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Lynch School of Education

Karen Lam

curriculum & instruction doctoral program

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Academic Background & Professional Experiences

My education and professional experiences are varied, and span several countries. I pursued a Bachelor’s degree in the United Kingdom and then attended a teacher preparation in Singapore. A teaching veteran, I taught geography and English to high school students in Singapore. Teaching geography was enriching as there were plenty of opportunities to engage my students in and out of the classroom. Despite the fraternity of geography teachers in Singapore being fairly small in terms of numbers, we are able to bond through the Geography Teachers’ Association. And it is through mingling with my peers at GTA activities that I developed my interests and passion in working with fellow teachers and in curriculum. As I worked with the teachers across different, I realized that teaching need not be a profession where one is isolated in the classroom; instead, as a young teacher, I could tap on the wealth of knowledge, expertise and friendship within the fraternity.

After teaching for seven years, I had a burning desire to learn more about curriculum theories and philosophy. I returned to the UK and pursued a Masters in Curriculum Studies at the Institute of Education, University of London. After completing the program, I returned to Singapore and spent the next three years developing the secondary and high school geography curriculum at the Ministry of Education. This job assignment was enriching as I had had wonderful experiences working professionally with teachers to develop the geography curriculum and assessment. These three years were a period of intense learning and development and I loved the debates with my colleagues on the use of different curriculum models, teaching approaches and assessment strategies.

Even more meaningful and exciting was my next assignment at the Curriculum Policy and Pedagogy Unit, which was set up in 2006 to catalyze and support school-based curriculum innovation among schools in Singapore. During this period, I developed interest in educational and teacher research. We found that being informed by research was necessary when crafting and implementing policies. As one aim was to develop teachers as reflective practitioners, my team initiated a Research Activist scheme where teachers were off-loaded from their work for two days a week to be equipped with the skills to design and conduct research on their school-based curriculum innovation. As school change is multifaceted, we also helped to catalyze among school leaders, shifting them from being administrators to instructional leaders. The work in this latest job assignment was the stimulus for a desire to deepen my knowledge in educational research. I chose Boston College after talking to faculty members and doctoral students already enrolled in the program.

Research & Practice Opportunities

The Lynch School of Education provides different pathways for doctoral students to work with faculty. I have been fortunate to be afforded with opportunities to work with faculty members, and have been inspired by the generosity of faculty members in giving their time and expertise. This is my second year working on the Ford Research Team project with Professor Cochran-Smith and Professor McQuillan and I am learning so much about research designs, methods and analysis under their guidance. I am also struck by the collegiality and camaraderie among the different members of the research team in the way they welcome and support new doctoral students. My first experience working on a research paper for the AERA conference was with this project – and it is a valuable one.

In addition, I have an assistantship at the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center with Professor Mullis and Professor Martin. This again is a great experience as I have the opportunity to learn about the design and conduct of an international large scale trend study. This assistantship also enabled me to meet the international group of representatives from countries participating in TIMSS. These opportunities that I’ve had point to the flexibility in the LSOE in creating rich learning experiences for the doctoral students who enter the different programs.

Coming up in spring 2010, I’m looking forward to being able to co-teach a class with my advisor, Professor Andy Hargreaves.

Valuable Doctoral Experiences

Three specific experiences spring to mind: the program, the professors, and the peers. The program in terms of the modules is rich, flexible and intellectually challenging. I have enjoyed all the different modules I have taken, and found my assumptions, knowledge and beliefs about education being challenged. The C&I curriculum is driven by two modules which have created a lasting impression: ED709 Research on Teaching and ED711 Historical and Political Contexts of Curriculum. The diverse range of materials that we read in these two classes provided a good starting point in guiding me to negotiate the academic literature.

The professors are true to Boston College’s Jesuit philosophy in the way they teach and interact with students. No matter how busy they are, even when they are on sabbatical, they selflessly make time to speak with students. Every professor that I have met has been eager to provide advice, opportunities and mentor the doctoral students as we take our tentative steps towards academia.

Last but not least, the peers – I love the closely-knit community here at Boston College. Doctoral students at different stages of their programs get to interact with each other along the corridors, in the research projects, and through activities like the lunch time colloquiums. I was truly lucky to have a great ‘senior’ student-mentor in Christine Power who gave me lots of good advice, and showed me the how to find my way around. So now, I try (my best) to provide all the help I can to my mentee student. It is the community at the LSOE that creates the great doctoral experience.

Advice to Prospective Candidates

For people interested in joining the Curriculum and Instruction doctoral program, I have just one word – opportunities. The curricular program has a great selection in terms of diversity, and for more choice, one could apply for courses within the consortia. For me, learning has been both in and out of class. Throughout the year, there are many colloquium sessions and talks by visiting academics which can point you to new areas of knowledge and research.