Experiences from an international postdoc
Name: Gulden Karakok
In 2009 Gulden Karakok, originally from Turkey, moved to Sweden from USA, where she got her PhD. Here she shares her experiences of her time as a postdoc in mathematics education at Umeå Mathematics Education Research Centre (UMERC).
Why did you apply for a postdoc at Umeå University?
There are a few reasons why I applied for a postdoc position at Umeå University. First of all after completing my dissertation I wanted to have a postdoc position instead of a faculty position to learn more about research in math education. Unfortunately there are not that many postdoc positions available in Math Education, which are not “teaching” positions. So, this particular position was a perfect fit for me to focus on research. Another important aspect of the position was that it asked for people outside of Sweden so that international collaboration could take place. I thought this was very important that I got to work with people from other countries who brought in very valuable perspectives. We learned from each other’s culture and other countries education system as well as each other’s research topics. My last but not the least reason was that UMERC researchers are from different departments conducting research in teaching and learning of mathematics in various areas and levels ranging from undergraduate, K-12, pre- and in-service teachers. I think this last reason is very visible if you visit UMERC’s website, which I did prior to my application.
What were your expectations, for example on the position, the research group (UMERC), Umeå and/or Sweden?
My main goal was to improve my research skills and learn more about the areas that I didn’t get a chance to investigate during my PhD program. As you know once you get to work on your dissertation you don’t get to spend time on other aspects, you need to focus on your topic. So, for me this position was my chance to widen my horizons in an international level.
Were your expectations met?
Very much!! During my postdoc I interacted with researchers from different countries and learned about their education system. I participated in reading groups to learn more about different theoretical and research perspectives. I attended seminars and workshops with international researchers, whom I wouldn’t be able to interact with otherwise.
What is your main impression or memory of your stay in Umeå?
My main impression is that UMERC provides a great collaborative work environment. First of all, it gave me an opportunity to continue my research on transfer of learning by visiting classrooms and providing me the freedom to investigate different perspectives that I could incorporate to my research. Secondly, everyone (I want to highlight everyone here!) that I interacted with at UMERC was very friendly and helpful. Any questions you have they try to answer them or direct you to the person who could be helpful. Even if you are new to the research topic, they try to include you and provide feedback. For example, I wanted to learn about a Swedish Curriculum Project, and this particular project group shared what they’ve been doing and encouraged me to implement similar ideas to look at the new Turkish Curriculum. This was a great learning experience.
There are many great memories from my stay in Umeå. But, I will pick a few of those: During my postdoc, I attended Workshop on Mathematical Beliefs (WoMB) that was organized by UMERC members. There were internationally known speakers (Jeppe Skott, Markku Hannula, Peter Liljedahl, and Erkki Pehkonen) whom I interacted with throughout the workshop. It was such a great opportunity to see how these researchers worked, interacted with each other and developed ideas. This was one of the great experiences for me! I think throughout this particular workshop I learned so much about this topic, which I had known so little prior to it. As another example, I had an opportunity to meet with Bharath Sriraman during his visit to UMERC. We individually spent time with him to discuss our research ideas with him, which was again priceless. To sum up, I think UMERC provided opportunities for me to learn about different research topics that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise and also provided opportunities to interact with researchers whom I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
There are so many examples but I don’t think there is enough space or time!!
Would you recommend other mathematics education researchers to apply for similar positions at UMERC?
Yes!!! I highly recommend this position. It is a great opportunity. You interact with wonderful researchers of UMERC, learn from them and conduct research with them. Also, UMERC provides different opportunities: reading groups, writing groups, focusing on different research themes (topics), researching at various levels (undergraduate to K-12 to teacher education), high encouragement to attend conferences (with possible funding opportunities), and interacting with math education researchers.
What advice would you give someone that was accepted as postdoc at UMERC?
I would suggest that they first visit UMERC website and learn about different research projects before arriving. And, they should meet and interact with all the members of UMERC and ask about these different projects upon arrival. Don’t be shy to ask questions or be involved in planning groups of UMERC, you do learn a lot through these planning groups, which I personally found helpful in my faculty position. One last advice is related to time, you will have a great freedom to work on your research at UMERC, which is a researcher’s dream! But, use this time wisely by both interacting with others and working on your research. Just working on your research may sound wonderful but you would be wasting this great opportunity to learn from others at UMERC.
Gulden Karakok now works as an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern Colorado, USA.