Roundtable: Embedded Academics? the Benefits and Costs of Transitioning between Academia and Government
(Politics, Media, and the Policy Process)

Friday, November 9, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Taft - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Moderators:  Sherry Glied, New York University
Speakers:  Thomas DeLeire, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Mark Showalter, Brigham Young University, Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution and Erica Groshen, Cornell University

Despite concerns that the academic policy analysis is divorced from policy making, many policy innovations have their roots in policy research.  One mechanism by which policy analysis influences policymaking is through the presence of “embedded academics”—researchers who take leaves from universities to spend time working for government. This roundtable of academics who have served in government will consider the benefits and costs to government, to academia, and to individual careers, of taking a public service leave as an embedded academic.

Panelists will describe some of the benefits to government of employing academics.  For example, even when published academic research does not directly address a new policy problem (because it usually describes the outcomes of prior policy experiments), academics are adroit at drawing new inferences from this existing research and in identifying researchers who may have specialized, though unpublished, knowledge about a topic. By running interference between academics committed to rigorous evidence and stakeholders with other interests, embedded academics can tailor communication about research results to the needs of a team.  

Panelists will also discuss how government service can enrich academia. Coming face to face with the uncertainties of policy challenges generates new, significant research agendas. Academics in government quickly spot policy-relevant but readily addressable gaps in existing research. Understanding the difficulties of making change in a large bureaucracy makes researchers more discerning about what policy approaches belong in the feasible set. Working closely with senior staff from other agencies gives the idea of interdisciplinary research a sense of purpose and reality.

Finally, panelists will discuss how government service affects an academic career trajectory.  Serving in government disrupts existing lines of research.  How can academics, especially junior faculty, make the best use of this experience and turn it into a career asset?