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Is my adviser bull-crapping me?


sushitooth

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I have kept pressing my undergraduate adviser about whether work experience, when it comes to a quantitatively-focused MPP program, really increases what I will get out of the program and, subsequently, my career prospects.

Well... My adviser had been adamantly insisting that as long as I go to a program such as CMU Heinz, or Michigan, and do an MPP (and not an MPA) which features courses such as "Advanced Multivariate regression Analysis II," then this is a logical program to go into even without work experience. She tells me that a quantitative program, while it will require that I take the obligaratory "public affairs" classes, will mainly deal with sharpening my quantitative skills and that since these skills are rarely learned on the job, that I should be fine in terms of work. She did stress the importance of attaining a relevant internship in my first Summer which will have me working direcly with quaintitative analysis.

My economics professor, who knows some people personally in Heinz, also says that the more quantitative my MPP will be, the less-important he thinks work experience will be. He said, and I quote, "If you are dealing with GIS, and analyzing city traffic data, and crunching the numbers to figure out the ideal location for the construction of a new road... I don't think any amount of administration experience will give you the kind of skills necessary for that. The key, to me, is that a lot of public policy programs are specifically focused on that sort of thing, and less on the administrative, which is what an MPA would be for."

Right now, I really do want to go into an MPP program, such as the one at Heinz, and basically take a lot of courses titled "Multivariate Analysis Techniques" and the such... And, yes, the reason I am doing it now and not later, is because the way I view it is: I will need my math to learn that kind of thing... And my math is fresh right now... Better go and learn now rather than later.

What is your take?

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I would guess your profs have never had a real job. (Yes, I appreciate that being an academic is work. You know what I mean.) There is nothing wrong with that, but they have no frame of reference. Talk to someone who has an MPP, especially from one of these programs. The people who enter these programs with work experience are likely much more motivated and have a clearer idea of what they want to do with the degree. If you simply want to be a number cruncher anywhere, then your professor is right. However, if you have a substantive interest area, then you will gain quite a bit of perspective by working first. Also, MPAs are often for people with significant work experience (more like 10 years) returning for a credential. The programs can be quite different.

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I would guess your profs have never had a real job. (Yes, I appreciate that being an academic is work. You know what I mean.) There is nothing wrong with that, but they have no frame of reference. Talk to someone who has an MPP, especially from one of these programs. The people who enter these programs with work experience are likely much more motivated and have a clearer idea of what they want to do with the degree. If you simply want to be a number cruncher anywhere, then your professor is right. However, if you have a substantive interest area, then you will gain quite a bit of perspective by working first. Also, MPAs are often for people with significant work experience (more like 10 years) returning for a credential. The programs can be quite different.

I hear this a lot, and I guess that is why I am asking here. My econ professor did do independent research work on environmental economics for the U.S. and Chinese governments. I have also asked University of Georgia and Heinz directly whether they have had graduates with no prior work experience go directly into a federal government positions, and what kind of salary they can expect. The response from U. Georgia was, "Yes, we have a number of grads every year who go into a finance policy position for the federal government. They start out at the GS-11 level, making 40-50k a year." Heinz replied, "Dear MY NAME, The analysis skills that you will gain at Heinz will be valued highly by employers everywhere. To address your questions: Yes, we have had graduates without prior full-time experience work in various positions dealing with policy analysis at the federal level. Also, we have had graduates without such experience take up positions in the private sector as well. A lot will depend on the internship that you will conduct after your first year of study. In terms of salary, you can expect to start in the mid-40s working for government or the low-to-mid 50's at the private level."

Which seems to support their official stats for their MSPPM program. Those stats say that 41% of their students have "Less than 1 year" of work experience (which may be assumed to mean 0?), that the lowest starting salary was 38k, the highest 88k, the median for government around 45k, and for private, 58k.

However, in terms of other programs, such as Michigan, I have no idea about salary statistics.

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On the surface, I agree with yout supervisor. It seems that the more the courses focus quantitatively, the less demanding regarding your work experiences (Actually, this was my perception before I was enrolled in one profession-oriented ma program in ths States). Nevertheless, during most of these classes after my enrollment (like multivariate, linear regression, etc), many professors asked us to find out one real dataset to work on during the whole semester. If you already have your interest field + some basic background knowledge in your mind, your job can be more beneficial/efficient to your future work/research (at lease they can answer some of the confusions which troubled you before your enrollment); on the other hand, after one semester, you will find it a waste of time.

Since most profession degree program needs financial investment, why not accumulate at least one or two years of working experience to sharpen your interest field? In this way, your graduate study can be more targetted and worthy of your bucks.......

Good luck!

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I'm not completely clear on what your goals are for getting the MPP, but it sounds like you just want to crunch numbers anywhere (i.e. you do not seem to have a particular interest in health care or the environment or whatever.) In this case, you should go for it, take as many quant classes as you can, and do a federal internship (at CBO, GAO or the like) between your first and second year. You might also want to seriously consider applying for a master's in applied statistics, as this would also be a good avenue to a well-paid fed job. By the way, the variance in fed job starting salaries is pretty low, and the placement rates are similar for all the school you are looking at.

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I don't think your advisor is misleading you on purpose, but saying that all you need is an MPP from school X, Y, or Z for a particular type of job is false. The market is way too competitive for such a simple analysis. Far more important is the type of experience you've developed through internships/jobs and the contacts that you make in and out of the classroom.

I actually work at one of the agencies that have been mentioned in this thread, and I have none of the listed qualities that your professor deems to be the most important. I have an MPA (and not from the most prestigious university) and I did not focus completely on hard math/stats. However, I made the most of graduate school experience by taking on leadership roles, internship opportunities, and networking events. This gave me something valuable to talk about during my interview--which I think direclty led to me being hired. You have to remember that for super competitive jobs you have to bring something extra to the table. If you just say I'm good at math because I took these courses, you haven't differentiated yourself from other job seekers.

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I agree that one or two years of work experience is unlikely to have a direct relationship to the skills you'll gain in an MPP. I do think that almost all programs value work experience in applicants. A couple years of work, even if it's not in your policy interest area, will boost your application. It can show your commitment to public service and prove to adcoms you have greater certainty about your reasons for pursuing the degree. I took two years to teach high school and half a year for volunteering abroad. It has definitely benefited me personally, financially, and as an applicant.

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