Learning by Doing
Classroom exercises alone do not create a superb policy analyst. Also essential is hands-on experience at dealing with real-world problems of direct concern to decision makers. The Pardee RAND Graduate School provides a unique way for students to obtain this kind of practical experience: on-the-job training, which is almost universally known by its acronym, OJT. In concert with their academic requirements, PRGS students work on policy-related projects throughout their course of study.
OJT serves two functions. First, it helps students to enter a community of practice where they may obtain professional skills and tacit knowledge that courses alone cannot convey. Second, it pays for school: the PRGS fellowship is earned by work on OJT projects.
Developing Skills as a Policy Analyst
Most opportunities for OJT arise through ongoing RAND research. PRGS students have the opportunity to join teams of RAND researchers, initially as apprentices and later, as their skills develop, in roles of increasing responsibility and independence. At any time at RAND, more than 500 research projects are underway, which students may apply to join. With the exception of those projects that require security clearances or have similar special requirements, nearly all of these offer the potential to match PRGS students' interests and skills with exciting policy research.
Most students work on a variety of projects during their time at RAND, giving them exposure to a range of policy areas, research methods, colleagues, and clients. By the time they graduate, most students have accumulated the equivalent of at least two years of job experience in policy analysis and policy consulting—in addition, of course, to their Ph.D. degrees. Often, OJT work also provides an important part of the foundation for the dissertation required of all graduating students.
RAND research projects provide most opportunities for OJT. In some cases, students may pursue OJT outside RAND, in the public, private, or non-profit sectors or at other graduate schools.
Paying for School
In addition to offering a unique educational value, OJT also has an economic benefit: All admitted students are awarded a fellowship that is earned by working on RAND projects. The pre-tax value of the fellowship for 2012 entrants is $53,000. A majority of students pay their tuition ($26,500 in 2012-13) from their fellowships; however, the entire fellowship amount is considered earned income and is therefore subject to tax. To earn their full fellowship, students must perform a minimum number of days of OJT each year (including the summers).
Year 1: 60 days, or the equivalent of 480 hours
Year 2: 155 days, or the equivalent of 1,240 hours
If you work fewer than the minimum number of days of OJT, your stipend can be reduced accordingly.
If you perform more than the minimum number of days of OJT in year 1, that number of days is subtracted from the minimum number of days in year 2. Then, in year 3, performing more than the minimum number of days could earn you a larger fellowship.
Although the fellowship is earned on the basis of the number of days of OJT completed, it is paid out biweekly in regular amounts to the student beginning at the start of enrollment. Tuition is usually deducted from each paycheck on a pro rata basis.
Finding OJT Opportunities
Photo: Diane Baldwin
At most graduate schools, students are traditionally assigned to teaching or research assistantships. By contrast, at PRGS, students seek out positions on research projects in the same way as other RAND researchers. RAND has a kind of market economy for project work, through which students' interests, skills, and enthusiasm can lead them to rewarding and diverse opportunities. For PRGS students, like their RAND colleagues, success depends on many of the same skills involved in conducting a job search: proactivity and initiative are especially important.
Students search for potential OJT in a variety of ways, from face-to-face meetings to email exchanges. The goal for each student, however, is the same: to develop his or her own network of researchers who work on policy problems or employ specific approaches of interest to the student. PRGS also sponsors a student organization whose aim is to market PRGS students within the various RAND business units and help students navigate the internal market more successfully.
These OJT Brokers work with RAND's research divisions to facilitate positive OJT experiences for students and researchers. This year's OJT Brokers (pictured above) were Shmuel Abramzon (for RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment); John Caloyeras and Jodi Liu (RAND Health); Shira Efron and Jennifer Walters (for defense-related programs and international projects); Susan Burkhauser and Mollie Rudnick (RAND Education); and Caroline Tasot and Marlon Graf (RAND Labor and Population).
Activities of these brokers in 2013 included:
- deploying the annual OJT survey to determine the nature and quality of work students are given
- encouraging students to maintain their online profiles, which helps maximize opportunities for project work
- disseminating postings for project work
- conducting a panel event on options for dissertation funding
- hosting an event about RAND Europe
- organizing pre-term policy seminars with RAND researchers.