Do You Have What it Takes to be an Ed Geek?

Monday, November 7, 2016 -- Jeff Mcleod

When I was in graduate school many years ago, the psychology majors were the cool kids. They had what I think was an endearing term for us quantitative graduate students in Education – the term was “Ed Geek.” We didn’t do psychotherapy or fancy experiments, or make rats run in mazes; we did math.

I was an Ed Geek and proud of it. I had no interest in being one of the cool psychologists. I wanted to be a researcher. We Ed Geeks went to graduate school to get a masters or doctorate in departments like “quantitative psychology,” “psychometrics,” or “Educational Research Methods.” Nowadays, this discipline is called Quantitative Methods in Education (QME) at the University of Minnesota, and many other universities as well. I think it’s a great name.

In any event, I’m here today to ask: are you, or is someone you know, thinking about graduate school, but unsure of what to major in? Do you have the aptitude to learn math? Then I want to encourage you to consider majoring in Quantitative Methods in Education. Here are three big reasons why.

First, school districts and educational assessment companies like Edmentum are always on the lookout for people trained in quantitative educational measurement. Such people are called psychometricians, measurement scientists, or simply education researchers. There is an extremely high demand for these professionals because of the increasing role that testing has taken in the modern classroom. Graduate schools across the country turn out less than 100 psychometricians a year, which doesn’t come close to meeting the demand. A lot of us in the field are nearing retirement and will need to be replaced. In some countries, there are 3 job openings for every psychometrician. Scholarships and fellowships are being created around the world to try to entice people to enter this career.

I mentioned that you need to have some aptitude in math. The job of psychometrician involves a lot of math. You don’t have to be a genius at math. But you can’t dislike it. Too many people don’t like math because they feel they are not good at it. Don’t dismiss the quantitative education majors until you’ve given them a chance! Sometimes all you need is a good teacher or tutor, and you can find that you have had talent all along. Mathematics can be an acquired taste!

Second, the jobs are actually pretty exciting, and you may get to experience some things in a psychometrics career that you wouldn't elsewhere. For instance, a large part of the job description is to make things better. Many jobs are all about taking over a task that has been perfected and well-honed over the years. Your job is to carry on, and make sure the scheduled tasks are complete and performed well. These are great jobs, don’t get me wrong. But some people are simply more motivated when the core of their job is to innovate, to improve things. As a psychometrician, your job is to perform research related to a testing program, to find parts in the process that aren’t working optimally, to find ways to improve the process. This is something that many people are hesitant to do. But for a person with high curiosity and ingenuity these can be pretty exciting opportunities. And, when the goal of the job involves making sure kids get the attention and help they need in the classroom, you feel you are contributing to something bigger than you when you make tools and processes work better, faster, and smarter.

Third, this field of psychometrics is changing rapidly. With the increased capacity of computers, coupled with recent innovations in applied mathematics and the rise of big data, the business of psychometrics is changing. It needs thought leaders. For example – and you might want to be sitting down for this – the field of testing is moving into new territory, like assessment of knowledge, skills, and abilities using computer game design or virtual reality. The old days of the Number 2 pencil are almost gone. The new psychometrics will someday be governed by professionals who have a collection of competencies in statistics, psychometrics, instructional design, computer programming, app development, graphic art, and many other cutting edge skills. Psychometrics brings together the creative and the analytical mind. Is that something you could get excited about?

Now, I can’t promise that every great idea you have will become the next big project, but companies and educational institutions that hire psychometricians really do want to talk about creative ideas, and they are willing to try different approaches. I have to say I was very surprised by how eager and willing this company, Edmentum, has been to try a very different approach to educational testing. Here, we have an entire department dedicated to giving creative and talented people who are looking for the next big thing the chance to create powerful user experiences online.

One last thing. I’ve been addressing people out there who might be looking for a great major in graduate school. But if by any chance you are someone who is right now working on your graduate degree in psychometrics, or quantitative methods in education, you might want to contact us here at Edmentum. All of these exciting benefits of being a psychometrician are even more exciting at Edmentum. After all, we are all about innovation – it is one of our most cherished corporate values. Want to find out more? Connect with us on LinkedIn, or check out our careers page!