Friday, November 30, 2012

The Great Debate: Practical vs Ph.D. to get ahead in DC....

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So you want to get a Ph.D. to get ahead in DC....

Posted By Daniel W. Drezner Share

So, my post about good and bad reasons to get a Ph.D. in political science has made a few waves.  I'd like to clarify, endorse and respond to some of the feedback I've received. 

Just to recap, here was the primary point of my post:
Even standard political science departments are littered with students who have sterling resumes, glittering letters of recommendation from well-connected fixtures of the foreign policy community, and that disturbing tendency to look past the task at hand to plot out steps three, four and five of their Ascent to Greatness.
Here's the thing about these students: 95 percent of them will not earn a Ph.D. -- and most of the rest who do get it will only have done so by finding the most pliant dissertation committee alive. Ambition and intelligence can get someone through college and a professional degree. It can even get someone through Ph.D.-level coursework. What it can't do is produce an above-the-bar dissertation.
In my day, I've known too many students who were talented in many ways, and yet got stymied at the dissertation phase. For people who have succeeded at pretty much everything in life to that point, a Ph.D. seems like just another barrier to transcend. It's not. Unless you are able to simultaneously love and critically dissect your subject matter, unless you thrive in an environment where people are looking forward to picking apart your most cherished ideas, you won't finish.
Now, some of the comments and tweets about this post suggested that I was pooh-poohing the idea of getting a Ph.D. if you don't want to become a professor.  To be clear:  that is not what I was trying to say.  Indeed, if anything, given the state of the academic job market I heartily endorse "non-traditional" career paths for Ph.D.s.  Furthermore, as Joshua Foust notes in his response, "If you want to succeed in Washington, a PhD is the quickest path to it. Anything less is just an uphill battle." 

There is no shame in going from a doctoral program to a job in DC, and I was certainly not implying that there should be. 

Foust offers a strong counter-explanation for why aspiring policy wonks should go for a Ph.D.:
[A] PhD offers a better way for many [than getting a professional M.A.]. PhDs are usually funded, which means they cost nothing to the student (stipends may not be much, but that’s a separate matter — the financial loads are drastically different). They also take a lot longer, say 5 years minimum but more likely 7 if you’re young and right out of undergrad.
Even so, that PhD is more or less free. Entering the DC workforce with a PhD, instead of a Masters, is an instant leg-up. For organizations like think tanks, it instantly signals research skills; for NGOs it signifies a strong work ethic. And for many government jobs, contractor jobs, or jobs at IGOs like the World Bank or IMF, it is a basic minimum requirement for most non-admin jobs. In almost any field, having a PhD is a shortcut to the initial round of CV scrutiny — an easy and quick way to sort candidates.

Now, let's assume Foust is correct about the money (doctoral students about to comment that a doctorate is not "more or less free" -- I know!!  I'm not asserting this, Foust is!!  Go bug him!!!).  It seems like the Ph.D. is the smart play then, right? 

Wrong.  Foust is assuming that the choice is a binary one -- between climbing the policy ladder without a a doctorate or with a doctorate.   The point of my initial post is that there's a third possibility, and it's the one that will fell people getting a Ph.D. for professional reasons only -- that one will start a Ph.D. program but never finish

First of all, that is, by far, the worst outcome.  Matt Groening can express this far better than I: 
The most accurate cartoon ever
In all seriousness, life is not quite this bad for those who fail to finish.  It's not great, however.  For those who recognize early on that the Ph.D. is not for them, it's OK.  Exiting a doctoral program after, say, three years with a terminal masters is about as graceful an exit as one can execute. 

The more years one stays in, however, the greater the pain of exiting.  There's a lot of psychological scarring, and the networks built up in a doctoral program are likely inferior to those that would be built up via a lower-level policy job.  And I'd wager that it's precisely the ambitious, career-minded DC types who are less likely to cut and run -- because their entire life experience to date suggests that quitting is the wrong course of action. 

Furthermore, not finishing a Ph.D. is not exactly uncommon.  Click on this slide show about Ph.D. attrition rates from the Council of Graduate Schools, and note the following three facts:

1)  Only 46% of all entrants finish their Ph.D. after seven years in a program.   
2)  For social science Ph.D.s, that figure is even lower -- 41%
3)  If you extend it out to ten years, the lowest completion rate among the social sciences is political science -- only 44% complete a doctorate after a decade.  In other words, entering a Ph.D. program and then not finishing is the modal outcome

Foust is likely correct that getting a Ph.D. gives one a leg up in the DC policy wonk rat race.  But I know I'm correct when I say that starting but not finishing a Ph.D. is the worst possible career trajectory.  It is this outcome that I'm harping on when I'm warning ambitious go-getter policy wonks to think long and hard about why they want to get a doctorate.  It can't just be to win "The Game." 

Now, to be fair, Tara Maller makes a valid point when she notes that "personal challenges" can fell a Ph.D. candidate.  However, I would argue that the biggest impediment to finishing is not having a clear idea of what's involved in getting a doctorate in the first place.   In an email from Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Jason Dempsey -- a Columbia Ph.D. and published scholar -- made this point: 
Part of the dynamic I think is 'degree-inflation' where everyone has a master's, so it seems logical that to distinguish yourself from the pack that a PhD is the next logical step.  While finishing my dissertation I had quite a few officers who had just finished MA or MPA programs asking how they could proceed to a PhD, with no idea that they were two entirely separate animals.

I've also had to break it to people that publishing an academic book is not the road the glory it might seem from afar, and that the most you can expect out of it beyond the intrinsic reward of contributing to an ongoing discussion is a box of very heavy 'business cards'....
Knowing what you are getting into and the need to fully embrace the topic are key to success.  Sometimes that will align with a non-academic career-- probably more often not....  The difference between an MA and a PhD isn't incremental but fundamental, and that is a hard gap to bridge when coming from an institution that is decidedly pragmatic and application-oriented as a matter of survival.
Dempsey's point is the one I was trying to ham-handedly make in my last post.  It is natural for people in DC to believe that the Ph.D. is the next logical step after a professional or masters degree.  It.  Is.  Not. 

When asked about whether getting a Ph.D. is a good idea, I usually tell men that writing a dissertation is the closest experience they will have to being pregnant -- except that instead of nine months they'll be carrying that sucker for 2-5 years.  I then tell women that, of course, writing a dissertation is not remotely close to being pregnant -- but take the most volatile relationship from your past and then multiply that volatility by a factor of fifty.  That's what it's like.  And I haven't even gotten to the incredible socialization pressures within graduate school to feel like you should pursue an academic career instean of a non-academic one. 

Despite these barriers, is it possible to simply "grind out" the Ph.D. without loving the subject matter and the process?  Yeah, in theory.  I've met one or two extraordinary people in my day who were able to pull that off.  But -- and I cannot stress this enough -- I've met far more people who thought they could grind it out and then met their ruin on the shoals of some doctoral program.  These are the people who stay in a doctoral program long after everyone else knows that the jig is up.  That is the fate I am warning policy wonks  away from. 

There is no shame in thinking that a Ph.D. gives one a leg up in the Beltway job market.  But that cannot and should not be the primary reason to get a doctorate.  What separates a Ph.D. from other degrees is the scholarly act of writing a dissertation.  If there is no genuine fascination with the subject matter, if there is no love of the topic, then there is a 99.5% probability of failure.  That has to be the primary driver.  If it's fame and fortune, then the professional degree route -- a J.D., an M.B.A. or a M.A.L.D. -- is the better route for you. 

Steve Saideman sums up why I'm making this argument so vehemently: 
An MA is a professional degree for the policy-maker but most PhDs are not that.  They require patience, analytical rigor, the ability to think theoretically, to be open to criticism, and so on.  So, [Dan] has seen those who are in it just for the stamp flounder and fail. 
That's correct.  Maybe I'm exaggerating the costs of failure here -- but I don't think so. 

So, to conclude.  There is no shame in getting a Ph.D. with the intention of pursuing a non-academic career.  Foust is correct that there are certain material rewards that come with earning a Ph.D.  But unlike other degrees, those rewards cannot be the principal reason you choose to pursue a doctorate.  That is the recipe for misery and heartbreak. 

Critical Infrastructure: Possible EPA Grants To Protect Water Systems From Climate Change

Cardin Seeks EPA Grants To Protect Water Systems From Climate Change

Posted: November 19, 2012
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the Senate subcommittee overseeing EPA's water program, is seeking to create a new, $250 million EPA grant program to help strengthen wastewater and drinking water systems from threats posed by the effects of climate change, a growing focus since Hurricane Sandy damaged systems in the Northeast.

The senator Nov. 14 submitted an amendment to S. 3525, a bill intended to authorize hunting and fishing programs, to allow EPA to provide grants to update municipal water systems to withstand changes in hydrological flows caused by climate change, the latest in a slew of efforts by Democratic lawmakers to gain more funding for water infrastructure.

The measure appears likely to gain support from lawmakers whose states were hit by the storm. For example, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) told a Nov. 15 Senate environment committee hearing on legislation authorizing Army Corps of Engineers projects that there is a need for such funding given the effects of the recent storm.
"During Sandy, we also saw outdated water infrastructure lead to two water treatment facilities breaking down, with millions of gallons of sewage leaking into Newark Bay as a result. This shouldn't happen. There's no excuse not to have modernized water infrastructure," he said.

S. 3525, which was introduced Sept. 10 by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), seeks to require that not less than 1.5 percent of land put aside each year under the Land And Water Conservation Fund be made available for recreational access such as hunting and fishing and calls for extending wetlands conservation project funding among other things.

Although the bill addresses several GOP priorities, such as limiting lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle from regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the bill currently lacks Republican sponsors. The bill is slated for a floor vote Nov. 26.

Cardin's amendment seeks to create a "'Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Program," which will require EPA to issue grants totaling $50 million for each year from 2013 through 2017 "for the purpose of increasing the resiliency or adaptability of the water systems to any ongoing or forecasted chances (based on the best available research and data) to the hydrological conditions of a region of the United States."

Entities eligible to seek the grants include community water treatment works, water systems, storage and transport systems and floodwater runoff management infrastructure.

The amendment seeks to set aside funds "exclusively to assist in the planning, design, construction, implementation, operation, or maintenance" of projects that address water conservation, efficiency, enhance watershed management, support the adoption of advanced water treatment technologies, modify or replace existing systems and "not further exacerbate stresses on ecosystems or cause redirected impacts by degrading water quality or increasing net greenhouse gas emissions."
The funding can also be used for flood mitigation measures, including modifying levies and preventing development in floodplains. Priority for grants will be given to those systems that are at the most "immediate risk of facing significant negative impacts due to changing hydrologic conditions." Cardin, who chairs the senate environment committee's water panel, has long championed water infrastructure needs, including the need for re-authorization of EPA's State Revolving Fund grant program.
Senators' Amendments
In addition to Cardin's amendment, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) is offering an amendment seeking a biennial progress report from EPA on the implementation of the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan 2008 in the Gulf of Mexico.

The amendment calls for the reports to "assess the progress made toward nutrient load reductions, the response of the hypoxic zone and water quality throughout the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin, and the economic and social effects." Data in the reports could be used to "recommend appropriate action continue to implement or, if necessary, revise the strategy set forth in the Gulf Hypoxia Plan 2008."

The plan, enacted in June 2008, seeks to address excess nutrient runoff from 12 states in the Mississippi River watershed, including a goal of reducing "the 5-year running average of the areal extent of the hypoxic zone to less than 5,000 square kilometers by 2015," although the plan acknowledges reaching the goal is likely impossible.

Meanwhile, GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT) is seeking to use the bill to require EPA to do an economic impact analysis of a revised national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for particulate matter, particularly as it effects the agricultural sector -- granting the agency a year reprieve from finalizing the NAAQS to complete the review. And the senator has submitted language that would amend the bill to include a prohibition of the regulation of green house gasses under the Clean Air Act, the authority EPA has pointed to in its green house gas reduction efforts.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Webinars: Two-Part Basic Agent Flood Insurance Course

Two-Part Basic Agent Flood Insurance Course
Webinars conducted by the National Flood Insurance Program
Part One: December 4
11:00 am - 1:00 pm EST
Part Two: December 5
11:00 am - 1:00 pm EST

Attendees must attend both sessions in order to cover all required topics as mandated by the Flood Insurance Reform Act (FIRA) of 2004.
This course addresses basic flood insurance issues as well as some more advanced components. At the conclusion of both sessions, attendees with little or no prior NFIP experience will understand how to build a flood insurance policy from the ground up. More experienced attendees will develop an even better understanding of:
  • A Standard Flood Insurance Policy's major coverage areas
  • FEMA's Elevation certificate
  • Increased Cost of Compliance coverage
  • And much more!

No continuing education credits are offered for this course in any state.
This course is FREE, but space is limited so register early.
To register, please use the link above.

Please do not reply to this email. If you have questions regarding NFIP Training, please write to or
view the NFIP schedule.
The National Flood Insurance Program is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

National Flood Insurance Program Training | | (800) 427-4661


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

USDHHS: SAMHSA. Mental Health, A Neglected Priority

28 November 2012
A call for the equal treatment of all illnesses and conversation on the path to recovery
By Susan Walker and Chris Marshall

There’s a statue at the entrance to the Italian embassy’s auditorium.  I say statue, but as tastefully pointed out by an elegant plaque, it is in fact a “Marble Fragment of Statue, Syracuse, 3rd Century B.C.”  Headless and heartless, it’s really only a pair of legs, but it still pulls off a certain elegant refinement (this is the Italian embassy after all!).

It’s a fitting introduction to the recent Global Health Forum  entitled , “Mental Health, A Neglected Priority” held at the Italian embassy, where a vast array of international speakers  discussed the importance of mental health and the woeful lack of attention it receives in many corners of the world .

Paolo del Vecchio, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services, pointed out one way to address the neglect, “We really need to do a great deal of work in changing, not only mental health practices, but the hearts and minds of the public.”

Jeffrey Akman, interim vice president for Health Affairs and Dean of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, further pointed out to mental health advocates the need to follow the lead of the HIV/AIDS community.  Over the past few decades they have brought that condition and the programs needed to prevent and treat it to the forefront of public consciousness. 

Later this week the world celebrates HIV/AIDS Day (Dec. 1), and I’ve already had a number of friends and acquaintances remind me.  As I typed the previous line I even had an email pop up exclaiming, “World AIDS Day!” and inviting me to “two engaging events.”

This seems to drive home the point both del Vecchio and Akman are making – that the proactive steps  HIV/AIDS advocates took helped them obtain  more research, public outreach, publicity, and acceptance.  All these in turn led to better prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.  The same can be accomplished for mental health if we begin taking the same proactive measures.  
Considering one in five American adults had a mental illness in the past year, Akman and del Vecchio make valid points. We need to change how we talk about, think about, feel about, and treat mental illness.

Not an easy task, considering that people with mental illnesses have had and continue to have very high rates of unemployment, educational attainment, homelessness, poverty, and lack of social capital that exemplifies the ongoing neglect of mental health.  With only four out of 10 people with mental illnesses receiving treatment, it is a task certainly worthy of our efforts.

Why should we be involved? Because, as del Vecchio also said at the forum, “Recovery is democratic” and we need to “continue to get in the public conversation that recovery is possible.”
A recovery approach is a new way of thinking about systems and outcomes.  SAMHSA released a new working definition of recovery from mental disorders and substance use disorders in December 2011 that defines recovery as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.  To get there, components of a system of recovery must include treatment and services that are individualized, holistic, person-driven, and strengths-based.  These values and components of recovery are supported through many systems innovations sponsored by SAMHSA including evidenced-based practices such as supported employment and supported housing.

If recovery is democratic, how do we preserve the American principle of self-determination while protecting individual and public safety?

How do we invest limited funds to prevent future mental health cost burdens while addressing current mental illnesses at the same time?

Join the discussion.

USDHHS: SAMHSA Blog Categories and Information

SAMHSA Branding


FBI \CDC Epidemiology, Biosecurity Workshops

·        FBI CDC Regional Criminal and Epidemiology Investigations Workshop. Contact Lindsey Hartmann ( or your local FBI WMD Coordinator for information
                 Actual dates for 2013 workshops still being finalized:
   Feb 6-7:  Las Vegas, NV
   Week of March 25: Columbia, SC
   Week of April 15: Birmingham and Mobile, AL (2 separate workshops)
   Week of May 6: Little Rock, AR
   Week of June 10: Albany, NY

·        FBI Academic Biosecurity Workshop. (link isn’t working for some reason). No upcoming trainings listed. If you are interested in hosting an Academic Biosecurity Workshop, please contact

Training Opportunity: Florida Office of AG. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) for Hospitals

·        Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) for Hospitals. Jan 28-30. Sponsored by the Florida Office of the Attorney General.


SBA Partners with SCORE NYC Chapter to offer Disaster Counseling to Small Businesses

New York District Office NEWS release


Release Date:

 November 28, 2012


Justine Cabulong (212) 264-7750                                                                                      

Release Number:


Internet Address:

SBA Partners with SCORE NYC Chapter to offer Disaster Counseling to Small Businesses 

NEW YORK, NY – The U.S. Small Business Administration New York District Office has partnered with the SCORE NYC Chapter to extend resources and free counseling services to small businesses affected by Superstorm Sandy.  Services include a comprehensive business assessment and development strategy to sustain business during recovery efforts.
The counselors available through the SCORE NYC Chapter are experienced business professionals, and will be able to assist business owners in planning the next steps for businesses recovering from damage, to include physical relocation and what small businesses can do now before they receive disaster loans and after.  Through the free mentorship services available, small businesses impacted by Superstorm Sandy will be able to understand the outlook for their business in the coming year.
“A great benefit of this partnership is that small business owners can meet with SCORE counselors now and throughout any time during the disaster loan and application process,” said Pravina Raghavan, District Director, U.S. Small Business Administration, New York District Office. “The state of New York has approved nearly 200 disaster loans with more to follow, and we want to make sure that business owners are supported with the best resources we can provide as we do our best to quickly and efficiently assist in their recovery.”
As of November 19, disaster loans for New York have reached over $11 million, accounting for both home and business disaster loan applications.
To contact the SCORE NYC Chapter to setup an appointment, call (212)264-4507 or visit
U.S. Small Business Administration New York District Office serves 14 downstate counties in New York State, which include New York City (Bronx, Kings, Queens, Richmond and New York), Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk), as well as Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester counties.  For more information, please visit

USHHS. Office of Minority Health. Resources.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Link to
The Office of Minority Health - 1800-444-6472

FYI: Minority Resources...Money & More

Provided by the Office of Minority Health Resource Center's Information Services Team
November 28, 2012

Native American Heritage Month Resources

Each November, we honor the culture and contributions of the American Indians and Alaska Natives during Native American Heritage Month. The Office of Minority Health is sharing information and resources designed to empower, educate and inform. Check out our website and follow OMH on Twitter to get the latest information.

  In This Issue ...


Federal Grants

  • Department of Housing and Urban Development: Continuum of Care Program Competition; provides support to address homelessness throughout communities. View Full Announcement
Minority Population Specific: $500k or less . . .  
  • HHS/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Natural History and Prevention of Viral Hepatitis Among Alaska Natives Grant. View Full Announcement
  • HHS/NIH/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: RFA-HL-13-018: Mentored Career Award for Faculty at Institutions That Promote Diversity (K01). View Full Announcement
  • HHS/NIH/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: RFA-HL-13-019: Mentored Career Development Award to Promote Faculty Diversity/Re-Entry in Biomedical Research (K01) View Full Announcement
  • HHS/NIH/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: RFA-HL-13-021: T32 Training Program for Institutions That Promote Diversity (T32) View Full Announcement
$500k or more . . .  
  • HHS/National Institutes of Health (NIH): Determinants and Consequences of Personalized Health Care and Prevention (U01). View Full Announcement
  • HHS/Health Resources & Services Administration: HIV Early Intervention Services (EIS) Program Existing Geographic Service Areas (EISEGA) Grant. View Full Announcement
$500k or less . . .  
  • HHS/Health Resources & Services Administration: Health Workforce Research Center (HWRC) Program Grant View Full Announcement
  • HHS/Health Resources & Services Administration: Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention (NEPQR) Program- Interprofessional Collaborative Practice Grant. View Full Announcement
  • HHS/Health Resources & Services Administration; Community Based Dental Partnership Program Grant. View Full Announcement

Non Federal Grants

Minority Population Specific: $500k or less . . . 
  • Massachusetts Medical Society & Alliance Charitable Foundation: Community Action and Care for the Medically Uninsured/Underinsured. View Full Announcement Exit Disclaimer
  • Native Arts & Cultures Foundation: Bridge Initiative: Arts + Health. View Full Announcement Exit Disclaimer
  • The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality (CPI): Hispanic Poverty and Inequality Grant Competition. View Full Announcement [PDF | 67KB] Exit Disclaimer
$500k or less . . . 


  • Grant Station: Webinar Tour of the GrantStation Website. Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm EST. Learn More Exit Disclaimer


  • Kennedy Krieger Institute: Maternal Child Health Careers/Research Initiatives for Student Enhancement - Undergraduate Program (MCHC/RISE-UP). View Full Announcement Exit Disclaimer
  • Kennedy Krieger Institute: James A. Ferguson Emerging Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program. View Full Announcement Exit Disclaimer
  • NAPH/Kaiser Permanente: Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Scholarships, to cover the registration fee for the several IHI offerings. View Full Announcement Exit Disclaimer


  • CDC: Introducing an interactive data set comprising 31 behavioral risk factors and health indicators. Sortable Risk Factors and Health Indicators Stats. Learn More

American Indians/Alaska Native Health

  • The Urban Indian Health Institute: New online campaign launched. Native Generations Campaign, addresses high rates of infant mortality, causes of infant death and maternal and child health needs among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Video, Webpage and Resources now available. Learn More Exit Disclaimer

Health Care

  • Institute of Medicine: New report released. An Integrated Framework for Assessing the Value of Community-Based Prevention. Read Full Report Exit Disclaimer


  • National Academy for State Health Policy: Webinar. Engineering an Exchange: A Look at State Blueprints and Decisions. A panel of state officials who will outline the exchange choices their states have made, and describe the policy goals behind those choices. December 13, 3:00 pm EST Learn More Exit Disclaimer

Health Equity


  • HHS/Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships: Webinar for faith and community leaders. Latino Faith and Community Leaders' Introduction to the Office for Civil Rights (in English and Spanish). December 10th at 3:30 pm EST. Learn More Exit Disclaimer
  • Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS): Webcast. Addressing Health Disparities for Minority Populations in Jails. 8:30 am EST on Thursday, December 6, 2012. View Full Announcement Exit Disclaimer

Heart Disease


  • HHS/Million Hearts: Webinar. POWERFUL ENOUGH TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Promising Practices for Blood Pressure Control in Clinical Settings. Tuesday, December 4, 2012 from 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm EST Learn More Exit Disclaimer

Infant/Child Health

  • SAMHSA: New report. Supporting Infants, Toddlers and Families Impacted by Caregiver Mental Health Problems, Substance Abuse, and Trauma. Read Full Report

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