Q&A: On the Job Training (OJT) and Students' Unique, Real-World Experiences

March 11, 2016

On-the-Job Training (OJT) is one of the unique and enriching facets of studying at Pardee RAND. Through their insight and expertise, Pardee RAND students have become an integral and driving force within research groups at RAND. This is evident from the vast scope of research that students are exposed to and the mentoring relationships they often form with their project leaders.

We reached out to current students to find out what projects they’ve recently contributed to, as well as to learn more about the extent of their experiences. From briefing top officials to riding on a Humvee through the California desert, our students truly hit the ground running.

What was your most memorable OJT experience? Why?

“Riding in a Humvee through the California desert to conduct interviews with soldiers during a training exercise at the National Training Center. ” —Andrew Cady (cohort ’14)

“I worked on a report on future Ebola hotzones. It was a relatively quick study to rapidly assess what countries might have been vulnerable to an outbreak of the Ebola virus given certain political, economic, socio-cultural, and health similarities with the three heavily-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.” —Bill Gelfeld (cohort ’14)

“I conducted focus groups for two weeks throughout the state of Colorado on reasons that people were not enrolled in health-care coverage. It was my first time ever being involved in focus group research, and while there was some common ground across the counties and regions we spoke with, some responses varied just as much as the geography. And of course, the other memorable part of this experience was getting to see how beautiful Colorado is.” —Melody Harvey (cohort ’12)

Therese Jones (left), Dave Baiocchi, and Melissa Rowe attend a meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space at UN headquarters in Vienna, Austria

“Attending the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space meeting in Vienna. I got to see international UN negotiations as they were happening, the tactical effects of major space powers in negotiations, and the impact of non-space related current events on negotiations.” —Therese Jones (cohort ’13)

“I got the opportunity to ride ATVs and pack mules at the Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center in the High Sierras in my first year at Pardee RAND. This was for an Arroyo project to assist the Army in deciding what to do with their fleet of ATVs purchased for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” —Jonathan Wong (cohort ’12)

Is there an unquantifiable thing you learned along the way through your OJT?

“How to leverage different organizational affiliations to get people to take me seriously as a 23 (now 24) year old.” —Cady

“That implementation and success of policy depends heavily on personal relationships and the ability to inspire large groups of people to take on an important mission.” —Jakub Hlavka (cohort '14)

“It is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes the best way to get quality work done is to go outside and take a walk on the beach to clear your head.” —Wong

2015 cestovani

Jakub Hlavka reaches the high point of his OJT experience.

What was the farthest point you traveled from RAND for OJT work?

“Washington, D.C.” —Cady

“Boston” —Gelfeld

“I visited southern Germany on a project and even went up the highest German mountain, Zugspitze, with the project leader!” —Hlavka

“Vienna (Austria, not Virginia)” —Jones

“Cambridge, UK” —Wong

Who was the most senior person you briefed?

“An Air Force Colonel who is in charge of civilian disaster response for Air Force Pacific Command (PACOM)” —Gelfeld

“The Deputy Director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, twice.” —Wong

U.S. Marines on motorcycles near a helicopter

After Jon Wong interviewed Marines about motorcycles, they gave him this photo

What are some of the strangest questions/topics you came across in your work?

“I once had to manually look through hundreds of Twitter profiles in an attempt to identify Islamic extremists and their organizational affiliations. They posted a lot of interesting content (speaking Arabic helped tremendously), and often posted pictures of their handiwork, which made them easy to spot.” —Cady

“For a project on Army ATVs, I looked into the topic of the military’s strange fetish with using motorcycles on the battlefield. I documented how motorcycles come up every decade or so for the Army since the 1920s, only to be discarded after they figured out that soldiers can’t shoot or handle equipment while riding and are very unsafe.” —Wong

Can you think of any other interesting OJT highlights?

Jones (bottom left) took a group selfie with astronaut Sandy Magnus (top left) and others while on a field trip to Bratislava

“I once had to leave home at 2:00 a.m. to drive out to an Army base to observe a mock battle that was to happen that day.” —Cady

“I've gotten to hang out with two astronauts via OJT; went to Bratislava with one, hiking with another. Also have been at events with Buzz Aldrin and NASA administrator Charles Bolden.” —Jones

“In my first year, I volunteered to interview an Army colonel at Fort Polk, LA, for a project on best practices for training military advisors. The plane I was taking ran out of gas on its way to Dallas and had to land at Fort Hood, TX. In my zeal to get the job done, I got off the plane, rented a car—a baby blue Prius—and drove six hours across east Texas in the dead of night, only to get a speeding ticket at the Louisiana border by a police officer who was very suspicious of my ethnicity and car, followed by a very unproductive interview with said Army colonel.” —Wong