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Project-based learning seems to be a underappreciated bottleneck for building career capital in public policy and non-profits. By projects, I mean subjective problems like writing policy briefs, delivering research insights, lobbying for political change, or running community events. These have subtle domain-specific tradeoffs without a clean answer. (See the Project Work section in On-Ramps Into Biosecurity)

Thus the lessons can't be easily generalized or made legible the way a math problem can be. With projects, even the very first step of identifying a good problem is tough. Without access to a formal network, you can spend weeks on a dead end only realizing your mistakes months or years after the fact. 

This constraint seems well-known for professionals in the network, as organizers for research fellowships like SERI Mats describe their program as valuable, highly in-demand, yet constrained in how many people they can train.

I think operations best shows the surprising importance of domain-specific knowledge. The skill set looks similar across fields. So that would imply some exchange-ability between private sector and social sector. But in practice, organizations want you to know their specific mission very well and they're willing (correctly or incorrectly) to hire a young Research Assistant over, say, someone with 10 years of experience in a Fortune 500 company. That domain knowledge helps you internalize the organization's trade-offs and prioritize without using too much senior management time.

Emphasizing this supervised project-based learning mechanism of getting domain-specific career capital would clarify a few points.

  • With school, it would
    • emphasize that textbook-knowledge is both necessary yet insufficient for contributing to social sector work
    • show the benefits of STEM electives and liberal arts fields, where the material is easier from a technical standpoint but you work on open-ended problems
    • illustrate how research-based Master degrees in Europe tend to be better training than purely coursework-based ones in the US (IMHO, true in Economics)
  • With young professionals, it would
    • highlight the "Hollywood big break" element of getting a social sector job, where it's easier to develop your career capital after you get your target job and get feedback on what to work on (and probably not as important before that)
    • formalize the intuition some people have about "assistant roles in effective organizations" being very valuable even though you're not developing many hard skills
  • With discussions on elitism and privilege, it would
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