Selecting Your Classes Strategically to Develop Your Knowledge in the Area of Study

Roberto Ramos, a Brazilian ETAP PhD student and recipient of the Fullbright Scholarship, provided insightful strategies and reflections on how he selected courses for his doctoral coursework in this interview. After a decade as an English teacher in a language school and then as a member of the federal network of educational institutes in his home country, Roberto viewed the opportunity to earn a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction in the United States and at UAlbany as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to refine his critical thinking skills and advance his scholarship in language education and social justice through the use of technology and project-based learning.

h a concentration, he stated that the first step in taking lessons from the program was to expand his knowledge into more relevant fields. To him, the coursework and readings in the courses broaden his knowledge of many adjacent fields, while simultaneously reinforcing the position or hypothesis he has developed through independent reading on his chosen topic.

Roberto decided to take courses on applied linguistics in educational contexts and language in a society that is responsive to students’ cultural and multilingual background, in order to delve deeper into an original contribution and effort to bringing language education closer to education in the twenty-first century. In other words, it is beneficial to highlight courses and keywords in the course work that doctoral students believe will be intellectually engaging, support their research skills, potential research interests, and research projects.

For example, commenting on classes taught by SUNY Distinguished Professor Istvan Kecskes (i.e., Translanguaging, Bilingualism Seminar), he said, “Those course are not related to project-based learning. Yet, they had the most exciting and engaging contribution (to my growth as a scholar and researcher)…Whenever we have discussion in class (with other doctoral students), that’s always very engaging.

They helped me expand on your research interest. And I’m curious to see how the tension that I perceive in language, education, and social justice could be translated into the pedagogical translanguaging pratices to serve the needs of bilingual and multilingual learners from the lens of linguistics and bilingualism sciences. So that’s another aspect in addition to my proposal of using project-based teaching and technology. And we’re trying to sort of like balance and trying to cater for both approaches, general education and linguistic education. That’s like the same tension that is at the core of what I’m researching” and so the classes generate a source of inspiration for him. Another course he liked was with Dr. Julie Learned who he quoted, “a mind-blowing course in terms of like what we read about this, and it was like something completely new, like it changed my way of thinking….”

He emphasized the importance of always weaving the courses taken with individual research interest by taking reflective notes and analytic anecdotes. For doctoral students specifically, it is helpful to take advantage of the final project, which is like a conceptual or empirical paper, to advance their research. Doctoral students should try to be flexible enough to see the connections between courses and their individual work, adopt and adapt in a way that the the type of coursework that they do is something that informs their own research interest(s). While personal preference is essential in determining which classes to take, Roberto also recommends discussing the study plan with the academic adviser and senior students.

A full episode of our interview – “Selecting Courses in Your Doctoral Study” can be found at:

Written by Mary Dinh (

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