We – Christina Peterson, Rachel Ladd, Brenna Butler, and Erica Echols – are doctoral students in the Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As part of a recent study on evaluation scholar-practitioner identity, we interviewed students, alumni, and faculty from evaluation doctoral programs. Understanding the ways in which evaluators come to see themselves as scholars and practitioners can help us better prepare emerging evaluators.
Scholar-practitioners walk between worlds, translating research to practice and connecting the practical back to the conceptual. This cycle advances applied disciplines like evaluation by generating a unique knowledge base relevant to practice. Despite the critical role that a distinct knowledge base plays in a field’s development, few evaluators report a desire to conduct Research on Evaluation (RoE). So, how can we better train scholar-practitioners to conduct RoE?
Our study offers important implications for the teaching of evaluation, particularly in evaluation-specific graduate programs.
- Exposing students to RoE. To help support students in their future scholar-practitioner activities, including dissertations, some participants highlighted the value of courses or seminars devoted to RoE. Students with these experiences reported that exposure to RoE early in their doctoral career helped facilitate and structure their thinking about their dissertation research. This theoretical training should be balanced with practical experiences, which both prepares the student to perform evaluation work and helps inform scholarship.
- Promoting scholarly engagement. An important step in scholar-practitioner training is understanding how to translate evaluation results into scholarly products of interest to other evaluators. This includes training students to contribute to the evaluation literature by publishing and presenting on RoE. Developing a voice to engage in academic conversations helped some respondents begin to identify as scholars in the field. Regularly conversing about RoE and sharing RoE work with their peers in seminar-style classes may help students develop competencies needed to feel like scholars in this space.
- Setting scholarly expectations early. There were diverse views about the purpose of a Ph.D. in evaluation. Some faculty viewed the purpose of their program as cultivating applied practitioners while others aimed to train evaluation scholars. For example, expectations around the scope of evaluation theses or dissertations vary by program. Many participants indicated that the dissertation for an evaluation Ph.D. should be RoE rather than an extended evaluation report. The variation in scholarly expectations within evaluation doctoral programs is important for the field to consider as it seeks to advance RoE and defines the purpose of PhDs in evaluation. In either case, these expectations should be communicated with students prior to enrollment to ensure a good match between curriculum and student goals.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating TOE TIG Week with our colleagues in the Teaching of Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our TOE 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 email@example.com. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.