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Graduate Students & New Evaluators TIG Week: “It’s Not a Sprint, it’s a Marathon.” Choosing a Doctoral Degree in Evaluation by Christine Liboon

This week, the members of the Graduate Students and New Evaluators (GSNE) TIG share various tips, tricks, resources, and points of view that can be helpful for students and new evaluators. We hope both evaluators, new and old, will review this material and share the resources and stories with each other.
-Crystal Luce, GSNE Chair

Hi everyone! My name is Christine Liboon and I am a doctoral candidate at UCLA’s School of Education and Information Studies (Ed&IS)’s Social Research Methodology program. As a reader of our AEA 365 blog, you may recall Randi Knox’s article on “Choosing a Master’s Degree in Evaluation” from June 2022 where she shared her story on choosing an academic route.

Hot Tip

As an extension to Randi’s blog, some members might feel caught between choosing a shorter-term commitment to a Master’s program or to a longer-term commitment to an academic doctoral program. As someone who also stumbled into the field of evaluation by happenstance, I decided to continue a doctorate in Social Research Methodology with a focus on program evaluation, specifically at an R1[1] institution for two main reasons:

  1. Research-oriented focus. I gravitated towards  research and academic issues around program improvement. I felt a deep need to continue investigating my topic of interest further, which at the time was and to its core is, how do programs in nonformal educational spaces continue to improve and develop? Whether that’s through evaluation approach and practice, or through working with teams to build evaluation capacity or continuous improvement in evaluation, I have spent my time as a graduate student delving into methodologies, approaches, and inquiry that could answer this particular question and the related. Thus, after spending my first quarter pursuing a Master’s degree in Social Research Methodology, I found myself deep in a literature review of this question. I was inspired and committed to continue a doctoral program because I had further questions that needed answering.
  2. Interest in theoretical alignment to practice. While I will always consider practice as central and leading to the questions that I ask, I continued to wonder what sorts of theories or frameworks could influence the way in which I could better understand or drive the practice of evaluation as a previous practitioner in the field. As one of the many who “stumbled” into the field of evaluation and felt I could have further in-depth of knowledge, I enjoyed academic discussions with my colleagues across our —many whom had spent time in schools or within educational or nonprofit spaces—I observed we had similar goals of investigating a topic related to education, methodology, or practice in program evaluation, implementation, and improvement. I also noticed the desire to influence or change something, whether that be creating policy, improving teaching practice or advancing the field’s methodologies, despite opposing philosophical or paradigmatic views (e.g. post-positivism or constructivism). I desired to learn the art of deeply studying a question, one that mattered to me and that could shift theory and practice through further investigating and understanding a specific issue.

So, what advice can I offer now that I am towards the end of my doctoral program?

Lesson Learned

Pursuing a doctorate is a long-term commitment. While this is true for any doctoral program, mine is specifically academic and research oriented.The sage advice I often hear for doctoral students throughout the length of our program is this: “It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” So, while you are checking out the various program(s) to apply for (see AEA’s University Programs) and taking inventory of what’s most important to you, I invite you to ask yourself, are you eager to learn the skills and jump back into the field right away or are you committed to the long-run of a graduate program?

Any questions or ideas? Please don’t hesitate to connect with me, Christine Liboon, via LinkedIn

[1] An R1 institution is a university institution that prioritizes research 

AEA is hosting GSNE Week with our colleagues in the Graduate Student and New Evaluators AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our GSNE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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