My name is Marina Byrd, analyst with the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) and program co-chair for the Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA). I started my evaluation career with OPPAGA after graduating with a Master’s of Public Policy from the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Kentucky. I would like to offer three lessons I learned about the skills students should develop during their last year of graduate school to be successful during their first year in the evaluation field.
Lesson Learned 1: Develop survey development and survey software skills. Often times, evaluators face research questions that lack the information to adequately answer them. When this occurs, evaluators use surveys to gather information. Taking a course on survey development during graduate school will prepare you to handle surveys like a pro during your first year. If your university does not offer a class, try looking for classes online, such as the course “Questionnaire Design for Social Surveys” on Coursera, or check out books on survey design.
Additionally, evaluators need to be familiar with survey software to implement online surveys. Look for courses that include an introduction to survey software, such as Qualtrics or NoviSurvey. If your university does not offer a course, talk to a professor to see if there are opportunities to familiarize yourself with survey software in your department.
Lesson Learned 2: Increase your knowledge of statistics and statistical tools. Evaluators increasingly use big data to answer research questions. Analyzing big data requires a statistical background and the ability to use statistical programs. During your last year of graduate school, sign up for one or more statistics courses. Additionally, find opportunities to use statistical tools, such as Microsoft Excel, Stata, or IBM SPSS. These opportunities can be formal classes, online courses through Coursera, or working with a professor to use your department’s statistical tool to incorporate data into your thesis.
Lesson Learned 3: Cultivate communication. Communication is the key to sharing your results with your co-workers, stakeholders, and the public. During your last year of graduate school, cultivate both your written and oral communication skills. Written skills can be improved through volunteering to write for your department’s newsletter or through online resources, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures’ webinar titled, “Making Readers Care about Your Writing.” Oral communication skills can be developed by taking advantage of opportunities for public speaking and asking for feedback from professors.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the SEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from SEA Affiliate 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.