GSNE Week: Jenna LaChenaye on Re-Socializing Yourself from Practitioner to Academic

Hello, evalusphere! I am Jenna LaChenaye from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. As an evaluation practitioner transitioning into the world of academia, I have found myself positioned at the epicenter of tackling the learning curve that separates these two vital yet divergent arenas of evaluation. As an evaluator and lover of social research inquiry, I reveled in the pursuit of solving real world issues, completing utilization-focused reporting and training, and moving into the next challenging project. My goal was (and continues to be) to complete rigorous and professional work that addressed local issues through the tools of evaluation. I prized spending time in activities that I deemed immediately and visually impactful. Transitioning into the world of academia, however, has put me in a position of re-socialization. I must not only continue to produce useful work that is rooted in real problems, but must additionally generate products that build on the academic community’s current work and the university/department’s mission (which can often seem like two very different conversations). However, academia provides many benefits that I did not find as an independent evaluator, such as access to immense resources, funding, and an impressive community of practice. Furthermore, I have come to see the evaluator-to-academic role as even more of a service of our profession due to the value of bringing practical experience and a focus on action into the academic sphere.

Hot Tip 1: Evaluation is often misunderstood by more traditional faculty. Share your knowledge of evaluation and you will often find colleagues who have a need for your action-based skill set.

Hot Tip 2: Many universities have centers that conduct evaluation work for the school and community. Seek out and connect with these groups as a way to seamlessly transition to the academic world.

Hot Tip 3: Many universities offer mentoring and development programs. Contact your faculty development center and/or department for more information.

Hot Tip 4: Academia and the next generation of scholars can value immensely from your knowledge and experience. If you work strictly as a practitioner, consider teaching an online or adjunct course.

Lessons Learned:

  • Like any other shift in work, moving to academia comes with a learning curve as you re-socialize into the role.
  • Academia is more of a translation of practitioner evaluator work rather than the very divergent jump it seems to be.
  • Colleagues are more than happy to provide support if asked.

Rad Resources:

  • Tanya Golash-Boza, Ph.D. writes a great, simple blog on navigating the academic world and maintaining a work/life balance, a great resource for those of us who want a jump start
  • Translating evaluation reporting to a journal format can be tough. Search for resources addressing this transition

AEA is celebrating 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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