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2021 Educational Psychology & Research graduate, Dr. John Walker, took time to tell us about his research and experience in the Evaluation, Statistics, and Methodology PhD program, and shared some advice for incoming graduate students.

Profile Photo of John Walker, ESM graduate

John graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Psychology and Research in the fall of 2021. He studied under the Evaluation, Statistics, and Methodology concentration, with his dissertation research being the first of its kind to focus on differential item functioning (DIF) under a multidimensional graded response model framework. “DIF,” says John, “is important to detect in instruments like surveys because it could tell us if an item is bias toward one or more groups, which in turn tells us about the validity of the instrument, a backbone of instrument development.”

By studying three different approaches to psychometric analysis of DIF — classical test theory, item response theory, and factor analysis — Dr. Walker’s study “showed that under different circumstances (e.g., how many participants completed the instrument), one method may be preferred over another…Depending on what’s most essential for an instrumental developer or psychometrician, they’ll now know which approach is best to use to determine if their multidimensional graded repose model instrument contains biased items.”

John also holds a Master of Policy Studies from the University of Sydney, and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Grand Valley State University.

Currently, John is working in the roles of Psychometrician for Illuminate Education, and part-time Lecturer for the University of Tennessee.

Dr. Walker is continually contributing to the pool of research in the rapidly growing field of Evaluation, Statistics and Methodology, and has also been the distinguished recipient of several awards, including the EPC Graduate Student Research Excellence Award (2021) and the Sydney Achievers International Scholarship (2014).

To incoming graduate students, John’s advice is that students should always build periodic rest and relaxation into their schedules, to prevent burnout: “Make sure you take care of yourself, spend some time on your (non-academic) interests, and most importantly don’t neglect your family. A graduate program takes a long time to complete, so it’s important to get away from your work; otherwise, you’ll burn out.”

Of the many places in Knoxville where students can enjoy some well-earned downtime, John would particularly recommend Orange Hat Brewing Company in Hardin Valley area, or anywhere in Market Square.

The EPC department congratulates John, and the rest of the EPC class of fall 2021 once again for their hard work, achievements, and contributions to the fields of Educational Psychology & Counseling.

Full Interview:

Tell me about your journey as a graduate student, the ups and downs, struggles and triumphs.

One of my biggest struggles throughout my time as a graduate student was juggling full-time work and school. I often would take three to four courses at a time during the fall, spring, and summer. I had to manage my time well, find time to do my schoolwork, and take can of my mental and physical health, simultaneously. Although I was left with little time to socialize, I found ways to make this work and complete my degree in less time than if I were to take the more conventional approach of taking one or two courses per semester while working full-time.              

What advice do you have for students just starting this program?

Find time for yourself and your family. You don’t have to be doing your research or schoolwork 100% of the time. Make sure you take care of yourself, spend some time on your (non-academic) interests, and most importantly don’t neglect your family. A graduate program takes a long time to complete, so it’s important to get away from your work; otherwise, you’ll burn out.

Tell me about your research interests.

As of late, my research has focused on the experimentation of new methods to address non-convergence issues in computer adaptive tests, the examination of student growth patterns for curriculum-based measures in early math and reading, and the use of computer adaptive tests for survey data fitted to bifactor graded response models.

Would you like to share your hobbies and personal interests with us?

Outside of work, I enjoy playing my guitar, home brewing, and going on long walks with my wife and dog.

What is something you love/loved doing in the Knoxville area, or a restaurant you would recommend?

There are a lot of great places to visit in the Knoxville area. If you have a dog, Plum Creek Dog Park is a great place to let your dog expel some energy. For beer drinkers, I’m partial to Orangehat Brewing in Hardin Valley. You’ll also find a lot of great restaurants and nightlife in and around Market square.

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Jessica Osborne, ESM student









Meet Jessica: Recent Educational Psychology & Counseling 2021 Graduate.

Dr. Osborne earned her PhD in Educational Psychology and Research, with a Concentration in Evaluation, Statistics, and Methodology, in the summer of 2021. She also holds a BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing.

Currently serving in the role of Director of First Year Programs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Jessica’s passion and research pursuits are in the area of student success: “I have worked in the field of student success for over a decade, and this has continued to be my research focus as well. My dissertation focused on graduate student needs and success, and I hope to continue in that line of research.”

Her valuable research contributions have most recently been published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, (33)2, and she is the winner of the 2019 Tennessee Association of Student Success and Retention Graduate Student Research Award, among many other publications and accolades.

The PhD concentration in Evaluation, Statistics, and Methodology prepares students with the skills and hands-on experiences needed for a meaningful career in program evaluation, quantitative and qualitative research, and assessment. For more information about the PhD in ESM, click here.

We asked Jessica what made her choose the ESM PhD program at UTK, and she was kind enough to share with us: “The people sold me on the ESM program. I considered several options in terms of a PhD, and ultimately, I chose ESM because the faculty and staff were open, welcoming, and flexible in terms of my needs as a working mother. I am incredibly grateful for the ESM faculty and friends I made through the PhD process.”

In her spare time, Jessica enjoys reading, yoga, getting outdoors, and spending time with her family.

For anyone new to the Knoxville area, Jessica has plenty of great suggestions for things to do — and eat! “Downtown Knoxville and The Old City are full of wonderful restaurants: JC Holdway, Amelia, and Kefi are a few of my favorites. In the spring, there are also so many excellent festivals and music events; we always attend Big Ears, The Rossini Festival, and the Dogwood Arts Festival. The Downtown Farmer’s Market is also one of my favorite weekend events.”

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