Tag: Covid-19

Eight Cool Public Policy Careers

Make a Difference With These Alternative Public Policy Jobs.

Two public policy professionals chake hands in an office setting

As previously noted, a public policy is a set of principles, guidelines, regulations, laws, and actions adopted and implemented by a governmental entity. The purpose of a public policy is addressing specific issues/needs or pursuing particular goals within a society. Those needs, for instance, might be making roads more safe. That is, a speed limit sign is an example of a common public policy encountered daily. Rules and ordinances for making annual homecoming events less riotous and destructive are also public policies. The ultimate goals of a public policy, then, are achieving desired outcomes, solving problems, or responding (or in some cases, not responding) to societal needs. Because these needs are so diverse, there are, correspondingly, numerous public policy careers.

Those with public policy experience often work in government, at all levels. There, they might take on roles as policy analysts, legislative assistants, government or public affairs specialists. Or they might find roles in non-governmental organizations or the non-profit sector as policy consultants, program evaluators, and directors.

Learn more about public policy.

Above are some of the typical public policy careers. However, there are other less common but equally satisfying career paths.

1. Urban Planner

Professionals in these roles, who are often civil, environmental, and structural engineers, focus on shaping the development of cities and communities. They strive to create sustainable, greener, and functional urban spaces by considering factors such as zoning, transportation, housing, and environmental impact.

Because urban planners must often abide by local laws and ordinances (or even suggest improved ones), they regularly collaborate with government officials at all levels. Therefore, knowledge of public policy is an asset to urban planners and their decision-making processes.

An image of an urban green space in Vancouver, BC.
An urban green space in Vancouver BC, Canada

2. Environmental Policy Consultant

Environmental engineers with public policy experience can also transition into roles as environmental policy consultants. Or they could even start their own environmental consulting companies, collaborating with governmental entities at all levels.

As these consultants, they might advise on public policies related to pollution, sustainable development, water resource management, and climate change. They might also bring their technical expertise to developing and evaluating environmental policies, as well as helping to create effective, scientifically sound regulations.

A symbol of a smart city, which might need those with public policy expertise.
An image of a smart city.

3. Smart City and IoT Specialist

A smart city is an urban area that uses advanced technology, carefully designed infrastructure, and data-driven solutions. The objectives are reducing costs and resource consumption, enhancing efficiency, and optimizing the lives of inhabitants.

Engineers with policy skills and expertise in both smart city technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) can help influence public policies related to smart cities. These could be regulations on land use, data privacy, accessibility, and so on. In these public policy careers, they might also ensure that smart city technologies abide by local and state ordinances.

4. Open Data Advocate

Open data is data that can be freely used, re-used, and redistributed by anyone. The most fundamental rules of Open Data are the following:

  • Availability and Access: As a whole, data must be available at a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading. Data must also be in a convenient and modifiable form.
  • Re-use and Redistribution: Data must be provided under terms that permit re-use and redistribution, which includes the intermixing with other datasets.
  • Universal Participation: Everyone must be able to use, re-use, and redistribute data without discrimination or restrictions. Open data advocates, for example, are against rules that say data is not for commercial use, only for education, and so on.

Therefore, open data advocates strive to develop public policies that promote the transparency and accessibility of government data. For instance, they might encourage the release of government information in open formats. They believe that open data fosters collaboration, innovation, and accountability.

Where does public policy come in? This role involves working with government agencies, tech communities, and the public to support and advance open data initiatives.

5. Healthcare Technology Policy Analyst

As healthcare grows more data-driven, there arise issues of cybersecurity and the protection of patient information. Biomedical engineers and professionals in the healthcare technology sector with public policy experience could work as this type of analyst.

Healthcare technology policy analysts might undertake the following:

  • assess public policies in the regulatory landscape for medical technologies
  • contribute to the development of health IT policies
  • ensure that policies keep pace with advancements in medical research and technology
  • confirm that protocols in the healthcare industry align with public policies that safeguard patient data

In fact, the US has several privacy laws that protect all types of consumer data: fingerprints, retina scans, biometric data, financial data, names, and addresses. Probably one of the most well-known of these privacy protection laws is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) . This law, which applies to healthcare providers, hospitals, and insurance companies, safeguards an individual’s medical information. Healthcare technology policy analysts, then, might ensure that patients with biomedical devices connected to the IoT have their PHI protected.

An image of the USSF-52 rocket-launch mission. A space policy advisor is a possible public policy career.
Exploring Space safely and ethical will involve those with public policy expertise.

6. Space Policy Advisor

Space exploration and commercial space activities, which have accelerated recently, will require experts with public policy experience. These advisors might focus on issues related to space governance, international cooperation, and regulations. That is, they may be involved in ensuring that their organizations follow policies governing space exploration, satellite deployment, and space resource utilization.

For instance there are national space policies, commercial space launch policies, international space cooperation agreements, licensing and regulatory frameworks, satellite remote sensing policies. There are even policies for mitigating and remediating space debris. And these are just a few public policies related to the space industry.

7. Regulatory Sandbox Manager

This public policy career, which sounds too cool to be real, is ideal for those with previous business experience. More of a legal classification than a physical location, a regulatory sandbox is a space where businesses can play without following (most of the) rules. The objective is seeing whether the removal of restrictions produces innovative ideas and products.

Still, during the experimental phase, these sandboxes must respect basic regulations for public health, safety, and privacy. First, managers with public policy expertise must ensure that these essential regulations are followed during this phase. And when businesses transition out of the sandbox, managers must then confirm that they respect all relevant public policies.

8. Behavioral Economist / Policy Behavioralist

Those taking on this role work in many fields. As behavioral economists, they combine insights from economics, psychology, and/or cognitive science to analyze how people make decisions.

For instance, a policy behavioralist might work in the public health sector, analyzing data to evaluate a group’s potential response (acceptance? rejection? neutrality?) to a new vaccine policy.

In so doing, these policy experts might apply their analyses to help design interventions that positively influence human behavior. They could work to improve policy outcomes around pressing social issues, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Get Skills for Several Public Policy Careers.

Do these alternative public policy jobs sound fun? Fascinating? If they do, Michigan Tech’s Global Campus offers a versatile 9-credit Online Graduate Certificate in Public Policy that can add to/build on your current undergraduate degree.

This certificate consists of three, condensed, seven-week courses, which run several times a year.

  • The Policy Process (SS 5301): Offered Spring, Summer, and Fall 2024
  • Public Management (SS 5318): Offered Spring, Summer, and Fall 2024
  • Policy Analysis (SS 5350): Offered Summer, 2024

Because of this schedule, you can STILL start your certificate in Spring or Summer 2024 and complete it quickly.

Want to learn more about this certificate? Or how to get started on the application? Contact Dr. Adam Wellstead at awellste@mtu.edu.

Why Does Public Policy Matter?

Public policy experts at work in the government.

Public Policy Experts at Work in the Government

The dog license you must purchase; the sign on the road telling you to slow down in a school zone; the $325 fine your neighbor received for having an excessively large apple pile near his deer blind. Each one of these is a public policy. (Michigan’s DNR is pretty serious about its bait-pile fining, too. In fact, in 2018, several conservation officers used Google Maps to track down an apple pile that could be seen from space.)

The DNR-mandated size of a bait pile in Michigan is an example of a public policy.
A bait pile in Illinois (not the one seen from space).

How big is too big?

Well, there’s an answer for that: “Bait volume at any hunting site cannot exceed two gallons. Bait dispersal must be over a minimum 10-foot by 10-foot area.”

But this rule is just for Upper Michigan. Baiting, in fact, is banned in Lower Michigan unless hunters qualify for one of the exceptions.

And the size of the pile may vary between states.

Why do Michigan DNR officials hand out fines over bait piles? Well, excessively large bait piles cause an over-concentration of deer, which may then lead to other problems:

  • Disease Spread: Dense populations of deer can facilitate the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a prion disease that affects deer, elk, and moose.
  • Impact on Other Wildlife: Baiting may attract not only deer but also other wildlife species, disrupting natural foraging behaviors and leading to ecosystem imbalances.
  • Unnatural Behavior: Concentrating deer in one area through baiting can lead to unnatural behaviors and affect deer movement patterns, potentially making them more vulnerable to predation or accidents.
  • Management of Deer Population: Wildlife officials often aim to manage deer populations to maintain a balance with the ecosystem’s carrying capacity. Overly large bait piles might interfere with the effectiveness of population control measures.

Who Makes Policy in the US?

The above examples demonstrate that public policy is all around us.

Public policies specifically refer to the set of principles, guidelines, regulations, laws, and actions adopted and implemented by various government entities (school officials, city council members, DNR representatives, governors, etc.) to address specific issues or pursue particular goals within a society. A systematic approach to decision-making and governance, public policy aims to achieve desired outcomes, solve problems, or respond (or in some cases, not respond) to societal needs. And its scope is wide, touching on economic, environmental, health, and education areas, and more. Like deer hunting.

Because public policies exist at the municipal, state, regional, or national level, they may sometimes clash. Consider, for instance, the conflict between state and federal COVID-19 public policies during the pandemic. Or what would happen if you were a hunter who didn’t meet one of the exceptions and travelled down to Lower Michigan to set up your bait pile.

However, public policies should be distinguished from just policies, which are rules and regulations enacted by non-governmental representatives, such as businesses, universities, and so on.

How is Public Policy Created?

But public policy, despite having such a wide scope, is far from simple. There is significant critical thinking, planning, research, and legwork involved in public policy. And much of this legwork involves getting input from stakeholders: various members of the public and subject matter experts at all stages of the policy process.

First, those working in public policy must have a goal or objective (agenda setting). That is, an objective might be addressing social justice, public safety, pollution, the health of the deer population, and so on. And those creating policies (or advocating for their creation) must use a structured decision-making process. This process involves identifying issues, conducting research and analysis, and considering alternative solutions. The final objective is making decisions and creating a policy (formulation) based on the best available information. But these are just the first two steps in the policy process.

The six stages of the policy process:

  • Agenda Setting
  • Formulation
  • Adoption/Legitimation
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation
  • Policy Maintenance, Succession, or Termination

Source: Paul Cairney, Five Image of the Policy Process

However, Paul Cairney contends that the nice, clean cycle above is more of a metaphor than a realistic depiction of how REAL policy unfolds. Instead, the process is messy and confusing. In a blog from 2017, he offers other visual depictions of the policy making process.

Learn more about policy making and other topics related to public policy.

What is an Example of the Policy Process?

In July 2022, Dr. Adam Wellstead (MTU Department of Social Sciences and Director of the Online Public Policy Graduate Certificate) traveled to Queen’s University. His job was to set up a PIL (policy innovation lab) with Public Administration students at the Queen’s School of Policy Studies. The goal was analyzing and making recommendations about a problematic event rattling the local community: Queen’s homecoming.

Loud drunken parties, acts of public vandalism, and even episodes of couch tossing were regular features.

Afterwards, Dr. Wellstead and his team produced a 195-page report, which addressed various stakeholder perspectives and made recommendations. Or to put it another way, this report was meant to get this troublesome event on the agenda (Agenda Setting).

In other words, the report was just the beginning of the process. Getting a problem on the agenda does not mean that anyone is going to do anything about it. That is, after agenda setting, policies must be formulated, adopted, implemented, evaluated, as well as formalized, updated, or rejected. In other words, transforming policy goals into actions is a messy, iterative process involving the coordination between multiple agencies and stakeholders.

A party at the noisy Queen's homecoming, which necessitated a public policy intervention.
Couch tossing at the party during Queen’s homecoming, an annual event that required a public policy intervention.

There is a tremendous gap between public opinion and public policy.

Noam Chomsky

Improving the qualities of our lives should be the ultimate goal of public policies. But public policies can only deliver best fruit if they are based on reliable tools to measure the improvement they seek to produce in our lives.

Jose Angel Gurria

What Are Some Careers in Public Policy?

Therefore, it’s fair to say that those with public policy experience are needed in several fields. Below are some of the most common public policy careers.

  • Policy Analyst/Researcher: Your objective is to analyze data, conduct research, and provide evidence-based recommendations to inform policy decisions. You would most likely also evaluate other public policies.
  • Legislative Assistant: In this position, you would assist legislators in researching and drafting legislation, managing constituent inquiries, and coordinating legislative activities.
  • Government Affairs Specialist: As this type of specialist, you would advocate for the interests of an organization or industry to government officials and policymakers, often involving lobbying efforts. You’d also use your expertise to build relationships with key decision-makers and navigate the legislative process.
  • Public Affairs Specialist: Your role would be managing communication between organizations and the public, including media relations, public relations, and strategic communication in order to shape public opinion on policy issues.
  • Program Evaluator: In this position, you would assess the effectiveness and impact of public programs and policies, providing recommendations for improvement.
  • International Development Specialist: If you took on this role, you’d collaborate with governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international organizations to address global issues such as poverty, health, education, and environmental sustainability.
  • Non-profit Director: In this career, you’d focus on advancing the mission of the organization and addressing social challenges through policy advocacy, community engagement, and program implementation.
  • Consultant: Whatever your background, a knowledge of public policy will help you leverage your specialized expertise on several projects. For instance, civil engineers with policy experience often work as urban planners and environmental consultants.

Dive deeper into other public policy roles and opportunities that make an impact on the world. Discover the aptitudes, knowledge, and skills that are central to those in public policy fields.

Start Your Online Public Policy Program at Michigan Tech.

Nonetheless, these roles above comprise a selection of the most common public-policy careers. So look out for a future blog that will discuss the diverse and sometimes unexpected intersections between public policy and other disciplines. That is, as societal needs and technologies evolve, new and unconventional public policy jobs will likewise continue to emerge.

If you want to plan for the future AND make a difference by acquiring public policy skills, MTU has just the program for you.

Michigan Tech’s Global Campus offers a versatile 9-credit Online Graduate Certificate in Public Policy. It consists of three, condensed, seven-week courses, which run several times a year:

  • The Policy Process (SS 5301): Runs Spring, Summer, and Fall 2024
  • Public Management (SS 5318): Runs Spring, Summer, and Fall 2024
  • Policy Analysis (SS 5350): Runs Summer, 2024

Because of this schedule, you can start your online certificate in Spring 2024, complete it in record time, allowing you to put your public policy skills to work!

Want to learn more about this certificate? Or what you can do with versatile, in-demand public policy skills? Contact Dr. Adam Wellstead at awellste@mtu.edu.

In the meantime, (and if you want to go a little deeper), check out Dr. Paul Cairney’s awesome Politics and Public Policy Blog. Here, he graciously (and clearly!) unpacks several key public policy terms and concepts.

Also, you should know that deer hunting is still on, at least in Michigan; we’re in late antlerless firearm and archery seasons now. So make sure you remind your neighbors (and maybe yourself) about the mandated size of bait piles.

Symposium Brings Together MTU and MSU Researchers

Research symposium group picture.

Presenters, organizers, and some attendees of the second MTU / MSU collaborative research symposium pose for a group photo.

Developing novel approaches to fighting disease, using machine learning and computational methods to solve epidemiological problems and improve patient health, and applying technologies to intervene on disease. These are just a few of the challenges and ambitious solutions facing the state of biomedicine now and in the future. These topics, and several others, were addressed at a recent invitation-only collaborative research symposium between MTU and MSU.

On Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, groups of researchers from Michigan Technological University and Michigan State University University met in a collaborative research symposium.

Entitled Engineering the Future of Human Health II: Biomedicine in the 4th Industrial Revolution, this event was held in Michigan Tech’s Memorial Union Building.

VP David Lawrence opens the symposium.
David Lawrence, vice president for Global Campus and continuing education, opens the symposium.

The symposium preceded the Upper Peninsula Medical Conference, put on by MTU’s Health Research Institute, which focused on diverse approaches to health challenges affecting rural communities. It marked the second collaborative research symposium between these two universities. That is, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine hosted the first symposium on March 13, 2023. It was held in MSU’s beautiful Secchia Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Delivering Short Talks With A Big Impact

For these symposiums, the goals continue to be learning about each other’s work; and investigating areas of shared objectives, mutual interests, and possible research projects between MTU and MSU. But perhaps the even greater purpose is that of these institutions combining forces (and resources) to tackle the most challenging health-related issues of the upcoming decades.

Jeremy Prokop opens the MSU / MTU symposium.
Dr. Jeremy Prokop begins the symposium with his presentation.

To disseminate as much research as possible, presenters kept their talks brief. In total, 12 researchers from MTU and 11 from MSU delivered rapid-fire, ten-minute presentations in six consequent sessions exploring the state of biomedicine in the era of Industry 4.0:

  • Computational Health Science (Session 1)
  • Big Data in Healthcare (Session 2)
  • Kinesiology and Physiology (Session 3)
  • Neural Control and Disease (Session 4)
  • Metabolic Disease (Session 5)
  • Chemical Biology (Session 6)

This structure provided opportunities for researchers not only to learn from each other, but also to explore possible connections between their fields.

And the fields were, indeed, diverse. That is, professionals at this multi-disciplinary event came from applied computing, biological sciences, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry, computer science and engineering, kinesiology and integrated physiology, pediatrics and human development, and quantitative health sciences. Overall, the quality of the research and breadth of disciplines spoke to the depth of expertise at this symposium and to the challenges and opportunities facing the future of biomedicine.

There was also a concurrent combined poster session with the UPMC that featured research from several MSU and MTU students, as well as a few professors.

Exploring Connections Between MTU and MSU

Throughout the symposium, there were several salient connections both within and between sessions. For instance, many experts presented on novel treatments for conditions and/or diseases affecting public health, such as diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis, neurodegenerative disorders, and lack of activity. Dr. Ping “Peter” Wang (MSU, Session) tackled integrating bioengineering into Type-1 Diabetes treatment. And Dr. Marina Tanasova (Session 6, MTU), after summarizing the role of GLUTs (Glucose transporters) in various diseases, focused on targeting these GLUTs in cancer therapy. Dr. Ashutosh Tiwari (Session 4, MTU), analyzed the role of protein aggregates (misfolded proteins) in the cellular toxicity central to neurodegenerative diseases.

Another common thread was responding to the continuing public health crisis of Covid-19. For example, the symposium began with the long research project of Dr. Jeremy Prokop (MSU, Corewell Health) on genotyping various Covid variants. Then, he shifted to how the immunosuppression connected to Covid-19 is associated with the emergence of other viruses, such as Epstein-Barr (EB) and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

Throughout the symposium, several experts also assessed the leveraging of artificial intelligence and computational approaches to address health ailments. Dr. Hoda Hatoum (MTU, Session 1) presented on experimental and computational approaches to model cardiovascular diseases and therapies.

There were also presentations on more low-tech, but nonetheless impressive, methods for improving patient outcomes. Dr. William Cooke (MTU, Session 3) demonstrated how using a rather simple impedance-threshold breathing device can reduce hemorrhaging. Using Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) to increase exercise intensity without taxing joints (MTU, Session 3) was the topic of Dr. Steve Elmer’s presentation.

Dr. Matthew Harkey (MSU, Session 3) presented research on using ultrasound and biomechanics to assess arthritis.

Steve Elmer's poster at the MSU / MTU Symposium
Dr. Steve Elmer (MTU, Session 3) delivered both a talk and a poster.

Targeting the Youth Mental Health Crisis in Michigan

CHI Program Director Dr. Guy Hembroff spoke on using AI to improve the mental health of youth (MTU, Session 2). He began by stressing some startling statistics from Youthgov on suicide in the 15-24 age group. Most striking was the fact that “taking one’s life is the second leading cause of death for youths.”

Dr. Guy Hembroff in Session 2.

Hembroff proposed a number of strategies for using artificial intelligence to track, intervene on, and improve the mental health of youth.

First, he articulated that AI may be employed to not only enhance preventative mental health measures, but also provide safe, responsive data.

Or to put it another way, through wearables, daily mental health check-ins, and user feedback, youth could have personalized, responsive mental health treatment delivered right to them. In short, Hembroff outlined a protocol for providing inexpensive, effective tools that quickly monitor and respond to at-crisis youth, reduce the need for reactionary care, and prevent mental disease from spiraling into suicide.

There is another positive effect of this AI-assisted mental health plan: gamifying the activity of tracking one’s mental health. Youth are known for always interacting with their phones. Thus, this gamification could help reduce the stigma associated with reporting depression, anxiety, and other mental diseases.

Symposium Goals: Promoting Networking and Sharing Research

Hembroff’s talk captured one of the main threads of the symposium: using ingenious, cost-effective, computational approaches to solve crucial health issues. However, all of the research was impressive. That is, there were several expert scientific communicators, such as Zhiying “Jenny” Shan (MTU, Session 5), who walked the audience through her research on extracellular vesicles and blood pressure regulation.

But you can learn more about the depth and breadth of the research by examining the event schedule.

In the closing remarks for the symposium, Dr. Christopher Contag (MSU) further elaborated on the connections between these presentations and the opportunities for collaborative research. First, he summarized some commonalities, such as further analyzing cardiovascular disease, studying extracellular vesicles as diagnostic markers, developing strategies for early intervention, and creating a Long Covid research center.

In addition, Dr. Contag focused on the importance of learning the language of cells and communicating with them: that is, this research is about “not just asking them what they’re saying, but telling them what to do.” He saw this communication as central to modulating the immune system and to controlling disease states.

Dr. Contag delivers the closing remarks.
Dr. Christopher Contag (MSU) delivers the closing remarks.

“I think we’re all focused on distributed healthcare and using our approaches and innovation to reduce health disparities. It’s a theme that’s shared between the two universities.”

Dr. Christopher Contag, Director of the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering (IQ) and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering (MSU)

Moving Beyond This Symposium

For Engineering the Future of Human Health II, MTU’s cosponsors were David Lawrence, vice president for Global Campus and continuing education; Dr. Sean J. Kirkpatrick, professor and department chair, Biomedical Engineering; Dr. Caryn Heldt, professor in Chemical Engineering and director of the Health Research Institute; and Dr. William H. Cooke, professor and department chair, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology. And for MSU, Dr. Adam Alessio, Departments of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Radiology; and Dr. Bin Chen, associate professor, Department of Pediatrics and Human Development took on the roles of cosponsors.

This collaborative symposium is crucial to the MTU Global Campus mission of helping Michigan Technological University grow partnerships with other higher-ed institutions and participate in multidisciplinary research that tackles pressing biomedical challenges.

The next step, then, is instituting these collaborative working research groups. Furthermore, the two universities hope to pool both talent and resources to build a MSU / MTU translational research center in Grand Rapids, MI. Of this center, David Lawrence further articulated its two main objectives: “first, developing cutting-edge health technologies through advanced applied biomedical research; and, second, but equally important, ultimately improving the health of the citizens of Michigan and those of the nation.”

Readers can also learn more about this event in the coverage by TV6.