A lot can happen in a year, especially in a new job. For the four of us—Amber, Jack, Lia and Pravin—our first year at ARTD meant a whole lot of growing.
Like many evaluators, we came to evaluation with very different skills and backgrounds. But after a year in the field, we’ve learnt a lot about ourselves, our skills and the sector. We’ve loved growing together, working with supportive and passionate people, and making our mark by being involved on projects from start to finish.
With one year officially under our belts and 2020 just around the corner, we reflected on who and where we were before we started at ARTD, how we’ve changed and the wins we’ve had so far as early career evaluators.
I am surer of myself and my strengths. ARTD has given me that valuable early-career experience and has expanded my ways of viewing evidence.
What were we doing before ARTD?
I had just graduated from my Bachelor of Psychological Science with Honours degree and was exploring my interests and skills in applied research and evaluation. I wanted to further these through developing and improving real-world programs in the mental health and health sector. I also wanted to work as part of an encouraging and knowledgeable team that was supportive of my personal and professional progress as an early-career evaluator.
I was working at the George Institute supporting some of their projects and process evaluations, such as interviewing participants in a clinical trial aiming to increase compliance of patients taking their cardiovascular medication. I was also doing a bit of work in an internship at Oxfam, helping evaluate their youth engagement programs.
I remember exactly where I was when I accepted my position as a Research Assistant at ARTD. I was trying to bulk out my resumé by volunteering with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy at a sanctuary in rural Queensland—with barely enough reception to accept my offer of employment!
After spending a gruelling (yet rewarding) month installing various animal traps in sweltering isolation, I was questioning my skills and my choices (not to mention my financial stability). In the middle of a kind of crisis of faith regarding my degree and career, accepting what I saw as a career change at ARTD was a welcome opportunity to try something new and unexpected.
In fairness, I always thought that the next logical step for a biology major was to move into consulting. It’s tough out there looking for an entry-level job when they ask for a minimum of five years’ experience. I wanted to use that analytical side of me, and I knew I was a good writer, so I wanted to do more of that. I didn’t really know what to expect when I applied to work at ARTD, but honestly, it’s been a blessing!
I had finished my Bachelor of Arts (social policy and socio-legal studies) and was co-running an after-school care, responsible for ensuring that state and national policy regulations were adhered to. While I enjoyed implementing policies each day, I wanted to expand my understanding of social policy and utilise my skill set developed throughout my degree. ARTD presented an opportunity where I could that make that happen.
How have we changed?
My goal was to develop my professional skills and pursue my passion for helping improve the outcomes for individuals and families impacted by mental illness. By being involved in several projects in the mental health/ health sector—projects that take a more individualised, holistic and integrated approach to mental health care—I’ve been able to meet some of these goals. Through this work, I’ve gained valuable knowledge of the mental health sector and issues within the service system. This has motivated me to continue pursuing my passion for improving the lives of people impacted by mental illness.
When I started, I didn’t have a clear idea of what evaluation really meant. My immediate goal was to get a job and get off Newstart Allowance, and I knew that I wanted to get some experience in a professional setting. I also knew I didn’t want to forget how to use that quantitative part of my brain I had developed over the course of my Honours degree. Now, after one year at ARTD, I am surer of myself and my strengths. ARTD has given me that valuable early-career experience and has expanded my ways of viewing evidence. That regular income is also a plus!
My goals haven’t shift much. I still want to keep gaining more experience and make sure that that quantitative muscle of mine doesn’t atrophy (I also hope to continue with the analogies). But, with room to breathe and think more deeply about what I want to do, I’ve realised that I’m interested in evolutionary epistemology, and how lessons from the life sciences can inform evaluative theory and practice. I have a passion for biology and ecology and a desire to enact change in the conservation and biodiversity space, and I hope to build ARTD’s work in this space.
My goals last year were to use my university degree and learn more about how social policy operates. Now, I want to keep learning about and building on my qualitative and quantitative skills and continue working across a variety of projects. I want to continue to learn about the various sectors we work in and make positive contributions through project work.
When I started a year ago, I wanted to put the things I learnt in my university degree into practice. Now, I want to keep doing more project work, but especially I want to be more involved in more complex projects and be more exposed to quantitative methods.
I’ve developed a lot more confidence in doing project work for clients. It’s hard to put into words but I feel so different now, having worked on multiple projects. I feel less tentative and more confident approaching the work.
Personally, I have learnt that I am more resilient than I thought.
What’s been the best part?
I loved attending the AES Conference this year. I also find it’s best being involved in projects from the proposal all the way through to the end stage.
I want a supportive workplace culture that fosters a learning environment, and to work as part of team. I definitely have all of these things at ARTD. That’s why I like working here so much!
I love being part of a supportive working culture, having the opportunity to engage regularly in professional development, and working alongside people who are highly passionate about what they do—these are all things that have made me excited about working here.
I have had many great experiences, including co-presenting at the 2019 AES Conference on the importance of consumer researchers in research and evaluation of mental health services. I also attended the Empowerment Evaluation workshop by David Fetterman at the 2019 AES Conference, which got me thinking about how I can use the principles of empowerment evaluation in my work in the mental health sector.
The three things I like about ARTD are the workplace culture, the types of work we do, and the opportunities to learn new skills. I love the versatility in project work we do, and I can see a public health element across all the projects,
My favourite experience so far was the recent Lunchtime Learning presentation I gave on Robert Stake, a prominent evaluation theorist.
I think my favourite experiences at ARTD have been when I was involved on projects from start to finish. As a Research Assistant, well, it’s all in the title; you’re there to assist the research. Whether that means coming on at the start to help put together a proposal or organise stakeholder interviews or at the end to create charts and tables or proof a report; you’re not often exposed to the big picture.
Later, when I was promoted to Analyst and I started seeing projects through from the beginning to the end, it felt like I was working on something that was mine. It felt good to be able to have a piece of work and point to it and say, ‘Look at that. I did that! Can you believe that?’
I know it’s a ‘millennial’ thing to say, but in looking for a job, I look for balance. I want to know I can be friends with the people I work with, and not take any stress or frustrations home with me. At the same time, I need to be challenged, stimulated. I think ARTD has a pretty good balance of these things—a vibrant and supportive culture, and diverse and engaging projects that keep me on my toes.
What are we taking forward?
After a year at ARTD, I feel comfortable undertaking different tasks from different team members and managing competing deadlines. Also, knowing when to ask for help has been an important lesson.
I mean, I’ve learned a lot. This was my first real nine to five gig, so it’s been a massive learning curve. I suppose the takeaway from this year is the idea that not all evidence has to come from classic quantitative hypothesis testing. As a biology major, this was my ideal. If p is greater than 0.05, then what’s this all been about? Working here, I’ve had to confront my latent belief that conventional western-scientific approaches to knowledge building are the gold standard and open myself up to other ways of viewing and gathering evidence. That’s been a big, near world-changing shift.
I’ve learned about the importance of evaluation; it presents a valuable learning opportunity for our clients and the people involved in a program or policy. I’ve also learnt that the details are always important.
Personally, I have learnt that I am more resilient than I thought. I also learnt that I’m incredibly passionate about helping those impacted by mental illness, and I can continue doing this by evaluating and improving programs that adopt a holistic and whole-of-person approach to mental health care.
A lot can happen in a year. As early-career evaluators with a year of growth behind us, we are excited to see what happens in the next twelve months. What will we learn? How will we change? If you want answers to these questions, well, you’ll just have to wait until 2020!