10 Aug 2011

Bleg: A career in western water policy?

MS Student emailed me, asking for advice:
I'm writing because I'm about to graduate from my masters program (MS in water policy from XX University -- think of it more as a geography program) and I want to pursue a career focused on improving western water policy. A broad goal, I know, but I was hoping you could help direct me: where is progressive change happening and where could I fit in as a recent MS with little work experience? I'm sure you're busy and I appreciate any thoughts you might have.

A little more about me so you know who you're talking to:
  • My advisor XX has worked on international water policy.
  • My thesis is about the geography of dams in China and their impact on agriculture.
  • I have a strong background in econometrics (thesis: instrumental variable approach).
I answered with the following:
The blog has similar questions -- and answers -- from the past:

http://www.aguanomics.com/2008/11/grad-school-bleg.html
http://www.aguanomics.com/2010/08/bleg-help-make-my-career-relevant.html
http://www.aguanomics.com/2011/07/bleg-what-to-study.html

My general opinion is that an MS is particularly well-suited for working on real issues.

This may conflict with your econometric background -- which tends to get used for consultancies and law cases where people fight over the division of spoils....

I suggest that you choose an AREA you'd like to live in and then look for work within GOV/NGO/UTILITY industries related to policy. Best thing you could do is spend your time in rooms with enviros and farmers fighting over water flows...

You may not make more than $35k/year, but you gotta ask if money or enjoyment is better.

After 5 years, you will be a qualified veteran. After 10 years you will be an expert. After 20 years, you will OWN your space...
To which MS Student sent the following clarification:
Something I am realizing is that having a background in metrics is a blessing and a curse: I know enough to be dangerous, but I certainly don't have a PhD, which limits my ability to pursue a career that relies on expertise in metrics (as it should). The opportunity cost of studying metrics and resource econ is that I haven't studied, e.g. the detailed politics of California water and finding out where those rooms with angry farmers and enviros are. I like that I know metrics in a proficient but not expert way, but I have yet to see if the job market does too.
And then I said this:
I reckon that you know enough metrics. It's VERY rare that I see any USEFUL econometrics in the real world.

Perhaps the best skill you will have is an ability (or intuition) to detect bullshit. There's a lot of it.

But most of the battles in water/environment are getting ANY data or sensible prices. Metrics are a long way down the list...
Do readers have additional thoughts (or job offers) to add to this discussion?