Philosophy cultivates big-picture thinking for MA grad student

May 28, 2019

Philosophy skills lead to case evaluation competition win for SFU Philosophy MA grad

Traditional views of philosophy often include a lot of sitting around thinking, but SFU Philosophy MA grad Damien Chen shows a dynamic side to the subject. Thanks to skills picked up from writing philosophy papers, Chen found himself on the winning team this May, in the fast-paced world of the Canadian Evaluation Society (CES) student case competition. Along with students from the Faculty of Health Sciences master’s program, they had only five hours to develop the winning proposal.

The SFU team, formed from mutual interest in evaluation as a professional skill, placed first out of 14 during qualifying heats this February. To prepare, they met several times to develop templates for evaluation and did a practice run before the qualifying heats. They also had additional guidance from their coach Dr. Beth Snow, the Head of Program Evaluation at the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences. Snow, who teaches evaluation methodology at several B.C. universities, helped them prepare for the competition.

Evaluation is “the systematic assessment of the design, implementation or results of an initiative for the purposes of learning or decision-making.” (source: Canadian Evaluation Society website). Chen first learned about the discipline during an evaluation internship with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. He spent his summer co-op working on the evaluation of health and environment management programs in collaboration with advisory committees and indigenous communities. With his curiosity sparked, Chen started networking once back at SFU to find other opportunities in the evaluation field. This is where he first heard about the case competition. After reaching out to senior evaluators teaching courses in BC he connected with his SFU team mates in the Master of Public Health program.

Describing how the competition operates, Chen notes that teams work quickly and in isolation. They use only the tools and templates developed during preparation and have no prior knowledge of the case being presented.

“It was fast-past, engaging and dynamic," he says. "Once we open the case, we only have five hours to finish it."

“We felt very pressed for time. I think every team felt the same way as well. It's a lot of work and thinking to be done in just five hours.”

Chen, who entered the SFU Philosophy MA program in fall 2016, values his philosophy training. He believes that it helps cultivate big picture thinking, which he considers important for evaluation or any sort of complex problem-solving.

“I think I developed this skill from writing philosophy papers where I have to design the whole project and consider how a specific point plays a role in the overall argument.”


Bio: Damien Chen entered the MA program in fall 2016 after completing a Bachelor of Law degree at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law. Supervised by department chair, Dr. Evan Tiffany, Chen successfully defended his professional paper: “Cultural Diversity and the Demands of Non-Domination: An Internal Challenge to Phillip Pettit's Neo-Roman Republicanism” in April 2019.  

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