Randall Wilson, PhD

The Public Policy PhD program attracted me for several reasons. I needed a career change, I wanted to go deep in one area of policy, and my research skills needed upgrading if I was to pursue a second career in academia. And this program offered a real alternative to other institutions I was applying to, such as MIT’s urban studies and planning program.  I could get my doctorate without going deeply into debt. Plus the program, which had recently started, offered a progressive approach and a curriculum that presented various policy frameworks critically. And I liked the idea of colleagues who were somewhat longer in the tooth than the average grad student.

My interests lay in workforce policy and political economy. I’d followed the work of one of the program’s founders, Barry Bluestone, and was familiar with some of the other early faculty through professional and academic connections, including Randy Albelda and Michael Stone. Before coming to UMass Boston, I had worked for 10 years in urban planning and community development, after getting my master's in city planning at Cornell University.  I enjoyed working in city government – managing research, analyzing data, assisting policy-makers and community groups–but wanted something different.

The program paid off for me. The courses were stimulating, especially electives in law and public policy and community and economic development. From being pretty math-averse, I finally got traction in statistical analysis and other quantitative techniques. With faculty connections, I did a lot of consulting work as a researcher and evaluator – skills I’m still practicing now. After numerous detours and delays, my dissertation, under the patient prodding of Dr. Albelda, was a wrap. The research, on the role that different types of organizations played in implementing career ladder programs for nursing aides, grew out of my evaluation practice gained at UMass Boston. And it fed directly into the work I’m doing now, managing demonstration programs and evaluations of workforce programs in health care, at Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit consulting firm in Boston.

The greatest strength of the Public Policy program, for me, was the strong relationships. I would have never mastered the quant work, or pushed out the dissertation, without the understanding and mentorship of faculty, and supportive friends and colleagues. All I can say is “thanks.”