An Interview with Chris Sun

Christopher Sun serves as an associate research analyst in CNA’s Education Division. Sun has more than eight years of quantitative and qualitative analytical experience, as well as program management and facilitation expertise in the field of education. He has worked directly with education stakeholders at all levels, including state board of education members, state education agency staff, state and district superintendents, and school-level staff.

Q: What made you want to become a researcher?

A: Throughout my life, I have always had a natural curiosity to identify root causes of observations and behavior in measured and reliable ways. These curiosities coupled with the scientific method pointed me to research. I’ve spent much of my time as a researcher developing a variety of tools to be able to answer complex questions that couldn’t be easily addressed through simple observation.

Q: Through your work, what is the most interesting/unexpected/important finding you have discovered?

A: I think most every research project that I have worked on has had at least one important moment. As you dig deeper into particular research areas, there are always a few key pieces of information that make you rethink the totality of the findings or see the findings in a different context. I vividly remember a moment a few years ago when I was examining a network of schools that were virtually sharing advanced math and science courses. The data alone told a very specific story where schools simply weren’t partnering but there wasn’t any glaring reason for why this was happening. However, we took a step back and began interviewing a few of the schools to see what was going on and the schools simply didn’t have compatible school schedules during the day and the weather they experienced even a few miles away from each other was vastly different – leading to differing school closures during winter months. These kinds of moments always make me place an emphasis on context when examining any issue using outcomes data.

Q: What is your least favorite part of research?

A: For me, I think finding the right approach to a research study is always a challenge. Research continues to play a key role in the decisions of educators and policymakers across the country. However, the timelines for high-quality, rigorous research methods sometimes are too long for these stakeholders. I am encouraged by the use of some of the rigorous but expedited methods such as rapid-cycle evaluations. I think it gives stakeholders continuous feedback on progress of an initiative while continuing to work to longer-term goals of an evaluation.

Q: If you were not a researcher, what would you do for a living?

A: If I was not a researcher, I think I might be doing something in the healthcare field. Both of my parents come from that field and they use research every day to treat symptoms for illnesses that might not be easily explained or observed. Maybe that’s why I had a proclivity for research in the first place, as well.

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