Chelsea Heaven on Why Graduate Students Interested in Evaluation Should Consider Volunteering

Greetings, I am Chelsea Heaven, a recently graduated master’s level biostatistics and public health student. As with many of my fellow recent graduates, I am always on the lookout for as many opportunities as possible to kick-start my young career in statistics and evaluation. A colleague of mine who I work with at my campus’ statistical consulting center recommended becoming involved with Statistics Without Borders (SWB), and I could not be more grateful to them.

My experience with SWB has been invaluable for my professional development. SWB is an all-volunteer organization run as part of the American Statistical Association. Involvement in SWB has exposed me to real data that is used in the daily operation of health care facilities in East Africa, and given me the opportunity to formulate recommendation reports to NGO’s who would use this data for health policy decisions.

The intention for me writing this blog post is reach out to other graduate students involved in evaluation and share how involvement with SWB could be beneficial for their evaluation portfolios, and prepare them for “the real world” of program evaluation.

Lessons Learned:

  • It’s important to gain experience with real-world data.Gain experience with the real-world, messy data that is all too often present in evaluation projects.
    • Real data (i.e. data that does not come from textbooks) is often messy, comes in many different formats, and requires substantial effort and teamwork before it can be interpreted. Working with SWB projects allows one to have direct experience with messy data in a team environment, which is invaluable preparation for evaluation projects that happen in “the real world”.
  • It’s important to network.  Network and collaborate with evaluation professionals from around the world.
    • Collaboration is the name of the game nowadays in research and evaluation projects, and oftentimes these collaborations happen over e-mail and conference calls. When you are placed in a project at SWB, you are put on a team with 4-5 diverse professionals who you must effectively coordinate with to produce high-quality work. Therefore, SWB gives students highly beneficial experience working in a long-distance collaborative team environment – which will prepare them for future collaborations in their professional careers.

Hot Tip:

Rad Resources:

  • Join Idealist. SWB is a member organization of Idealist. Consider joining Idealist, and then joining the SWB site.
  • Join SWB. Anybody interested applying statistical and evaluation knowledge to the international community is welcome to volunteer at SWB.
  • Volunteer as a web-based statistical mentor for students in a developing country.
  • Volunteer at Peoples-uni. Courses of particular interest would be Evaluation of Interventions, Biostatistics, Public Health Concepts for Policy Makers, and Health Economics all with evaluation and research components.

Leave a Comment

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.