Prof Icy Lee on navigating the realities of academia
“MY advice for prospective graduate students is to avoid romanticising academia.”
These may be odd words from someone who has dedicated her life to research and teacher education.
However, Prof Icy Lee from the English Language & Literature Academic Group at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NIE NTU, Singapore) believes wholeheartedly that while academia provides profound opportunities for learning, growth and contribution, it is crucial for graduate students to refrain from idealising academic work.
Instead, they should recognise the inherent challenges that permeate academia. To her, a career in this field often entails confronting potential failures and rejections, where passion serves as a vital element for perseverance.
It is this passion that has led Prof Lee through her colourful journey in academia.
She is best known for her work in second language writing, having delivered more than 200 talks, including international plenary conference presentations, and authored over 150 academic pieces, such as books, book chapters and journal articles.
Prof Lee’s sustained interest in research serves to bridge the gap between theory, enabling the production of knowledge with a significant impact on frontline teachers.
“I am primarily interested in research on second language writing, with a specific focus on feedback and classroom assessment, as well as writing teacher development.
“Specifically, I am committed to research that addresses how teachers develop their feedback literacy and expertise as teachers of writing, and how teacher education can nurture effective writing teachers.
“As a writing teacher educator and researcher, I have come to realise that my research efforts can yield valuable insights to enhance my own teaching practice.
“This, in turn, has a positive impact on my students’ development as teachers. It is this vision and its potential to effect positive change that continue to galvanise my passion for research and teaching,” Prof Lee shares.
Contributing to society
There is the perception that writing is the most formidable language skill to learn and to teach.
However, Prof Lee finds excitement and meaning when zeroing in on such a highly important area of work that is often perceived to be extremely challenging.
She says, “I hope that through my research my students and readers will be less apprehensive about writing and develop a love for it. I also hope to help them demonstrate their potential in writing through a better understanding of what writing entails.”
Prof Lee’s research portfolio includes an exploration of feedback from a sociocultural perspective.
This research highlights the importance to integrate feedback into formative assessment practices, as well as the potential discrepancies between teachers’ feedback beliefs and their actual practices.
More recently, her work has centred on developing a comprehensive framework for writing teacher feedback literacy and creating a scale to assess it.
With a laugh, Prof Lee recounts how research can sometimes yield surprising findings.
One such experience involved studying a group of Hong Kong secondary school teachers and examining the accuracy of their own error corrections.
To her astonishment, about half of her sample group made either inaccurate or unnecessary corrections.
In another study, she learnt of teachers who gave error feedback not because they believed in the effectiveness of their own practices, but to fulfil department policies and management appraisals.
She goes on to share her fair share of challenges. “My mission is to connect with teachers on the frontline, understanding their practices, thoughts, and the obstacles they face.
“One daunting hurdle I encounter involves persuading teachers to collaborate with me and grant me access to their classrooms for data collection. Equally demanding is the need for innovation, which thrives on teachers’ active participation in communities of practice.”
All in all, Prof Lee finds fulfilment from the impact her research has on the industry.
She shares, “I have had the privilege to nurture some young scholars, some of whom are now very well-established academics who maintain ongoing partnerships with me. Through our collaboration, we sharpen each other and reap mutual benefits from our collective efforts.”
Prof Lee’s achievements further fuel her passion to push the field forward and explore new research avenues to bring novel insights to classroom teachers.
She concludes that there is no point in looking back and brooding over missed opportunities in the past. Instead, our motivation should always be focused on what we can do to make a difference in the future.
For more information, visit https://www.nie.edu.sg/aug2024