh, and it's... And I do realize the place of privilege I come from. There are so many things that I'm thankful for, but it doesn't negate that we all have our own issues that we're dealing with here, and that having young children in the home, as I do too, like you, three boys, that... It's hard.
40:58 ES: Right. And so, I think just sort of... I was just like, "We can't do this anymore to each other." Which was sort of why we started POWER too. "We can't repeat this. We can't do this anymore to each other. Let's come up with a group that can sort of support people and mentor them through this process." And so that's why I wrote it. And I was actually surprised. I kinda sent it on a whim to Inside Higher Ed, and I was surprised that they picked it up, so it was nice.
41:27 TH: Oh, I wasn't. I think it was so powerful. I, like many, read it, and just... Seriously, it just moved me to such an emotional place. It was just like being seen. What was the response you got from that piece?
41:39 ES: I got a bigger response than I ever thought that I would. [chuckle] I actually got a few emails from some administrative folks at different universities thanking me and telling me how it had sort of shifted their... I don't know. Not policies, but their thought process on how to support junior faculty, which was the intent, so that's good. I had a handful of people let me know it made them cry. So that was not my intent. [chuckle] But yeah, I think... I was sort of... I've been a little overwhelmed by their response, because you write these things, you just don't know where they're gonna go, and so, yeah. So...
42:23 TH: Well, I, for one thank you for writing it. I think it was very powerful. And what you said is so true to keep in mind. This feeling of maybe not being seen or feeling pressure to be more productive does not come from a bad place from people, it just comes from a place of not really fully understanding what's happening in that person's home. So, it was nice to be seen and to have concrete ways to actually make a difference and a change. I thought that was really helpful.
42:54 ES: Yeah. I think part of this... One of the... POWER is one of the things that... It's just connecting people. There is a lot of power in connect... In just simply connecting people, because everyone has a different experience. And as women in academia, we all have different experiences, and I think sort of talking to different people about what has worked for them and what has not can be really, really powerful. People wanna be heard, they wanna be seen, and so that has been something that's been really interesting to me about the organization.
43:28 TH: I am... I, myself, when I reflect back on my early career, I was constantly looking for role models, and it would be this... Almost this game I would play, where I would see someone, they seem to be doing great, I'd be like, "Oh... " And I hear, oh, they have kids. Oh, I wanna hear more about them. And oh, it almost seemed like inevitably, it would let me down, because they would be like, "Oh, yeah, well, I had kids after I got tenure." Or, "Oh, I did this direct lap." I was always looking for someone on a similar path, but I realized, luckily pretty early on, that that was kind of fruitless to look for someone who was just on your path, but to realize you have your own path, but you can still have a lot of camaraderie around what it's like to be an academic mother, but yet, you can still have a unique path. But it seems like POWER is that structure that's providing less of the searching and more of like, "Okay, you found your group, and now you can make those connections."
44:27 ES: Yeah, I guess I don’t know where it will go from here. We... Well, I guess we're super new. I'm hoping that it lives on, but we will see. I think that there's been a... So far, there's been a really good response.
44:41 TH: Yeah. I'm excited to hear it with the podcast listeners and put it in the resources, turn people onto this area. But I'm gonna be mindful of our time, so I ask you these final two questions I ask every guest. So, first question. What are you working on now that you're most excited about?
45:02 ES: Well, here's more breaking news. I haven't talked about this publicly. I just got another... A new IES grant.
45:09 TH: Oh, congratulation. That's neat.
45:12 ES: And... Thank you. I got the award notice yesterday.
45:16 TH: Oh, my... Oh, well, that's...
45:17 ES: So, yeah. So, it's a replication study. So, the Institute of Educational Science put out this call for reading replication studies, which I think is so important, because we talk a lot about the science of reading, but there is a science of reading. It's... But we don't have a ton of studies... And importantly, replication studies looking at the instructional components and authentic school classrooms, right? So, it's a replication study that will take place in Virginia, California, and Texas. It has three different sites. It's gonna be a big project. It's a little bit daunting right now, but we're excited about that. And luckily, somehow, we were smart... I don't know what we were. But we... The entire first year of the grant is just planning. So, we're not gonna be in schools next year. [chuckle]
46:18 TH: That was smart.
46:18 ES: We'll be in schools in the fall...
46:19 TH: You're...
46:21 ES: Yeah. [chuckle] In fall of 2021.
46:22 TH: Right now... Thanking your past self right now. [chuckle]
46:26 ES: Right. So, it's a replication study with kids... With first graders who are struggling to learn how to read, or having difficulty in how to read, with a specific look at kids who are also second... English-language learners, second-language learners, dual language learners... Yeah, all the different terms. So that's what we're sort of looking at.
46:44 TH: Oh, that's fantastic. Will you do it in Virginia?
46:47 ES: Yeah. So, it'll have three... Yeah. We'll have... I hope we'll have sites in Virginia, but we'll also have sites in California and Texas.
46:53 TH: Oh, fantastic. Do you have collaborators on that grant?
46:58 ES: Yes. So, I have... I have two other folks at UVA. I have... And then I have... Well, I have one collaborator in Texas, and then I have another one in California.
47:09 TH: Oh, that's great. That's really good news, and we definitely need those kinds of studies, and then you're gonna be... Going to be doing them in the current situation too, so that'll be... Who knows what'll happen in a year from now? We'll have to see. It's...
47:22 ES: Right. So, it's Doris Baker in Texas and then Cara Richards-Tutor in California. So that's...
47:30 TH: Awesome, that's great. Well, congratulations, and I'll be looking towards another podcast in the future to talk about those results. That's great.
47:37 ES: Yeah.
47:38 TH: So, what is your favorite book from childhood or now?
47:44 ES: Right. So that's a hard question. So, I... I don't actually remember having a favorite book, but I do remember being in trouble in elementary school for completely ignoring my sixth-grade teacher and just reading the whole day.
48:03 ES: I have very clear memories of having a book, and I would read. I would just read and read and read and read, these different chapter books and all these different series and stuff, and I would have it hidden under my desk and sort of reading it while she was doing Math. And her name was Miss... Mrs. Taylor, and I used to get in trouble all the time for reading. Which right... Which, now, I find really funny cause this is like what I do. [chuckle]
48:25 TH: [chuckle] I think that's hilarious. I can picture Mrs. Taylor, "Emily, put that book down. Come on."
48:29 ES: I mean, I got sent away from school once. I think...
48:31 TH: Oh.
48:33 ES: For reading.
48:36 TH: What a troublemaker you were. [laughter]
48:38 ES: Right.
48:39 TH: So maybe you don't have a favorite book but you definitely liked to read when you were a child.
48:44 ES: I do and you know, I miss reading now. Like, I read books now. Now I'm reading more... I'm not reading, like, fiction right now, but I read more different, different things, like, I'm reading Down Girl right now. Have you read Down Girl?
48:59 TH: No.
49:00 ES: Okay, it's a good one. You should read it.
49:01 TH: Okay.
49:02 ES: But I still... I miss reading. I think what happens is that we start to read so much for work, and then also having three kids, and also it being COVID... I have no time to read, really, right now. So, I miss that, but I am definitely someone who can pick up a book, and if I have the time, will finish it that day.
49:23 TH: Yes. Oh, that's the thing I miss, actually. That's... I look forward to that some point again in life is being able to just spend the day with a book, and... Or weekend. I know we do that, like, everyone talks about binge watching shows or whatnot, but I would do that with books. Absolutely, very much.
49:41 ES: Right. And it's funny... One of the funny things about my adult life is that I married someone who I... Has never... Like, I've known him for 20 years, he's never read a book.
49:52 TH: It is iron... There are so many ironies, aren't there?
49:58 ES: He's an engineer, so he doesn't need to read books.
50:00 TH: That's right, that's right. Absolutely. My husband's an engineer, too, but he definitely... He has that thing where he will be a binge reader too, and so, if he starts reading a book, I'll be like, "No, we don't have time for that." I'll be like Mrs. Taylor.
50:11 TH: I'm like, "No, we don't have... We have house projects. We don't have time. [laughter] You need to put the book down." [laughter] Oh, that's great. Yeah, I think reading is so powerful and... And, just something that... We don't... I don't really talk about, but it's one of the main reasons, I think, about getting kids to learn to read. It's not only all the benefits of health literacy and functionality, but I just want to open that book for them, that world of another world that you get, and that escape from reading a book, so sounds like you had that.
50:49 ES: Yeah, I feel like I have it not so much right now. I'd like to escape my house right now, but that's not happening.
50:54 TH: [chuckle] Me too. Right now, the only way I can get books done is by listening to books on tape because then I can get out, walk or whatever, and then listen to 'em... It's very hard to actually have the time. Well, now I just fall sleep anyway if I try to read, right? I mean, there's no way.
51:08 ES: Right.
51:09 TH: There's no way. Well, I appreciate you taking the time during this COVID closure to record this podcast and share all the cool stuff you're doing on translational work and instruction, and your bilingual and autism findings, and POWER. I'll put all of that on the website in a few weeks, and I'll get that out to the listeners. So, thank you so much Emily for joining me on the podcast.
51:32 ES: Yeah, thanks for having me.
51:39 Tiffany: Check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com for helpful resources associated with this podcast including, for example, the podcast transcript, research articles, & speakers bios. You can also sign up for email alerts on the website or subscribe to the podcast on apple podcasts or any other listening platform, so you will be the first to hear about new episodes.
Thank you for listening and good luck to you, making the world a better place by helping one child at a time.
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Tiffany P. Hogan,