Students and staff play ControVersus during Tech Lab Pilot Open House

Developing expertise and a résumé while conducting research, developing technology, and working with communities

Experiential Learning

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Experiential learning has always been a distinguishing feature of Pardee RAND's Ph.D. program.

Since the school's founding in 1970, we have recognized that classroom exercises alone do not create a superb policy analyst. Hands-on experience dealing with real-world problems of direct concern to decision makers is also essential. The Pardee RAND Graduate School provides a unique way for students to obtain this kind of practical experience: project-based research (internally known as On-the-Job Training, or OJT). Through OJT, students acquire project and professional skills needed for the practice of policy analysis by working as members of research teams on commissioned RAND research for real clients.

As part of our redesign, we are expanding hands-on learning beyond OJT to include more opportunities in a variety of different experiential learning environments, including our Tech and Narrative Lab and opportunities to expand beyond our classroom-based practicum Client-Oriented Policy Analysis to work directly with policymakers and other stakeholders in our local community.

On-the-Job Training

OJT helps students to enter a community of practice where they may obtain professional skills and tacit knowledge that courses alone cannot convey. (It is also the means by which students earn their research fellowship.)

Most OJT opportunities arise through ongoing RAND research. Pardee RAND 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 Pardee RAND 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, project-based work also provides an important part of the foundation for the dissertation required of all graduating students.

Students may also pursue project-based research outside RAND, in the public, private, or non-profit sectors or at other graduate schools.

Q&A: Students' Research Experiences

Finding Project Opportunities

claire ohanlon, gursel aliyev, sara turner, john speed, amanda edelman, margaret chamberlain

2017-18 OJT Brokers

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

At most graduate schools, students are traditionally assigned to teaching or research assistantships. By contrast, at Pardee RAND, 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 Pardee RAND 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 projects 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. Pardee RAND also sponsors a student organization whose aim is to market Pardee RAND 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 project experiences for students and researchers. They cover social and economic well-being, health care, education and labor, and national and international security and defense.

Recent activities of brokers have included:

  • running speed-networking events with RAND researchers
  • hosting “Dinner with RAND Researchers” events
  • disseminating postings for project work
  • deploying the annual project-based research 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, and
  • conducting a panel event on options for dissertation funding.