GSNE TIG Week: Choosing a Master’s Degree in Evaluation by Randi Knox

This week, AEA365 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. We hope you enjoy! -Liz DiLuzio, Lead Curator


Hello! I’m Randi Knox, a student in Claremont Graduate University’s (CGU) Master’s in Evaluation and Applied Research program. I’m also a Technical Research Project Coordinator at Boys Town National Research Hospital.

Prior to starting my graduate program, I had minimal experience with evaluation and no experience with evaluation as a stand-alone practice separate from project management. I discovered the field of evaluation while exploring options for graduate school, googling key words and phrases like, ‘master’s in research’ and ‘applied research programs’.

I understand it is common for most people to ‘stumble’ into the field of evaluation by happenstance. I feel I am stumbling in as well; however, unlike many in the field, I’m stumbling in through academia rather than practice. There are three main reasons why I chose this path:

  1. An academic program seemed like the more immediately accessible ‘door.’ When I started CGU’s program, I was working in a traditional research lab and had no access to evaluators or a natural progression towards evaluation.
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down and made employment less predictable. It felt safer to stay with my current employment (which I enjoy!) than try to get my foot in the door elsewhere.
  3. I was ready to go back to school. I was a few years out of undergrad and missing the formal academic setting – the intensive reading, writing, and dialogues with peers and professors. I craved that rigor and familiar feeling of growth. Plus, I felt financially ready to make this investment in myself.

There are only a handful of programs available to aspiring evaluators with generalist leanings. Besides CGU, I considered American University, Western Michigan University, and Michigan State University. I decided to attend CGU for a few reasons:

  1. CGU’s program is completely online. The online program was especially ideal given the COVID-19 pandemic, providing physical safety and mental stimulation with so much time spent at home.
  2. The program requires synchronous online classes. Being able to interact with and learn from my peers is important to me, and the synchronous classroom setting (even online) is more conducive to my learning than asynchronous classes.
  3. I understood what to expect from CGU’s program. Prior to applying and being accepted to CGU, I had multiple conversations with admissions staff and program alumni. I developed a clear sense of what to expect from the program, and what would be expected from me – and it all matched what I felt was right for me.

Deciding to pursue a master’s degree in any field is a personal decision. My goal for this blog post is to provide insight into how I picked my program, not to insinuate that any one program is better than another. I conclude with a Hot Tip and a Lesson Learned for those who are considering this leap:

Hot Tip:

  • When considering whether to pursue a master’s program in evaluation, think about what you need to feel fulfilled personally and professionally.

Lessons Learned:

  • As someone who is getting my start in evaluation through academia, I learned from my peers – many of whom started in the field and then entered an academic program – that I need to balance my education between ‘book smarts’ and ‘street smarts.’ Academia is a place of idealisms; those who started with their feet on the ground know the realities of practicing evaluation. I am immensely grateful to my peers who share their personal experiences from the field, providing a source of ‘street smarts’ in an otherwise ‘book smart’ setting.

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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