Hello! I am Kavita Mittapalli, Ph.D. I own a small education research and evaluation firm, MN Associates, Inc. (MNA) outside Washington DC metropolitan area. I founded MNA in 2004 as a graduate student at George Mason University. I have a Ph.D. in Research Design and Methodology in Education. We are a team of five evaluators with a combined 65 years of experience conducting a wide variety of social science and STEM education research and evaluation projects across the country.
My response is open-ended but, honestly, it depends.
In earlier posts—Gentle Tips for New and Seasoned Evaluators Looking for Jobs, How Do I Find Or Get My First Evaluation Job, and a two-questions piece, Who Will Hire and Train A Novice and Who Will Hire A Career Switcher, I talked about the vastness of evaluation field—both people and their current (or past) academic preparation/professions that have led them to the field successfully.
Evaluators are an eclectic bunch.
However, I would like to (re-)emphasize that since evaluation requires a fair amount of data collection both on and off field, data cleaning, coding, analyses, interpretation, presentation, and report writing—most of the time customized to clients’/stakeholders’ needs—having some prior training and field experience in developing research questions, logic models, applying research methods—both qualitative and quantitative and having an understanding and application of statistics is helpful.
Prior knowledge doesn’t mean that you won’t or can’t learn new things on the job. We all do. By the same token, not having any/all of the above qualifications and abilities prior to your first evaluation job is not a huge negative that will preclude you from getting a job; it just means you will have a steep learning curve.
For instance, at a small, fast-paced company such as mine, it’s challenging to train staff while we’re all trying to complete projects to meet deadlines. So, it’s an expectation for the team member to come trained in conducting research in the field and be prepared to start working on a project from day 1. This is to not discount that there won’t be opportunities to learn on the job by 1) Attending professional development 2) Grant writing sessions and/or 3) Learning a new software tool. But, having basic educational training in research methods applications and data analyses is a huge plus and makes it easier to get work done.
I can’t emphasize this enough, but reading on evaluation theories and how to apply them within the scope of an evaluation study is essential.
As evaluators, we write a lot of reports. Therefore, developing a good report that is both meaningful and results in actions on part of the client can be attained via practice and experience. I have often wondered if I had taken a few classes in technical writing (maybe I should soon?) or even had a degree in creative writing, it would have helped my writing skills.
As an agriculture graduate (Bachelor’s degree), what has helped me as an evaluator, is taking a more realistic point of view of evaluation processes by assessing the contexts and mechanisms as well as doing evaluation with a more scientific bend of mind. Is that what is needed to be an evaluator? I am not sure but I think it helps my ways of knowing and learning—a realist evaluator.
Never stop being curious. And be a sponge.
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