On-the-Job Training

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

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 interdisciplinary 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 at Our Admissions Events

Pardee RAND has more than a dozen admissions events scheduled for the fall, both in person and online. Join us November 30 for an interactive webinar featuring our OJT Director and several of our OJT Brokers.

Register for the OJT Webinar

Frequently Asked Questions

On-the-job training (OJT) is an academic requirement of Pardee RAND degree programs. While pursuing their graduate degree, all students work on interdisciplinary RAND research teams in a variety of topical and methodological areas, and this work helps fund their research fellowship. Students learn policy analysis by actually analyzing policy: working on problems for real clients in real time that range from the inner city to outer space. They accumulate practical and professional experience that employers in government, business, non-profit organizations and academia value highly.

Pardee RAND has the distinction of being the only policy school in the United States based at a public policy research institute. The RAND Corporation offers Pardee RAND students access to more than 1,000 of the world’s foremost policy experts, who hire students on projects for RAND clients in the United States and beyond. Pardee RAND is co-located with RAND’s headquarters in Santa Monica, California, but students work with researchers across all RAND offices.

Work on RAND research projects is what 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 having multiple mentors and working on a wide variety of research teams during their time in the program; by contrast, students in traditional policy Ph.D. programs are typically assigned one faculty mentor and focus their work more narrowly.

Students participate in RAND's internal labor market along with all other members of the research staff. 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.

Students may start working on project teams right away, as early as their first couple of weeks in the program. While individual effort is rewarded, Pardee RAND has built a support network to assist students in their search for work. In their first quarter, students may participate in an OJT Workshop that is designed to provide coaching on the key factors that enable success in the RAND internal market. Students find OJT by matches made during the admissions process, their own direct engagement with researchers, developing informal networks, and other RAND mechanisms.

Additionally, we employ selected students as “OJT Brokers” to serve as liaisons between the school and RAND Research Divisions and to advise and mentor students on how to find and conduct OJT. The Brokers share notices of OJT opportunities with Pardee RAND students and help RAND researchers identify qualified students for their projects. Brokers also advise students on how to approach researchers, which researchers offer specific types of work, which networks to join and offer coaching and mentoring for how to be a research professional at RAND.

Students develop and apply numerous research skills through OJT and typically engage in a wide range of research as they work side-by-side RAND experts throughout their program. Work may include conducting literature reviews, aggregating and managing data, coding, programming, modeling, designing surveys, conducting interviews and focus groups, managing projects, designing and giving presentations, and drafting and writing reports, to name a few.

Many students utilize skillsets they had prior to starting the program, especially in the beginning, and build on these tools and methodologies as they advance through the program. Students bring a variety of unique skills, experiences and subject matter expertise to their project work, including regional expertise, cutting-edge methodological skills, professional experience at other organizations, and a range of degrees.

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.

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

Research Initiation Research and Analysis Communication Professional Skills

Proposal writing, coordination, and development

Literature reviews

Primary data gathering

Secondary data gathering

Quantitative data management

Quantitative data analysis

Qualitative data management

Qualitative data analysis


Writing for different audiences






Team management

Interpersonal relations

Client relations

Pardee RAND research fellowships provide funds to help cover tuition and, for the Ph.D. program, living expenses. Each M.Phil. and Ph.D. student earns their research fellowship by working a target number of days each year on RAND projects of their choice. This is both an academic requirement (150 days for the M.Phil. and 300 days for the Ph.D.) and a way to fund their education. Students can earn income to support themselves at levels that equal or exceed most other graduate policy programs. They are paid a daily rate that exceeds most other graduate policy programs and have the ability to work more than their requirements at any given time. This opens up the possibility of earning more if they are able to find additional work.

To receive their full research fellowships, students must perform a minimum amount of OJT each year (including during the summer) and may work more days to earn extra income. A day of work is 8 hours and students frequently work on multiple projects at once (3-5 is common).

Learn more about Pardee RAND Tuition and Aid

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 dozens 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’s research staff covers a multitude of disciplines, including anthropologists, economists, data scientists, sociologists, psychologists, engineers, historians, statisticians, mathematicians, engineers, computer scientists and beyond. Multidisciplinary teams form around each client-funded project. The project can consist of two people with a small budget of $150K or a multi-year, multi-million-dollar budget with 25 or more people. The composition depends on the type of analysis to be conducted.

Explore the myriad 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, both in the U.S. and overseas: 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: Army, Homeland Security, National Security, and Project Air Force. 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 even 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. Nonetheless, projects may carve out pieces for those who are not clearance eligible.

Second, international students, under their F-1 visas, are limited to working no more than 20 hours per week when classes are in session. However, there are mechanisms established by the U.S. government which enable them to lift this 20-hour limit, and they can work more hours during term breaks and throughout the summer.

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.

Finding Project Opportunities

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 research divisions 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:

  • engaging with RAND researchers and program managers to promote the work of students and bring forward new project opportunities
  • hosting “Coffee and Conversation” events for RAND researchers and students
  • disseminating calls for applications to students for new project opportunities
  • supporting students in developing networking strategies and outreach materials
  • encouraging students to maintain their online profiles, which helps maximize opportunities for project work
  • leading sessions as part of the first-year OJT Practicum, including training on qualitative coding platforms
  • deploying the annual project-based research survey to determine the nature and quality of work students are given.

OJT Brokers

Samer Atshan

melissa diliberti

Melissa Diliberti

jim mignano

Jim Mignano

priya gandhi

Priya Gandhi