| Research Opportunities Outside
Academia: A Summer at Rand
March 5, 2004
While finishing his PhD in sociology at Cal, Christopher
Davidson spent a summer as a paid intern with Rand's Graduate Student
Summer Associate Program.
The Rand Corporation is one of
the nation's oldest and most widely known policy-oriented nonprofit
think tanks. Last year Rand hired over 50 PhDs from a broad range
of disciplines in the social sciences, sciences, and engineering.
Each summer they offer paid summer internships to roughly 25 graduate
students engaged in PhD programs across the country.
Career Center (CC): How did you learn about RAND's
Student Summer Associate Program?
Christopher Davidson (CD): When Rand came to recruit at
Berkeley, I went to their information session and was impressed
with their unique combination of casual collegiality and intellectual
curiosity. I was also attracted to the emphasis on teamwork and
real-world policy issues.
CC: How did you go about getting the internship?
CD: Given that Rand's emphasis is on large-scale quantitative
research projects, I didn't think that I would be a strong candidate.
My training is in qualitative sociology; in grad school most of
my research experience had been with interviewing and participant
observation. Also, the topic of my thesis did not have a clear policy
implication since it was about religion in middle class families
rather than drug and alcohol use, or welfare-to-work programs, or
something like that.
Since I was very interested in working there, I got on the phone
and called Rand researchers who were working on
that interested me. I located a researcher who had graduated from
my department at Berkeley, and talked to him about his experience
there. He then put me in touch with a couple of his colleagues who
he thought might need interns over the summer.
The one relevant work experience I'd had was a two and a half year
stint as a part-time ethnographer on an evaluation study of a return-to-work
program for formerly homeless, single adults in San Francisco. Because
my supervisor on that study was an old friend and colleague of a
high-up person at Rand, this experience ended up being very useful
in getting me hired.
In the end, after talking to people, and going through the application
process, I was offered two different internships and chose the one
with the expert on homelessness, because my impression was that
he would be willing to work closely with me and act as a mentor.
CC: What happened once you got to Santa Monica?
CD: As it turned out, I hardly saw the homelessness expert
over the summer because he was a very senior person at Rand and
had lots of commitments. He passed me on to two colleagues of his:
another senior researcher in the Health division who didn't have
his administrative responsibilities, and a junior person, another
sociologist, who had just been hired the previous year.
These two people ended up being my primary colleagues, and even
then I didn't see them on a frequent basis, perhaps once or twice
a week. They were available -- I could often just wander down the
hallway and find them. But most days were not all that different
from grad school in the sense that much of the work was solitary.
At Rand, most of the work takes place in an office or at home unless
you're out in the field gathering data.
Another unexpected development was a delay in getting the project
started. I had been hired to work on a survey of organizations in
Houston that provided services to homeless substance-abusing adults.
My understanding was that the survey would be designed, administered,
and returned while I was at Rand. As it turned out, we didn't even
begin to work on the survey until a month after I got there.
I spent a lot of time the first few weeks reviewing the literature,
and making an effort to meet people all over the organization to
get a sense of how Rand worked and what types of research people
were doing. I was sharing an office space with the other interns
-- there were twelve of us -- so we hung out together a little bit,
got drinks at the Santa Monica Pier, went out to lunch and so on.
But the interns' experiences were all different, depending on who
they were working with and how closely.
By the end of the summer, I had helped design and administer the
survey, but we didn't have any results yet. The last week was devoted
to putting together a seminar, which is a requirement of any Rand
CC: How would you rate your experience?
CD: Overall, I am glad I had the experience, but I was not
madly in love with the organization by the time I completed the
summer internship. The teamwork was not as intense as I had expected,
and the research they were doing tended more to the technical than
the political -- there wasn't a real culture of critique at Rand,
as there is in many academic departments.
However, it is a huge organization with a lot going on, and if
your research interest matches up with the type of project that
Rand often does, it could be a wonderful place to work. It has a
lot of the flexibility of a university, but the pay is a lot better
and you have more of an opportunity to write and publish than you
would in a university setting where you also have to teach.