Ph.D. in Childhood Studies 2016 Graduates:
Ines Meier

Ines Meier

Rutgers–Camden will confer doctoral degrees to six graduates of its landmark Ph.D. in childhood studies program during the Faculty of Arts and Sciences commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 19. Launched as the nation’s first doctorate in childhood studies in 2007, the program provides an advanced theoretical and methodological study of children and childhood. It prepares scholars capable of innovative research in this interdisciplinary field, as well as policy leaders with new perspectives in child-related social practice.

In a series of portraits, these esteemed graduates share their Rutgers–Camden academic experiences and offer words of advice for others interested in pursuing a doctorate in childhood studies.

Ines Meier
Prior Education: Camden County College, associate’s degree; Rutgers University–Camden, B.A. and M.A., psychology
Hometown: Suburbs of Frankfurt, Germany
Currently Residing: Voorhees, N.J.

Choosing Rutgers–Camden
I was intrigued that this program is the first Ph.D. program in childhood studies in the United States. While my M.A. is in psychology, my interests have always transcended one discipline. For example, I have been interested in philosophy, history, and politics, and therefore I welcomed a more holistic approach to research. Having had positive experiences in my prior studies at Rutgers University–Camden led me to apply to this innovative program.

Opportunities to Thrive
One of the things that attracted me to childhood studies is that it is an interdisciplinary program. For me, that has worked very well. My dissertation committee consisted of scholars in political science, sociology, and religion, who were all distinguished in their own fields but were also willing to look at questions from alternative perspectives. Having such a superb committee made my dissertation writing and my Ph.D. defense a wonderful and enjoyable experience.

Furthermore, the department and the graduate school were very supportive in making it possible for me to present my research at international conferences, such as at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and I was invited to travel to Brazil to represent Rutgers–Camden at a conference at the Universidade Catolica de Brasília. I also benefitted from being the recipient of the 2013-14 David K. Sengstack Endowed Graduate Fellowship, which allowed me to successfully finish my dissertation work.

Dissertation
My dissertation is about measuring what children perceive their opportunities to be, in order to understand better how education affects them and their well-being. I showed that a mixed method, called Q methodology, can be used to measure opportunities in an objective fashion that captures the individual perspectives of each child.

This new measure fosters children’s agency and participation, allows for individual viewpoints to be heard and expressed, and it also creates group viewpoints. For example, for most of the children in my study, education was a given, so education was not seen as something that provided opportunity. Opportunities that mattered to some children were being able to be social and to feel safe, whereas others were concerned with equality and freedom of choice. Used in an educational setting, this new capability measure can effectively uncover what choices in opportunities are valued, what opportunities need to be fostered, and what opportunities need to be made available in order to foster the well-being of children.

My dissertation was awarded with distinction, and I was the first person in my program to be so honored.

Building a Strong Network
Rutgers–Camden brings world-class researchers to its campus. One of my greatest experiences was to meet and speak with Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who developed the capability approach that I used in my dissertation. He was such an astonishing intellect but such an unassuming man.

I was a member of the graduate student organization, and helped organize several events, such as a graduate student conference and a childhood studies film series. I met some incredibly talented people during my activities in the program.

Up Next
I hope to use my capabilities measure in conjunction with research on various educational initiatives. Much of our education does little to expand our students’ opportunities; in fact, educational institutions and the adults who operate them can at times be counterproductive. My measure is an alternative way to standardized testing to show if an educational intervention works.

Furthermore, I currently work as a program evaluator and as such I will use my capabilities Q sort to evaluate the success of a program.

I also have done a lot of teaching here at Rutgers–Camden, both in the childhood studies program and in the psychology department, and I thoroughly enjoy teaching. As I have stated in my dissertation, teaching is reciprocal and Rutgers–Camden students have taught me a lot. Therefore, I hope to continue to teach, with a particular focus on children and childhoods.

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