10 August 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?

1 comment:

Greg Young said...

I'm new to your blog, but was surfing around a bit this afternoon after seeing the linkedin posting on the water econ group. Anyway, I'd be interested in learning a little more from the MS Student. Though part of the "consulting" world, our approach to solving problems is a little different than most consultants. Thus maybe there is still room for a career choice in other than GOV/NGO/UTILITY industries that can still impact policy. We are active in CA water policy for a number of our clients - with a major focus on water asset management (which can mean different things to different clients). Suffice to say that we are creating new ways to look at water assets. Any way to get more info on the particular MS Student (or maybe others)? Though we are not ready to hire today, we may be in the very near future. Thanks for the opportunity to comment: Greg Young, Principal at Tully and Young (www.tullyandyoung.com)