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This is a really fantastic post Hamish, thank you for writing it.

I certainly am applying for many APS graduate programs, but I do wonder if this round will be especially competitive due to economic circumstances. I've never applied for a program like this before, so I am not sure how prepared I am for their style of interviewing. It's also the case that as a philosophy major, I have less empirical knowledge about politics than many of my peers, so if they ask me content based questions I may struggle (I am of course trying to read and catch up). If for some reason I do not get in, it may be worth starting an MPP or JD. 

'I don’t think a law degree vs an MPP would make a big difference to your hiring chances, assuming similar grades'

This point is heartening, because if prior to starting a JD I think that there is a good chance I ought to be a lawyer, but years later it turns out I was wrong, I won't have made such a devastatingly bad mistake. 

'a 3 year law degree is a big time commitment, so I would only recommend it if you are passionate about the law and want to work directly on legal issues.'

An MPP would be 2 years for me, but I can't receive Centrelink for it (one can for a JD, which is really significant). So I don't think a JD represents that much more of a commitment in my case. For some reason I am much more excited about the content that is taught in law degrees, so I think it's quite possible that I would be passionate about law and want to work directly on legal issues. I just worry about whether I could do less good in law— 80K seem less enthusiastic about legal careers. That said, their advice may be directed at those who are better at maths than me, which leads me to your next point.
'For what its worth, my impression is that the most sought-after skillset when hiring policy generalists in the public service is economics.'

This is certainly what I am worried about, because if so, my weakness at maths could really hold me back.


Thanks a lot for your response, Cullen!

One thing that I would like to do more research on is the question of how valuable legal research and legal policy work is overall, in comparison to the work done by generalists.
80K hours seem somewhat pessimistic about law,  so reading your more optimistic perspective (and things like the Legal Priorities Project) is really fascinating to me. It's really hard to know whether one could do more good doing either, A: improving policy as a generalist in The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, The Australian Department of Defence (etc), or B: focusing specifically on law, in The Attorney General's Department, The Australian Law Reform Commission (etc). Of course, even if A is better (though I'm not saying it is), doing A poorly is obviously much worse than doing B well. Honestly, I'm starting to wonder if many non-entry level policy positions are really competitive, and thus I might be 'capped' as a generalist in a way that I would not be if I focused on law. It would also be bad if I managed to reach an influential generalist position through charisma (or whatever) and ended up taking up a spot that ought to have been filled by someone who was quantitatively talented.

I found your point about traditional lawyering for a while really interesting. I actually think I might enjoy being a lawyer  more than being a policy advisor (though it's hard to be sure), based on the research I've done thus far. What worries me is whether I could be a traditional lawyer with a clear conscience. 80K has several articles that (whether correctly or not) heavily emphasize the amount of good one can do as a generalist in the public service. On the other hand, it's very possible that those articles don't really apply to me, given the (perhaps atypical) gap between my verbal and quantitative aptitude. I get the general sense that it might be better for me to excel as a lawyer rather than scrape by as a generalist, because doing a great job allows one to rise to more influential positions, and earn more money (which I could donate to orgs like EA). It could also be the case that being a lawyer for a while might eventually lead to a role which I would have been unable to get if I had started as a generalist, in which case not having a direct impact for an extended period might ultimately be worthwhile.

Thanks for the feedback Michael! I think that your points are very helpful.

1: I thought this might be the case. Legal education seems very broad, with many subjects primarily intended to prepare students for the practice of law.

2: You may indeed be right, because the cohort I've been competing with in philosophy (largely those studying a Bachelor of Arts) generally don't have strong ATARs. On the other hand, I feel like philosophy is one of the better majors for enhancing one's analytical skills, so I think I have a leg up on the other members of the JD cohort. I think it's around 12% of students who receive HDs at most law schools, which doesn't seem impossible.

 Just to clarify, I've already finished my undergraduate degree, so I can't study an LLB. This means I would have to take a full fee place in a JD, which obviously makes it less appealing. On the bright side, one still receives Centrelink for the duration of the JD. One does not while studying an MPP, which is very significant.

3: Definitely a good point, and I have heard that as well. This may be a point in favour of joining the APS generalist stream, if I can get in. Am I right in assuming that you are studying law in undergrad? Are you considering any of the APS graduate streams after completing your degree? Would you consider them if you had already completed a Bachelor of Arts?

4: I am really uncertain about this too. On the face of it, you don't often hear about politicians having spent extended periods of time working for the APS in Canberra. However, some of them may have spent a few years there before moving to a major city.  I'm not sure how transferrable the career capital one gains in the APS is— there is a big difference between the 80K hours articles on the US and UK political system, and given that ours seems to combine aspects of both (among other things), it's difficult to know which points apply.

Finally, I would like to ask you one more question. Towards the end of my degree I have been doing research on law school, reading textbooks, attending events etc. Thus far it really seems to appeal to me.  Do you think it may be the case that there are people who are genuinely better suited to being lawyers than policy advisors? I know that 'lawyer' is a fairly low priority role in the EA community. But is it likely that for a person with my attributes, personal fit might outweigh this?

Thanks Hauke,

Some of the MPPs at the top policy schools in Australia also offer specializations in non-quantitative aspects of public policy. However, they still have core topics in economics and statistics, which I believe may drag down my GPA relative to what I could achieve in law. I'm also a bit worried about the idea of studying an MPP and applying for policy roles with my weak aptitude for quantitative reasoning. Might it be better for people who are more quantitatively talented to take those positions? I am trying to think of my comparative advantage in this sense, though it's possible I'm missing something.  

I get the sense that even if policy work which focuses on economics is a higher priority within the EA community, such work is probably beyond my reach. It may be better for me to try and excel at lower priority policy work which primarily involves verbal reasoning, and I do wonder whether much of that policy work involves law, or at least would be enhanced by studying law (more so than an MPP).

Finally, I'm so early in my career that I'm not completely certain whether policy work would be a good personal fit for me. From what I've heard, a law degree offers one more options overall than an MPP.

Good point, Ryan.  Whether it is warranted or not, I have heard that people seem to attach more prestige to law degrees than to MPPs (especially if you get good grades in law). Part of that might be because many more people want to study law, as you say.