By Sam Cohen-Winans
Preparation in the Classroom – My Evaluation Beginnings
After completing my bachelor’s and master’s in exercise physiology and my first year as a doctoral student, there was still a lot for me to learn about health behavior and promotion. At that time, my knowledge was limited to the names of health behavior theories. Then, in the fall of 2020, I took a health program planning course. During this class, we had a project that consisted of designing a program using the PRECEDE-PROCEED model. A key part of this project was developing methods to evaluate our program. I received the following feedback regarding my evaluation design from my professor, “You would be good at evaluation.” Coincidentally, the professor of this course was also my advisor and, needless to say, I took any feedback received—even for a class project—with great consideration.
In all honesty, at that point in time, I still could not have begun to tell you what evaluation is and what it entails. The next semester, spring 2021, my health program evaluation course taught me more about evaluation and equipped me with needed foundational skills but I was not equipped to actually apply these skills in the field. After that course, I had not put much thought into evaluation until spring 2022 when I had an opportunity to join CERE where I could gain insight into research evaluation through hands-on experiences.
Academia or Industry?
When I began my doctoral program, I was on the fence about going into academia after earning my Ph.D. I have previous experience working in industry as a Wellness Center Coordinator at a Federally Qualified Health Center, so I knew that I enjoyed working in industry but I wasn’t sure what academia would be like. At the end of summer 2021, I knew academia was not for me. Nothing negative happened that caused me to come to this conclusion. In fact, it was something positive that led me to this decision. I received positive feedback pertaining to one of my primary duties, one that relates to academia. In the past, receiving positive feedback like this would have pulled me more towards academia than industry. At that moment, though, I didn’t feel any pull at all. I didn’t feel fulfilled.
I knew I didn’t want to pursue academia, then, when I started working at CERE in the spring of 2022. Instead, I was exploring whether research and evaluation was a potential career path for me. After working on various projects throughout that semester, I accepted a position as a full-time graduate assistant for the health portfolio at CERE for the 2022-2023 academic year. While I was initially hesitant to start a new graduate assistantship in my last year of my doctoral program—not to mention shifting from teaching to research and evaluation—I know this was the right fit for me. Not only am I benefitting from field experience, but the CERE team’s cohesiveness and support is incomparable to anything I have ever experienced. They all welcomed me without any hesitation and with open arms. I am excited to be a part of this extraordinary team!