Thursday, October 13, 2016

An APPAM/MDRC Institutional Member Forum: The Future of Applying Behavioral Science to Social Policy

MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science (CABS) and APPAM are hosting a forum on December 13, 2016 which will explore the future of behavioral science research, practice, and policy. This event brings together distinguished experts from MDRC, academia, and the government to share their work and provide insight on next steps for research, practice, and policy.

© Deval Patrick, under Creative Commons

Post-Graduation Choices: M.P.P. or M.P.A.?

May 10, 2013 09:30 AM

Are you considering a future in the public policy or public administration fields? After undergraduate studies, the next step is choosing the right master’s program for your career aspirations. The two most common graduate programs are the Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) and the Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.). Getting into the right program is a solid first step in getting your career within the public arena off to a great start.

Who applies to M.P.A./M.P.P. programs, anyway? Typically, applicants are those who are seeking careers in public service at the local, state/provincial, national, or international level. These career paths often go through government, non-profit organizations (NPOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or international organizations (IOs). A smaller segment of applicants are those who already have a career in public service and are looking to develop their credentials that are necessary for leadership level positions.

Though both the M.P.A. and M.P.P. look similar at first glance, there are some very stark differences. M.P.A. programs put more emphasis on management and implementation techniques, while M.P.P.s emphasize policy analysis, research, and evaluation. Though the curriculums of both programs do overlap to a degree, the focus of each diverges enough that it can dictate a person’s career direction. Therefore, it’s very important to have a good idea of what general direction you want to move in before you choose which program to apply.

Jenny Knowles Morrison, Senior Program Coordinator at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texasat Austin and Capstone Lecturer at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service, says that regardless of which path students decide on, they should aim to “be exposed to a broad range of policy analysis skills, able to navigate all stages of the policy process. However, such knowledge should be balanced with solid management capacities, built through subjects that develop leadership capacities, understandings of organizational behavior dynamics, and prepare students to manage in complex public environments with an increasingly diverse range of public stakeholders.” She advises that students should pick a program that has a strong practitioner-teacher focus that “provides significant opportunities for testing out theoretical learning from the classroom through field projects.”

All too often, persons launching a career in public service focus on specific subjects such as health care policy or environmental policy. Over the long run, however, what matters most is whether the nature of the daily work in a career is satisfying or not. For example, is it rewarding and motivating to spend a considerable amount of the workday at a computer, gathering and analyzing information, and preparing reports for other decision makers? If yes, policy analysis may be how you can make a valuable contribution that also proves to be personally rewarding. In contrast, is it rewarding to spend much of the day in meetings, marshaling human and financial resources behind complex projects? If yes, management and administration may be the best work for you. Or do you really enjoy something akin to sales — contacting persons and motivating them to support specific policies and programs? If so, a career in advocacy might be an excellent choice. What is not going to be sustainable over the longer term is engaging in a type of work that fits poorly with personality and individual skill.

These questions are important because during the application process, there will be a question asking you to define what your graduation career goal(s) is and possibly demonstrate your potential to succeed in graduate school. What type of organization will you seek to work at after graduation? What level do you believe you can realistically begin? Take some time to visit the website or location of a few organizations that interest you and see what specific positions are available for new grads with your chosen degree. What are the possible career trajectories from that point?

You’ll also need to understand what specific skills you bring to the table in order to reach your goals, aside from the generic knowledge of public policy design/administration. The skills and knowledge you seek for the future are going to be dependent on the program you choose and your current strength. The more specific you are, the better your program application will be. Some examples would be: advanced skills in quantitative analysis, advocacy skills, leadership and management skills, and interface knowledge between a specific field and public policy.

Having an understanding of your career aspirations, strengths, and knowledge base will help you define whether an M.P.P. or an M.P.A. is the best graduate program for you. Taking some time to examine the options that exist for both programs will help lay a great foundation for your future career path in the various fields of public policy.


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