On Scientists Becoming Evaluators

Hi, I’m Susan Eriksson, a geologist and science educator reformed as an evaluator for science-related programs.  I’ve worked in industry, academia and the non-profit sector and have worked with many evaluators and served on many grant review panels.  My tips for today might help you decide if you need to partner with an evaluator who comes from a STEM field.

Lessons learned:  Scientists have the content knowledge to delve into important questions needed for significant evaluation. They have insights about the scientific community expectations.

Scientists have the language and culture to work with STEM people. A great deal of  ‘eye-rolling’ goes on when a scientist hears the word ‘evaluator’. Recently a scientist kept saying ‘but that’s not proof….”.  I calmly replied, “we are looking for measurable results that support multiple and independent lines of evidence that point to significant impact’.  He understood the ‘multiple and independent lines of evidence’ because that is the way science works.

Scientists working as evaluators have the ‘trust’ because we have been ‘one of them’. Scientists inherently don’t trust social scientists!  I could add an emoticon with a smiley face here, but it is generally true!  I know, I have been one of those ‘eye-rolling’ natural scientists.

The other side of the coin: Without additional training, scientists don’t have the skills to do evaluation.  As a proposal reviewer, I see random people put on grants as “external evaluators”.  Recently a proposal had a mathematics professor as the external reviewer.  No credentials, no experience in evaluation….no good rating from me! Good evaluation has standards, ways of thinking, and research methodologies that are normally not part of a person’s scientific training.

Scientists can, however, learn the profession of evaluation, gaining the right knowledge, expertise, and experience. Certificate programs, short courses, webinars, and working with experienced evaluators give many scientists the evaluation skills to combine with content knowledge, trust, insights to potentially do a very effective job in evaluation.

Hot Tip: For evaluators working with scientists, go beyond measurement of generic outcomes to find out what your client’s expectations are.  Craft your language about evidence and methodology in terms that are valid to STEM audience.  Partner or talk to a scientist/evaluator to gain insights into the rich world of STEM.

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