A discussion with OES alums - where are they now?
OES is made up of interdisciplinary experts from federal agencies and academic, non-profit, local government institutions. We believe that our different disciplinary perspectives make us stronger.
Where are you working now and what are you working on?
Jake Bowers: University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign, Departments of Political Science and Statistics. Among many projects a paper on testing many hypotheses in experiments with thousands of blocks/strata.
Amira Boland: Lead, Federal Customer Experience at the Office of Management and Budget. The Customer Experience team at OMB works to view government through the lens of people – and the life experiences they have – to identify ways to more meaningfully improve government. When someone survives a natural disaster, has a child, turns 65 – they don’t think about individual federal, state, or local government entities they need to interact with – they just expect government to work to meet their needs.
Russ Burnett: I am currently a Senior Advisor for Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Justice, where I help to lead the Department’s efforts around evidence-based policymaking, particularly by promoting and supporting evaluation across the agency.
Dennis Kramer: Senior Policy Advisor, Federal Student Aid U.S. Department of Education and Visiting Associate Professor of Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University. My primary work with the U.S. Department of Education is working on large-scale policy evaluations to support the implementation of the FAFSA Simplification and FUTURE Act legislations as well as the designing and implementation of policies to assist student loan borrowers as they re-enter into repayment after the payment pause for the COVID-19 global pandemic. I have several papers that utilize skills and insights I enhanced while at OES in my academic role.
Lula Chen: I’m a Postdoctoral Associate at MIT’s Governance Lab (GOV/LAB) and Department of Political Science. I work on projects related to trust, governance, and COVID-19 in Africa. At GOV/LAB, we collaborate with civil society, funders, and governments on research that builds and tests theories about how innovative programs and interventions affect political behavior and make governments more accountable to citizens.
Rebecca Kruse: I joined the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in November 2020 as the Assistant Director for Evaluation for the Program Analysis and Evaluation Division in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. In partnership with the DHS Evaluation Officer, I currently lead the Department’s development of evaluation and evidence infrastructure to implement Evidence Act Title 1.
Why did you originally join the OES team?
Amira: It felt so obvious that we needed a part of government thinking about how to design itself knowing what we know about humans and how they work, to better deliver on the missions we are charged with. To get to be a part of an incredible team with folks from across the country and different disciplines and backgrounds unified in that vision, it was unlike any other job!
Russ: As a psychologist, I was excited about the opportunity to apply insights from the science of judgment and decision making to federal programs and policies. And I loved OES’s commitment to running true experiments.
Lula: One reason I started my PhD was to learn how to evaluate government projects and programs more rigorously. OES was an amazing opportunity to do that directly in government.
What was your favorite part of working with OES?
Amira: Working on the Federal Re-Entry Guide felt like one of the most meaningful things we could do. Returning community members are coming back into a world that sometimes has changed so dramatically, and so many “systems” are setup to fail them. Recreating that document into a pocket-sized booklet, with concrete and ordered actions, at three distinct points in time, hopefully helped to breakdown what can be an overwhelming experience into some manageable steps.
Lula: The people! Everyone there is so smart and passionate and wants to make the intervention and evaluation as strong as possible – it’s great to be a part of that kind of team. The projects and their challenges were also really interesting.
I also really like the OES methods guides. They show how to be rigorous while having the flexibility needed in government, and I tell others about them all the time.
Russ: The blending of academic expertise and government experience.
Dennis: The organization of the OES team, the mix of academic and professional behavioral scientists, is not only an ideal structure for producing high-level work; it is also the perfect structure of personal growth and development. I will certainly remember all the projects that I completed while with the team, but my interactions with fellow team members and what I learned from have made me a better researcher, and that will stick with me for my entire career.
My collaboration with the VA Education Service division not only was a seamless project that I was able to see through from beginning to end but also had a significant impact on Post 9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries.
What are your biggest takeaways from working with the OES team and how does your time with OES impact your current work?
Jake: That practices of research integrity arising from academia are even more important and differently important in the world of evidence-based policy. Also, that we don’t know as much as we’d like to think we know about strategies for behavior change.
Lula: Some of my biggest takeaways: 1) Treat constraints within government as an opportunity to develop creative evaluations/solutions. 2) Find a great team to work with. My current projects are very much influenced by my work at OES. I’m still working on projects that lead to government/policy outcomes. I’m also working on evaluations that are more embedded in an intervention.
What advice would you give to individuals considering working with OES?
Amira: This Administration, through an Executive Order on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities, a Presidential Memoranda on increasing trust in government through scientific integrity, and so many other actions, has made OES’ work more important than ever. This is an exciting moment for the team to be able to do such good work. Importantly though, enjoy working with the amazing people around you who will make you better. It’s so much fun – just find the dancing chicken video.
Lula: Apply! I approached the whole process as a chance to contribute to public service and as a great learning opportunity, and I found the experience very fulfilling.
Russ: Crowdsource knowledge and insights–that is how you make the most of being on such an interdisciplinary and talented team.
Rebecca: There is a lot of brain trust to learn from!
Dennis: Get outside of your comfort zone. Find projects and opportunities that push your thinking and make connections to our primary area of focus. These interdisciplinary experiences will only strengthen your area of expertise and allow you to make a broader impact.
Jake: Do it! You’ll love it!
For more information on OES fellowships, visit our Opportunities page. The deadline to apply for Fall 2022 fellowships is January 3. 2022.