I'd like to to ask you for advice on the field of resource / water economics and your career. I'm a young professional that's currently working at a large government contractor near DC. After some consideration, I think that I'd like to work in resource economics, as it seems like an objective and insightful way to deal with increasingly urgent and complex problems. My current work has some light statistical analysis, but nothing too technical and certainly no econometrics. I'd also like to work as a research assistant before I go to grad school for economics, just to "dip my toe in the water" and confirm that economic research is as stimulating as I might expect.In reply, I wrote:
What advice would you give me to get this initial experience in economics research? I'm finding in general that I don't quite have the skills required to get a formal RA position. Any input would be fantastic.
Communication skills are VALUABLE. Near DC, there a numerous nonprofits, water agencies, consultancies AND academics. Ask around to see who's doing good stuff. Use informational interviews to meet people and learn. Somewhere, you may get a job offer, but maybe not until you move, incrementally, with your skills, to gain experience. There are many ways to succeed with patience.That exchange may be helpful for young professionals, but what about (young) activists who want to improve water management around them?
FYI, I didn't have a plan, but things worked out. I am also cross-subsidized by my professor job, so I can help others for free without going hungry. People in industry don't need cross subsidies, but they may not get time/permission to share their knowledge.
I had an interesting conversation on that topic with Anna from UNC-Chapel Hill. Listen to this 30 min MP3 in which we discuss "tomorrow's managers" (student interns at water utilities) and "experience exchange" (staff swapping seats at neighboring or distant utilities). Both are designed to help people absorb the complexities of the water business while facilitating the diffusion of new ideas.
Also related, via RS, is the idea of "practical authority," i.e., a community-led, multi-stakeholder intervention into the operations (and failures) in water management. This book review [pdf] discusses the idea as applied (with success) in Brazil.
Bottom Line: Water utilities, as local monopolists, are mostly immune to competition -- and thus the need to innovate. Some try to innovate, some need to be helped. You can help them.