Experiential Learning

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

Claudia Rodriguez talks with Faculty Leaders

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Classroom exercises alone do not create highly-skilled and creative leaders, policy analysts and technologists. Hands-on experience dealing with real-world problems of direct concern to decision makers and communities is also essential. The Pardee RAND Graduate School has always provided a unique way for students to obtain this kind of practical experience while also earning their research fellowship: project-based research, internally known as On-the-Job Training, or OJT.

Additionally, each policy engagement stream requires hands-on learning to include more opportunities in a variety of environments and to meet stream-specific requirements. These opportunities include the Tech + Narrative Lab, advanced policy design studios, and immersive projects and residencies to promote policy development in partnership with, and in service of, communities facing complex challenges.

Many of these 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. Students work on a variety of projects during their time at RAND and through the graduate school, 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.

Through a collaboration with the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, students may also apply for three-month fellowships. Students earn a salary, which Pardee RAND supplements with financial assistance for travel and local accommodations to enable the temporary relocation to Livermore. Students participating in this program earn OJT credit while contributing to an ongoing CGSR project and also pursuing independent research.

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

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 of OJT Brokers whose aim is to market Pardee RAND students within the various RAND business units and help students navigate the internal market more successfully.

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.