The Washington Experience

Connecting Policy Studies with Policy Making

Washington, DC

PRGS awards more PhDs in public policy than any other institution in the world. To inform their future service, it is important to connect these graduate students with policymakers and policymaking where it takes place. Washington, D.C., offers such opportunities for both American and international scholars.

Taking lessons outside of the classroom and into the field is what sets PRGS apart. The transition from theory to application is crucial to developing policies that work in the real world. This is why on-the-job training (OJT) is such a vital part of the PRGS experience. The combination of advanced course work and on-the-job-training is "original" in both senses of the word. It is inventive and it expresses the origins of education: "learning by doing."

As alumnus Connor Spreng (cohort ’05) said: "Serious analysis need not be detached from the messy real world in which we live." We at PRGS want to expand learning modalities for future students by developing a series of experiential programs, starting with the "Washington Experience."

Learning by Washington

Recognizing that learning opportunities outside of the classroom are essential to a quality public policy graduate education, and complementing our highly successful "OJT" program, in 2010 PRGS introduced a new experiential learning program, The Washington Experience.

The Washington Experience provides Pardee RAND Graduate School students a better understanding of the federal government policymaking environment and culture through extended exposure to, and interaction with, members of the federal government and related organizations in Washington, D.C.

In addition, the program introduces students to RAND Washington's research staff, which improves their understanding of the scope of policy issues and RAND's work. By demonstrating first-hand their skills and talents working on projects led by Washington office staff, students help to ensure their continued engagement on such projects even after their return to Santa Monica. Finally, the program broadens the pool of potential dissertation committee members and chairs by building relationships between students and RAND Washington researchers.

How the Program Works

2011 Washington Experience participants with former RANDite David Chu, former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel Readiness

Students compete to participate in the PRGS Washington Experience. Each year, four to six students are selected for a three-month assignment in RAND's Washington office, to work with RAND researchers on projects supporting the federal government.

Experience with the policymaking process is the third dimension of policy research education. According to a senior researcher who worked in Washington before coming to RAND: "There is nothing like being in D.C. for understanding how to do research that gets implemented."

Washington Experience participants have extensive interaction with staff of federal agencies and related organizations and take a policy seminar on the federal budget process, taught by RAND researcher and PRGS alumna Kathi Webb. Additional opportunities may include instruction on the role of Congress and the legislative process and the role of nonprofits and NGOs, and networking events with PRGS and RAND alumni in the DC area.

The 2011 program was remarkable for the depth and breadth of experiences it offered our students. True to the intent of the Washington Experience as an opportunity for PRGS students to gain an understanding of the reality and context of policy making in the federal government, last year's participants benefitted from a revised and strengthened seminar on the federal budget process, a number of field trips and office visits with officials in the federal government and international organizations, and a wide range of guest speakers.

Students traveled to Capitol Hill, the International Monetary Fund, the Pentagon, and the National Institutes of Health. Visiting speakers include officials from the FBI, GAO, CBO, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Defense. In addition, the Washington Experience students developed relationships with RAND Washington research staff, working on research projects and identifying dissertation committee members.