Research skills are critical to future public policy careers. Rutgers-Camden University built the MS in Public Affairs and Community Development to ensure its graduates are competitive in that environment.
The evidence-based movement requires public officials to be able to keep up with academic research. Program evaluation requires nonprofit staff to design research. Grants require an evidence base to win, and even more evidence of success to keep. But many Masters programs have given up on teaching research skills. In response, Rutgers-Camden University has built a Masters degree that provides students with world-class research training, with programming that connects that training to real-world application.
For first-year student Jonetta White, the practical focus is already paying dividends. Jonetta White describes her first year in the program saying:
Best of all, the work I am doing is mission-focused; it’s purpose work that goes beyond intellectual curiosity into a sort of philanthropy through which I am able to bring my talents and passion to effect research that creates real change in the world.”
Rutgers-Camden’s MS in Public Affairs and Community Development ensures students receive world-class research skills in two ways that stand out from their competitors:
Masters students take core classes in a cohort with Ph.D. students — ensuring not only that Masters students leave the program with doctoral-level research skills, but also that students are immersed in a research culture with peers that are conducting original research. The cohort model leads to a peer effect, where students are constantly engaged in high-level conversations that spill over beyond the classroom and create a culture of sharing research with one another.
For students who fall in love with that culture, the degree provides a flexible 2+3 model, where every class taken as part of the two-year MS counts towards a five-year Ph.D. program. For practitioners, this not only gives folks the option to build Ph.D.-level research skills but also dramatically cuts down on the time required to get a doctorate, making it feasible for those who want to continue in the program and conduct their own research.
- The program provides professional development opportunities targeted towards using research skills in the field as practitioners. Too often, research-oriented degrees have a laser focus on academic jobs such as professorships. In a tight academic job market, that’s both untenable and undesirable, particularly for Public Policy departments where so many graduates will use their research skills as practitioners. While program graduates have a fantastic record of getting tenure-track positions (see Dr. Prentiss Danzler, Dr. Rasheda Weaver, Dr. Ashley Nickels), the program also has a fantastic record of supporting practitioners and helping them with job placements (see Dr. Christopher Wheeler, Jazmyne McNeese). That support includes: professional development on leadership by Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago; our Ph.D.s over Pints program that supports students by helping them navigate what it means to be community-engaged scholars; and a partnership that places students on research teams at United Way for ALICE and Rising Tide Capital. That latter program helps students build professional networks while also providing opportunities to use the research skills built in the program.
Kate Jackson presents a “mock job talk” while cohort members provide feedback and pointers. (Photo courtesy of Rutgers-Camden University)
At Rising Tide Capital, Jazmyne McNeese was assigned to conduct research on entrepreneurs. She says of the experience:
“Not only were my clients already doing the critical work but their commitment to the work allowed for really in-depth conversations around what it means to blend theory and practice. I was able to put my research skills and client management skills to the test.”
At the United Way, Kathy Lopez works for a research team focused on data for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) families — a critical research area for those who feel the pressure of the modern economy. She says of the experience:
“As a nontraditional student who also changed careers in midlife, I have been thrilled to be assigned to the United for ALICE fellows program at Rutgers University-Camden. Being assigned to the research team at United for ALICE has allowed me to pull back and look at the work from a different perspective, and has helped me guide my thinking to examine what larger societal factors influence the work that needs to be done.”
Students gather at Ph.D.s over Pints for self-care and professional development in Camden, New Jersey. (Photo courtesy of Rutgers-Camden University)
For these students and more, the Rutgers-Camden University MS in Public Affairs and Community Development is a place to both build research skills and apply them. It’s a national leader in community development research, where students can take the same bet that the program has: that research skills will further their own careers in public policy.
Dr. Stephen Danley is the Graduate Director of the MS/PhD in Public Affairs and Community Development at Rutgers University-Camden. He is a Marshall Scholar, Oxford and Penn graduate, and author of A Neighborhood Politics of Last Resort: Post-Katrina New Orleans and the Right to the City.