On-the-Job Training

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

Claudia Rodriguez talks with Faculty Leaders

Diane Baldwin/RAND

As the only policy school in the United States based at a public policy research institute, one of Pardee RAND's key differentiators is the experience our students receive through OJT, or "on-the-job training."

At Pardee RAND, we believe classroom exercises alone are insufficient to 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.

OJT is both an academic requirement of Pardee RAND's M.Phil. and Ph.D. degree programs and a unique way to obtain practical experience. While pursuing their graduate degree, all students work on multidisciplinary RAND research teams in a variety of topical and methodological areas. This work helps to fund their research fellowship.

Additionally, unlike students in traditional policy graduate programs, our students benefit from having multiple mentors and working on a wide variety of research teams during their time in the program.

Students gain exposure to a range of policy areas, research methods, colleagues, and clients. By the time our Ph.D. students graduate, most 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. Our M.Phil. students complete a minimum of 150 days of OJT during their two years in the program.

Learn More from Our Admissions Events

Pardee RAND offered more than a dozen admissions events last fall, both in person and online, several of which were recorded. Sign up to receive a recording of our interactive webinar featuring our OJT Director and several of our OJT Brokers.

Request the OJT Webinar Recording

Frequently Asked Questions

On-the-job training (OJT) is a unique aspect of the Pardee RAND Ph.D. and MPhil degree programs in which students gain work experience by contributing to real-world policy research as part of their training. Students work on multidisciplinary RAND research teams tackling issues for RAND clients across a variety of topical and methodological areas. They accumulate practical and professional experience that employers in government, business, non-profit organizations, and academia value highly. In addition, income that students generate from their paid OJT helps students pay tuition and/or living expenses. OJT is an important aspect of the educational experience at Pardee RAND and is also an academic requirement for our M.Phil. and Ph.D. programs.

Pardee RAND has the distinction of being the only policy school in the United States based at a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research institute. Students are employed as Assistant Policy Researchers at RAND, working with researchers who include more than 1,000 of the world’s foremost policy research experts. Pardee RAND's Santa Monica campus is co-located with RAND’s headquarters, and our Washington campus is on one floor of RAND's Washington office, but students work with researchers across all RAND offices.

Work on RAND research projects enables Pardee RAND students to develop a sophisticated understanding of the role analysis plays in addressing real policy problems and to learn by doing. Our students benefit from working on a wide variety of research teams during their time in the program; by contrast, students in traditional policy programs typically work with one faculty mentor and focus their work more narrowly. Students at Pardee RAND typically work on multiple projects at once (3–5 projects is common), although there is significant variability – some students work on fewer projects with larger time commitments and some students work on a larger number of projects with smaller time commitments.

RAND has a competitive internal market for researchers seeking project work, and students’ interests, skills, and enthusiasm can lead them to rewarding and diverse opportunities. Pardee RAND students seek out positions on research projects in the same way as RAND analysts and researchers, by networking with researchers at RAND and by applying to available opportunities. For Pardee RAND students, like their RAND colleagues, success depends on many of the same components involved in conducting a job search: proactivity, initiative, and the investment of time. In addition, the availability of funded projects, size of project budgets, and project staffing needs also affect the opportunities available to students. To successfully navigate the internal labor market requires a degree of entrepreneurship that other programs may not require. Students who are curious, interested in exploring the application of methods across a broad policy space, willing to be flexible, and eager to grow do well here. The unique Pardee RAND experience provides them with insights and practical experience that are unmatched by other graduate schools.

Conducting real-world research at a policy research organization means that there may not always be a specific project that aligns with narrow or specific research interests at a given time. When thinking about project work in OJT, it’s helpful to think of your work as a growing portfolio. You may join some projects because the topic is of interest, and other projects because you can hone or develop a specific skill, or because you want to learn what it’s like to work with a specific research team or client/research sponsor. If you are willing to explore and learn from projects, you’ll leave the program with a robust research portfolio that can help launch the next stage of your career.

Check out some projects to which students have recently contributed.

There are many supports in place to help students find work, meet researchers, find out about available opportunities, and get personalized assistance when needed. In their first quarter, as students begin looking for research opportunities, M.Phil. students participate in an OJT Workshop that is designed to provide coaching on strategies and approaches that enable success in the RAND internal market; Ph.D. students are welcome to participate as well. In addition to the OJT workshop, students may schedule individual mentoring meetings with the Director of OJT (a RAND researcher who advises students and coordinates with RAND Research Divisions), participate in peer advising sessions, and apply to opportunities circulated to the student body. Skill building and support focus on a variety of topics that are useful both for navigating the RAND internal labor market and for navigating your post-graduate career, including how to approach researchers and market your skills, how to build your network, how to successfully contribute to projects, and how to flourish as a research professional.

It can take some time for students to connect to projects that align with their interests and that have availability/capacity for staffing. Some students get started on projects in the first few weeks of the program; most students get connected to work in the first few months of the program.

Work on RAND projects may include activities such as conducting literature reviews, aggregating and managing data, coding, programming, modeling, designing surveys, conducting interviews and focus groups, analyzing data, helping keep projects organized and on track, giving presentations, and drafting reports, to name a few. Early in their program, many students contribute to projects by leveraging skills and experiences they have previously developed, such as specific subject matter expertise, regional expertise, methodological skills, and professional skills, and research assistance skills. As they advance in the program, students build additional skills and have more opportunities to expand their contributions to projects.

Students develop and apply numerous research skills through OJT and typically engage in a wide range of research as they work side-by-side with RAND experts throughout their program.

Through participation in RAND research projects and OJT, students can acquire the following skills:

Research Communication Professional Skills

Proposal development

Literature reviews

Quantitative and qualitative data gathering, management and analysis

Writing for different audiences

Presentations

Publications

Interviews

Collaborating

Time management

Project management

Interpersonal relations

Client relations

Additionally, students often co-author research findings, resulting in peer-reviewed journal articles as well as RAND reports. On average, our Ph.D. students graduate with seven publications from their time in the program.

Typically, M.Phil. students’ earnings from OJT provide funds to cover tuition. In some cases, students arrange to pay tuition by the beginning of the quarter, in which case, OJT earnings are paid out as take-home pay. M.Phil. students are expected to connect to projects and work 75 days in each of the two years of their program. One day of work is eight hours of work time. Students who are able to work more than 75 days per year are allowed to do so. As noted in the final question below, some restrictions apply to international students’ work.

Gross earnings will be calculated on a bi-weekly basis. Taxes will be deducted from your gross pay. For students who have not paid tuition in full at the start of the quarter, net earnings will be applied to your tuition balance (i.e., you will not receive take-home pay). If you do not perform OJT work, your tuition balance will not be reduced, and you will still be responsible for paying tuition.

Learn more about M.Phil. Tuition and Financial Support

Student earnings from OJT provide funds to help cover tuition and in some cases, living expenses. Because it takes some time to get connected to research projects, the program offers the opportunity for Ph.D. students to utilize a fixed fellowship, which distributes anticipated wages evenly throughout the year, based on an expected number of workdays (see additional information below). Fixed fellowships are available to newly matriculating students and to upper year students in good financial standing. Ph.D. students are expected to connect to projects and work 75 days in their first year. One day of work is eight hours of work time. Students who are able to work more than 75 days in the first year are welcome to do so, and can generate additional take-home pay by working additional time. As noted in the final question below, some restrictions apply to international students’ work.

After the first year, expected workdays increase. A Ph.D. student’s work requirement increases from 75 days in the first year to 125 days in the second year and 155 days in the third year. This allows students to earn more in the later years of the program when their courseload is lighter. Students may also opt to reduce or end their OJT work after they meet the academic requirement (300 days for Ph.D. students). However, many students elect to continue working on OJT to cover tuition payments and living expenses. A new initiative launched in 2024 has allocated dissertation funding to all students in their fourth year to help cover tuition costs, reducing projected workdays that year to 117.

Fixed Fellowship

First-year Ph.D. students and upper-year students in good financial standing may opt to receive a fixed fellowship that distributes anticipated wages evenly throughout the year, based on an expected number of workdays. Choosing a fixed fellowship means you will receive income on a bi-weekly basis from the start of your enrollment that year, and that your income will be steady throughout the year. However, if you do not successfully complete the anticipated workdays associated with your advanced wages, you will owe that money to the school, and the school may reduce the amount of your bi-weekly paycheck to begin reducing the debt owed.

Variable Fellowship

Students who elect a Variable Fellowship receive bi-weekly pay based only on the time they actually work. If you do not work during a given pay period, you will not be paid.

Earnings and Paying Tuition

Enrolled students will receive additional resources to learn more about tuition payments, as applicable to their specific situation.

Learn more about Ph.D. Tuition and Financial Support

Dissertation ideas and mentorship support often evolve from OJT project work conducted in a Ph.D. student's first two or three years at Pardee RAND. Through OJT, students are exposed to a wide variety of research topic areas, methodologies, data sets, and experts. These experiences may spark thoughts on unique areas of research to explore in a dissertation as well as connections to researchers who can advise and serve on a dissertation committee. Sometimes, project work—especially if grant funded—can lead directly to a dissertation, but this is not always the case.

RAND conducts nonpartisan research for a variety of clients and research sponsors. RAND research is widely respected for its quality and objectivity.

To find answers to complex policy problems, RAND’s research teams are typically multidisciplinary, with team members representing a variety of disciplinary training and methodological approaches. RAND research staff includes anthropologists, economists, data scientists, sociologists, psychologists, engineers, historians, statisticians, mathematicians, engineers, computer scientists and many others. Projects range in size and scope: a project can consist of two people with a small budget of $150K or can be a multi-year, multi-million-dollar budget with 25 or more people. Teams are staffed to meet project needs, and typically include team members with a range of experience, which can include students, analysts, and researchers with varying seniority.

Explore the many projects conducted at RAND

Each year, RAND performs work for more than 400 clients and grantmakers, including government agencies, international organizations, and foundations. RAND also receives gifts from donors to help deliver fact-based, actionable solutions grounded in rigorous analysis. Our single largest funder of research in recent years has been the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But our four security and defense research divisions together make up a little over fifty percent of our funding.

Learn more about how RAND is funded

Research and analysis are conducted by three divisions that address social and economic policy issues: Education and Labor, Health Care, and Social and Economic Well-Being, as well as four federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) that focus on U.S. national security policy issues: Arroyo (Army), Homeland Security Research Division, National Security Research Division, and Project Air Force (PAF). RAND recently added a new research division focused on Global and Emerging Risks. Students work across research areas and throughout the research divisions.

Learn more about Pardee RAND student research

International students are valuable contributors to RAND research work, providing not only the same strong intellectual preparation in analytic tools and methods all students bring, but also unique global perspectives, regional expertise, and language skills. Two limitations may come into play, however.

First, some of RAND’s national security and/or homeland security work requires a U.S. security clearance or fitness available only to U.S. citizens. In some cases, projects may carve out pieces for those who are not clearance eligible and/or may be able to request and obtain sponsor approval for exceptions.

Second, international students, under their F-1 visas, are limited to working no more than 20 hours per week when classes are in session. This limit does not apply during term breaks (winter and spring breaks) and throughout the summer months (mid-June through September). Additionally, subject to some limitations, there are mechanisms (Curricular Practical Training) established by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that enable international students to lift this 20-hour limit when classes are in session.

Other Experiential Opportunities

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

Through a collaboration with the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, students may also apply for three-month fellowships. Students participating in this program are paid by LLNL and 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.