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Private Sector Applications of the LS

The question often comes up about what one does with a PhD in the Learning Sciences. Connected to this are questions of how we align our interests and expertise with potential career paths. Many students enter a PhD program with a desire to remain in academia evermore, but today’s economic climate makes this a loft goal. According to a study at the Ghent University of ECOOM, only 10% of PhDs will remain at institutes of higher education – with only 3% of those becoming full professors. But this is far from bleak news for learning scientists, as the interdisciplinary focus opens the doors to many industries.

Case in point is Dr. Natalie C. Jorion, a Principal Data Scientist in Cyber Risk Modeling at BitSight, an analytics company that enables risk-based decision-making for investors, insurance firms, and even governments. Jorion received her PhD in the learning sciences at UIC in 2016 with a dissertation titled Designing an Evidence-based Assessment of Conceptual Understanding and Misunderstandings in Statistics. She’s a first-generation American whose first language is French, and she thought she’d be a teacher.

“I really liked teaching math,” Jorion recalled. “But I did after school learning programs where I saw the inefficacy of standardized tests, and I decided I wanted instead to help change the educational system.”

The key to that change, she said, is the assessment of the standard practices of education which can lead to reforms in classroom policy. Her desire to understand the tenets of assessment led Jorion to Northwestern University where, under the auspices of professor Steven McGee, she facilitated assessment studies with the Chicago Public School system. She honed her natural aptitude for statistics and computer programming while getting her master’s degree.

But she also began to think about the applications of assessment beyond academia and, after a brief stint at a marketing research company, she decided to enrolled in the PhD program in the learning sciences. Choices included programs on both coasts and in the midwest. While deliberating, Jorion received a call from LSRI founding co-director Jim Pellegrino – an internationally acclaimed figure in the field of assessment, who remarked that he’d be her advisor if she came to UIC.

“And I’m glad I did,” said Jorion. “Because the project that I worked on with Jim and (research professor) Lou Di Bello in deriving a validation framework for concept inventories were really instrumental in helping me develop my psychometric wheelhouse. And I started to be interested in continuing along that path.”

A psychometrician, Jorion said, is somebody who is concerned with the validation evidence to develop an assessment. They answer complex questions like, are we measuring what we think we’re measuring? Psychometrics itself is underneath the umbrella of data science, wherein people use data to answer questions. In this way Jorion is still doing assessments – but rather than applying her expertise to people or educational institutions, it is for risk ratings in various categories for organizations.

“I’d say the experience I had in grad school gave me the content expertise and helped me realize what skills employers really cared about,” Jorion said. “Proficiencies in good statistical understanding and programming; those are very marketable in the private sector.”