2017 CIES Symposium Reflections by Jana Clinton & Yifan Bai

Pictured above: Dr. David Post with Doctoral students and Alumni  from The Pennsylvania State University at the CIES Symposium in October

The 2017 CIES Symposium, Interrogating and Innovating CIE Research, was held at the Arlington campus of George Mason University in late October.  This is the second symposium held to engage students, junior and senior scholars, practitioners, and policymakers in conversation about the future of Comparative International Education, particularly through interrogation and innovation in practice and research. More than 300 attendees participated in the symposium, including many graduate students from master’s and doctoral level programs. Over two full days, this symposium provided participants with several plenaries, breakout sessions, concurrent sessions, and workshops to network, share best practices, and ask questions.

As a graduate student attendee, this was a very affordable and accessible symposium to attend. The registration fee covered several meals, coffee or tea service, registration materials, and a free shuttle from the symposium hotel to the Arlington campus. The location was convenient for those staying elsewhere who needed to use the Metro and was within walking distance to local restaurants for after the formal social conference sessions ended.

For graduate students who are in an early stage of their graduate career, it is more likely to be accepted for a session at the symposium level and gain experience prior to submitting a proposal to the annual conference. Several of the concurrent session presenters were doctoral students at their respective institutions who are conducting research for their dissertations and are looking for feedback on their preliminary findings. It was interesting to learn about current comparative research, methodologies, and gaps in the literature. This symposium, along with the annual CIES conference, is a great opportunity for current graduate students to submit session or paper proposals; there is a lot of exposure to the experts who might be able to provide feedback and inform current research. Although the symposium is only in its second year, it is tailored to provide a deeper focus on a specific topic with a relatively small audience.

The four plenaries were well attended and included speakers from a variety of leadership roles at American universities, a UNESCO chair, and representatives from several organizations, such as World Bank. The first plenary focused on the theme of the symposium and raised questions about how our experiences color what we know and about identifying narratives that dictate social structures – what are the counter narratives and how can we make sure that diverse voices are represented (such as indigenous knowledge that goes unheard in Western research)? Additionally, this plenary discussed how we can practice socially just methods in our research, finding an orientation that is more relational, respectful, and authentic towards marginalized narratives. The plenary speakers discussed the connection between interrogating and innovating, in reference to Pierre Bourdieu, and encouraged researchers to learn through relationships, to continue to ask inquisitive questions, understand to whom we belong/answer, and address privilege as well as ethics in research (such as co-authorship). Thus, moving forward, the underlying message is that even though we are historicized beings, we can contribute towards an open-minded model of whom/what gets published to decolonize hegemonic practices and share multiple discourses in both the publishing arena and decision-making processes.

“The symposium was a great experience and gave a glimpse of what to expect at the annual conference in Mexico City from March 25-29, 2018.”

The second plenary built upon the idea of radical listening to find the silences in comparative research by decolonizing methodology and including local voices. For example, the panelists argued that many people stay silent because they are forced to speak in English, which is not the language they are best able to articulate their ideas or stories. One way to address this issue is to encourage more participation in multi-language journals and pay attention to the language (terminology) used between CIES and the agencies, which is not always consistent. In order to provide opportunities to include more diverse voices in the field, the panelists encouraged researchers to establish trust with their participants, to understand the relative positionality of what constitutes as local, examine the extent of participation that validates the voice of the person the researcher is working with, and to continue to read journal articles in other countries to stay informed of the literature.

The third plenary addressed intersectionality at the individual and organizational level to examine narratives that have already been created and decolonize spaces in colonized institutions where intersectionality and human rights have been co-opted to meet a colonized agenda. The panelists encouraged participants to think about co-creating processes that lead to more equitable opportunities, such as activism, education, and healing. Symposium participants worked in groups to answer facilitated questions about decolonization through a word cloud and each small group had the opportunity to share their ideas with the large group. The purpose of this exercise focused on identifying tangible steps for creating a culture of awareness and accountability of decolonization in our home communities.

Outside of the plenaries, there were several opportunities to engage with colleagues, through both formal and informal discussions. The symposium was organized to offer participants the opportunity to debrief about the sessions they attended through a Donuts & Conversation session, which included facilitated questions and organic conversations. Many times at conferences, participants are busy attending sessions and do not have built-in time for reflection. We appreciated that the conference organizers realized this and created the space for a large group debrief. Throughout the conference, large post-it boards in the main conference room encouraged participants to list any topics that they felt were missing or wanted to cover and recommendations for the next symposium. Additionally, several institutions brought literature about their graduate programs, which were available throughout the conference. To extend the conversation about the theme, “Interrogating and Innovating CIE Research,” there is a call for book chapters to be published by Sense.

Overall, the symposium was a great experience and gave a glimpse of what to expect at the annual conference in Mexico City from March 25-29, 2018. Student membership for CIES is $39 and renews annually in January. For those interested in Comparative and International Education, this is a great way to get involved and stay informed about current research and initiatives.


Jana Clinton is a graduate student in the dual title D.Ed degree program in Higher Education and Comparative International Education. She holds an M.Ed in Higher Education (Student Engagement focus) and B.A. in Spanish from Penn State University. She is currently working full-time as an Academic Adviser in Smeal College of Business and has previous experience in Global Programs and Residence Life at Penn State and St. Francis University. Her current research interests include international student engagement, K-20 global education curriculum development, academic integrity, and implementation of indigenous knowledge into the classroom.

Yifan Bai is a quantitative researcher at American Institutes for Research. Her primary scholarly interests focus on understanding factors related to children’s achievement in the U.S. and other countries. Ms. Bai is a dual-title Ph.D. candidate in Educational Theory & Policy and Comparative International Education at the Pennsylvania State University specializing in a variety of statistical methods, including multilevel modeling, structural equation modeling, and propensity score matching. She also pursues a doctoral minor in Demography. Ms. Bai works on research projects analyzing national and international large-scale datasets, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Her work has been presented at a multitude professional conferences and proceedings, including the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), the Population Association of America (PAA), and Comparative and International Education Society (CIES).

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *