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I Never Knew Where Research Would Take Me

Alex Hollister '17
Alex Hollister '17

I started working at Mathematica as a Survey Research Associate in the Princeton, NJ office in July 2017. At Hamilton, I was an Economics major, with minors in Government and Hispanic Studies. I had no interest in going into Finance (as many Hamilton Econ majors do), so during my Junior year, I did summer research with Professor Hagstrom in the Economics department on Utica Refugees and their economic impact. The research involved meeting with various Utica cultural groups, developing two comprehensive surveys (one for adult refugees, and one for children refugees/children of refugees), and planning the logistics behind a complex data collection plan.

I think this experience, coupled with an independent study I created Senior spring on survey methodology, really stood out to the hiring committee at Mathematica. My interview day at Mathematica consisted of five, 30-minute interviews with people of varying seniority at the company. I'd say at least 75% of each interview centered around my prior research experience and how I envisioned pursuing this experience moving forward. The takeaway I received from my interview, as well as my time with Mathematica thus far, is that prior research experience in a field related to social policy is invaluable (and essentially required) when it comes to applying for jobs in the policy sector. When writing cover letters for these types of jobs, my biggest recommendation is to focus on your relevant research experience and explain how you want to build on this research in your career.

Transitioning to Mathematica, I would say that it is an ideal company to work for if you are interested in policy in general but aren't sure about which sector in particular you want to focus on. When I started working for Mathematica, I had a vague, general interest in social policy. After having worked here for 1.5 years, I have worked on projects in a wide array of topic areas, including education, labor, family support, early childhood development, and health, with additional project management and programming roles. Now, I am starting to focus on education projects, which has afforded me various travel and task lead opportunities! Furthermore, I think Mathematica prepares its junior level staff well for graduate school, and in fact, many of my coworkers plan on pursuing master's or Ph.D. programs in the coming year. I personally plan on doing a part-time master's, which will allow me to continue working at Mathematica full-time. This is a pretty popular choice as well and allows you to complement your studies with hands on policy research.

As a company, Mathematica is pretty laid back. We work typical 40 hour work weeks, have no enforced dress code (except during client meetings), get free bagels every Friday, and have the flexibility of moving between offices after working here for a while (I'm actually planning on relocating to the Cambridge, MA office in July). The pay is quite generous compared to competitors in the industry, and we typically receive yearly raises (anywhere from $1K-$5K, roughly). I know that we are currently hiring for my position (Survey Research Associate) in the DC, Princeton, Cambridge, and Oakland offices, so you should definitely consider applying! Hamilton has an oddly strong reputation at Mathematica, and I work with four other Hamilton grads on a semi-regular basis. 

If you're interested in other companies that do similar work to Mathematica, you could try looking into job postings for the following companies:

WestEd (Education focused)
Urban Institute
Harvard Center for Education Policy Research (Education focused)
EDC (Education focused)
Abt Associates

Alex Hollister '17 graduated with a major in Economics and double minor in Government and Hispanic Studies. He is currently working as a Survey Research Associate at Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, New Jersey.

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