At the conference, Clifton Poodry received the 2015 Understanding Interventions Intervener Award in recognition of his long-term sustained support of research, policy, and practice that creates organizational opportunities for individuals to prepare for and ascend to careers in science. (Video: Day2AMAward THE INTERVENOR AWARD)
Day2AMAward THE INTERVENOR AWARD
In his remarks at the conference, Poodry emphasized the shape of the distribution curve for degree production. Many papers talk about improvements in terms of averages, which is important, but “the average might not tell me what I need to know about the shape of the distribution.” Many of the people who go on to earn PhDs come from the right tail of the distribution curve, and changing the average does not necessarily change the number of people in this part of the curve. For example, American Indians graduate from high school at a rate of about 50 percent. Therefore, one possible strategy to increase PhD degree production among this group would be to increase the high school graduation rate from 50 percent to 60 percent. But that step will not necessarily increase the number of American Indian students who pursue PhDs. Instead, it may be necessary to work more directly with students who are more likely to go on to graduate school.
In that regard, Poodry has been examining research on identifying gifted and talented students and developing their skills. Less is known about developing talent than selecting talent, he observed, but both areas could yield insights that could change the motivations and values of those who develop and implement interventions.
Poodry emphasized the importance of learning from other social programs and from past programs, even if they were not initially successful. Many programs that are being suggested today have been tried in the past. Were they successful when tried before? If not, what were the reasons for their failures? “Perhaps there are good ideas that can be retrofitted, or perhaps some of the ideas that we think are terrific today really have been done and shown not to be the best thing.”
Finally, he described a problem with incentives, which is that an incentive may produce good results while it is being offered, but the results can disappear when the incentive is gone. “If we believe that incentives are necessary to motivate a change, then we really have to think about how to sustain that in the long term or to look for other ways of providing that kind of motivation.”