Student’s advice: "Dive in. Do it. Thrive.”
By Serpil Senelmis
When Robert Drake made the decision to change the direction of his career at age 60 there was no doubt in his mind what path he wanted to take.
“I decided I wanted to branch out into international development work, specialising in programs and evaluation,” he explains.
The long-time consumer advocate had previously led the MoneySmart website team and most recently managed a $17 million financial literacy grants program. When evaluation become one of the strands of his grants work, Mr Drake decided this was an area he wanted to focus on.
While most people his age would be making plans towards retirement, Mr Drake was instead planning how to increase his chances of success at career transition. To ensure the likelihood of realising his goal, he saw an opportunity in studying the Master of Evaluation at the University of Melbourne.
Combining work and part-time study, Mr Drake has already made some impressive strides towards his objective. He was recently invited to present on evaluation at an OECD Conference in Hanoi as well as at an Australian evaluation conference.
Mr Drake’s achievements extend beyond that too. He’s been approached to do three commercial evaluation projects in Australia. And he’s already made the leap into being a full-time evaluation consultant, while he completes the last unit of his masters degree.
The Sydney-sider’s early accomplishments have given him a confidence boost and he’s already laid out his next set of goals.
“I hope to be doing evaluation projects in Third World countries within 2 years,” he states.
While Mr Drake’s experience makes it sound relatively easy to switch to a new career in the later stages of life, he explains that there were challenges along the way in having to learn new concepts and skills.
“The philosophical readings in the course certainly stretched my brain cells, but as the course progressed you could see how the ideas fitted in.”
The highlight of the Master of Evaluation course for Mr Drake has been “the interweaving of the theoretical and practical aspects.”
“We have had readings and guest lectures from cutting-edge practitioners from several countries, such as Jane Davidson from New Zealand. They have opened my eyes about ways to do quality work in tricky situations.”
“The most satisfying parts of the course were the exercises where you had to take the theoretical concepts and apply them in a practical case study. Completing a task like this gives you a lot of satisfaction,” he adds.
Initially, Mr Drake says he “explored the masters level qualification as simply a way to meet the entry standards at the World Bank.” But he admits as he delved into the masters, he “realised it would set (him) on the path to be a confident, competent professional evaluator, rather than a generalist who could bluff.”
This is the first time the mature-aged student has studied online and while he found it a bit daunting initially, he says he was “fine after the first few weeks.” And now Mr Drake says he relishes in the flexibility of the mode of online delivery.
Juggling full-time work, study and family is never easy, but the online study has allowed me to be fairly efficient with my time. The online structure made it more flexible, so I could do the work at times that suited me.
As long as you’ve got an internet connection you can study just about anywhere, explains Mr Drake. Some of his masters study was done in international airports and hotels during work trips and at a sunny riverside villa at Noosa during a work break.
“I can still participate in interactive sessions and discussion boards when I am travelling overseas for work and can access lectures and readings easily.”
It’s not just the flexibility that has impressed Mr Drake when it comes to online study. He says the course and content “is well structured, so you have a clear idea of what you need to do.”
“The teaching staff take the time to give detailed, useful feedback. They acknowledge what you have done well, and gently suggest where you could do better. The teaching staff have practical experience doing evaluation (both lecturers and tutors), and that shows in their ability to engage you in real-life dilemmas. I think the teaching staff in this course are great,” he adds.
Studying online has also given Mr Drake the opportunity to build connections all over the world. He says, “During online discussion sessions, there have been students hooking in from Vanuatu, USA, Cambodia and remote Western Australia.”
“I like the camaraderie, comparing experiences and sharing of ideas,” he adds.
This is the kind of experience that would take a very long time to gain on the job,” explains Mr Drake.
“The cost of the masters gives me a great return on investment. It would take me a decade in the workplace to get the same level of skill, and the accelerated learning has allowed me to make a quick change in career.”
He laughs, “No-one trains as an evaluator to be a millionaire, but I’ll get my money back.”
And what’s his advice for anyone else interested in evaluation?
“I would strongly recommend the University of Melbourne Master of Evaluation. Dive in. Do it. Thrive.”