research outside the academy part III: jobs and such
Katherine asked me also to say a little about what the skills, training, etc. we use on the job at DMV R&D. Also, she asked me to write something about the application process (since, as it happens, we have an opening at the moment).
In terms of the skills we use for most of our work, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a strong quantitative background. Being able to create, and interpret the results of, various kinds of statistical modeling (particularly, but not only, regression modeling) is a rare and valuable thing. In addition to using this basic understanding of statistics, we routinely design and implement original research studies. This requires practical knowledge of basically all aspects of methodology from start to finish: preparing an analysis plan, understanding sampling procedures, thinking critically about effect sizes and statistical power considerations, developing data collection instruments, recruiting subjects, creating databases from raw inputs, preparing (and revising) statistical analyses, writing up results and preparing a publication. Of secondary importance – at least in our unit – are qualitative methods. We do sometimes engage in studies using interviews or focus groups; however, these are only rarely a part of what we do here at DMV R&D. Finally, I should emphasize that we regularly present our research findings to both technical audiences (i.e., professional conferences) and to non-technical groups (e.g., DMV management and staff). Being able to translate research findings for different types of audiences is not so easy to do – but we are called upon to do precisely that as part of our work.
Now, in terms of what we look for in strong candidates who are looking to work in government research, I would say that as with an academic posting, we certainly appreciate a publication record of some sort. We do not necessarily expect that applicants will have published in traffic safety journals. However, where applicable, peer-reviewed publications serve to demonstrate a candidate’s familiarity with social science research methods and quantitative statistical techniques. We also look for job experience that involves direct planning, implementation, and/or analysis and write-up of social science research projects. While it is helpful for candidates to have specific experience with certain statistical packages (e.g., SAS, SPSS), we have also found that candidates with experience using other statistical packages (e.g., STATA) may be prepared to transfer that knowledge without too much trouble.
But what about the nitty-gritty of actually finding openings and applying? California has a very straightforward civil service process. All job openings are posted on a central website (www.CalHR.ca.gov). In addition to this, many agencies post their job openings in supplementary fora, such as at professional conference (for example, the Transportation Research Board). We do not use headhunters. I should state here that the hiring process varies somewhat from agency to agency; different departments may be looking for slightly different skill sets. Our hiring process involves several steps. First, we review all applications to ensure that they meet certain minimum qualifications. These minimum qualifications differ by job title, but are a matter of public record at the California State Personnel Board’s website (http://jobs.ca.gov. Please note: this website also posts salary scales, which are surely also useful information). Depending on the results of this review, we may then bring in a candidate for a formal interview (if the candidate is physically located out of state, this may occur by phone). This interview includes a discussion of the candidate’s knowledge, skills, and abilities in relation to standard statistical techniques and social science research methods. Depending on the results of this interview, we may then bring in a candidate to give a presentation to all of the staff members of our branch. This provides the candidate an opportunity to discuss a recent research project of their own; it also provides them the opportunity to meet the staff and find out more about the work that we do here. If we make an offer to a candidate, it would typically be for a full-time permanent civil service position. Our branch is currently accepting applications at the Research Program Specialist I and II level. If you’re interested in finding out more, please e-mail me directly (Bayliss.Camp@dmv.ca.gov) with any questions about the application process.
That’s it for my series of posts. Oh, one more thing: if anyone is interested in hearing about the ethical considerations associated with using administratively-collected data for research purposes, please look for a panel on that subject at next year’s (2014) ASA meetings in San Francisco.
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