Two years ago, I was coming to the end of my year abroad at Hainan University in Haikou, China. I was a student at Newcastle University, majoring in Chinese and German, and studying a little bit of Dutch on the side.
I must profess, at the time, I wrote a travel blog about my time there – jam-packed full of singing competitions, slacklining, surf trips and TV presenting… – and, though this post wasn’t published on my blog, I distinctly remember writing my reflective journal for university at the end of the first semester. In it, I talked about what I hoped I’d get out of my degree, where I thought it would take me, and – that old cliché – where I saw myself in five years’ time.
Then, I’d secured a valuable internship with Procter & Gamble, in their Finance department, and, in all honesty, I thought that was where my next few years lay. I was never one for cold feet or wanderlust, but I never really settled during my three months there, and I spent the final year of my degree pondering over their offer – should I take it, or should I take a risk and go off-piste, so to speak?
As will already be evident, I chose the latter path. It was the best decision I’ve made.
Don’t get me wrong, I learned a massive amount in my few months there at P&G – lots of transferable skills, which have been immensely useful in this last year of running evidencebased.education – but the work didn’t excite me. Luckily for me, Stuart, my co-Director, was in a similar position of not knowing where his future would be, at the same time. (As an aside, he has maintained over the last five years or more – and much to my disdain – that I’ll end up doing postgraduate studies in something or other. I have always disagreed wholeheartedly…)
So, almost one year into the evidence-based world, where am I now?
Well, I’m carving out a niche for myself, and combining two things I feel really passionately about: making decisions based on evidence, and improving the education of pupils worldwide. I have lots of thoughts about the latter, but they’re for another post; the former, however, is something I’ve always done – consciously or subconsciously, formally or informally. I’ve always weighed up pros and cons, looked at reviews, got out my notepad and listed out all the facts before coming to any decision. I guess the only difference now is that I’m doing this very deliberately, and helping others to do so as second nature, too.
I’ve been thrown in at the deep end, for sure. Or maybe I dived headlong into the deep end. But anyway, everything has been a steep learning curve – from the running of a business day-to-day, to the weird cycle of not knowing where your next month’s salary is coming along, and finally to the worlds of education and academia (and yes, there is a stark difference!). Much like my experience when learning new languages, though, I’ve found that immersion is the best way to learn anything fast.
Just one small example from the work we’ve done, and continue to do: I now feel that I can speak with confidence about interpreting CEM assessment data. I’ve always been a bit of a statistician at heart – I used to spend my summer weekends in the cricket scorebox, calculating season averages while scoring and “doing the tins”, and I still feel that my ideal job is in sports analysis – and I feel that sharing these skills and pieces of knowledge to help children get a better education is a really worthwhile thing.
What’s next then?
Well, first and foremost, we’re working on a really exciting project with the great people at The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning in Washington DC; we’re calling it the Research Engagement Framework, and there’ll be more news to come on this in the next few weeks (keep your eyes peeled).
For this project, I’ve found a neat way of putting both my statistical, numerical brain and my linguistic mind to use – working as part of the assessment development team. This has sparked a real interest in me, and (much to Stuart’s amusement) I’m now looking into studying for an MSc in Educational Assessment at Durham University in September. It may or may not work out that way, but imagine writing assessments in Chinese… How fun would that be?
Longer-term, I don’t know… Maybe even a PhD?!