Li Cai, Ph.D. is a graduate of our Quantitative Psychology program and the L.L. Thurstone Psychometric Lab in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. He is now a Professor of Education at the University of California Los Angeles’ Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Dr. Cai also has affiliate appointments in Quantitative Psychology and Statistics at UCLA.
As a Professor, Dr. Cai primarily teaches in the Education Department’s quantitative methods program. He serves as the Director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST), a national research center at the forefront of educational innovation that focuses on educational assessment, student learning, technology, and psychometrics. CRESST is also home to the English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century (ELPA21) collaborative. ELPA21 is an assessment system that supports states and educators as they adopt and implement the English Language Proficiency standards. ELPA21 offers a suite of assessments that incorporates the latest understanding of language development to provide concise instruments to support students and educators and currently serves over a half million English language learners in eight states. Dr. Cai says, “I oversee a staff of approximately 90 at CRESST. In my spare time, I have been a Managing Partner at Vector Psychometric Group, a Chapel Hill based psychometric consulting/software company that two other good friends and colleagues started. Software programs that I have contributed to developing at Vector are now widely used in the assessment industry.”
The graduate training at the Psychometric Laboratory helped Dr. Cai prepare for his current career in assessment and quantitative methods. Reflecting upon his time at UNC, the most important skill learned was problem-solving. “There are often no pre-fixed solutions at hand for most of the projects that I run into,” explains Dr. Cai. “The other ‘soft skill’ that is important, and something I attribute to training at the Psychometric Lab, is team work. The field that I work in, assessment, tends to require people working in large groups. They may also come from widely varying backgrounds. One must learn to understand other stakeholders’ perspectives, to communicate, and to collaborate, in order to fully benefit from the diversity and range of options.”
Dr. Cai’s faculty advisors were Drs. Bud MacCallum and David Thissen, but he had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of faculty at Carolina. He shares, “The Lab offered the graduate students a tremendous amount of flexibility in terms of work opportunities. Many in my cohort worked with almost every faculty member in the program. That was a great learning experience.”
Choosing a graduate program can be challenging, but Dr. Cai picked Carolina because of the people here. “No other place I visited at the time was as warm and welcoming. I enjoyed the interactions with the people at the Psychometric Lab. I still fondly recall the quantitative students’ Coke machine, the annual Thanksgiving lunch, hallway exchanges with Professor Jones, and the brownbag discussions. There is no substitute for this level of shared devotion to the intellectual pursuits and growth of junior scholars, and there is no equivalent in my opinion at any other university. I try humbly to recreate what I experienced at Carolina in my current role for my students, and realize that I cannot.”