Kevin Todd | Chemist Profiles
Kevin Todd is an education policy analyst in the Office of the President at Arizona State University (ASU). He started as a part-time employee there while he was in graduate school, and began working full-time after his graduation in August 2014. Todd earned a master’s degree in science and technology policy in a program sponsored by the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (CSPO), an organization headed by ASU.
"Undergraduate research was a great experience for me," he said. "It helped me practice thinking outside the box in a way you don't get in a standard class. It also gave me the confidence to know I could think creatively and solve problems in any situation."
Todd notes, "I wish I had taken advantage of more opportunities available to me [in undergraduate school]. College is a really unique time to volunteer, try new things and explore who you are. I did some of that, but I wish I'd done more because it gets harder to get involved after college."
Todd's career path took its first major turn as he was completing his bachelor's degree. "Throughout college, I had always thought I would go to grad school for biomedical research after graduation. It wasn't until the middle of my senior year that I accepted that I didn't want to spend my life working in a lab," he recalls.
Because of this, "I was a little late getting started in my job search. Since I wasn't sure what I wanted to do instead, I started applying for lab jobs all over the country. Towards the end of the summer after graduation, I got an interview for a quality control job at a pharmaceutical lab in Evansville, where I went to college. Within a few days, they offered me the job and I accepted."
Todd stayed in that job for about a year. He had always been interested in policy, and his brother, a graduate student in science, told him about science policy as a career area. When Todd discovered the science policy graduate degree program at ASU, he applied and was accepted.
What is your major responsibility in your current position?
My main task is focused on higher education policy research, mostly related to for-profit universities. I look at sector differences between public, private, and for-profit universities and how these differences affect, and are affected by, government regulations.
I keep an eye on state and federal activity related to higher education policy and prepare briefs on relevant policy proposals for my boss, a faculty advisor to the university president. Each week, I scan news items to report on media coverage of for-profit universities.
I also do background research on potential collaborators in ASU partnerships, and I help research and prepare presentations for legislative hearings.
Please describe your typical day on the job.
One of my favorite things about my job is that I don't have very many typical days. On average I probably spend about 2/3 of my time researching and writing short reports on various topics, with the rest divided up between writing papers and helping organize events. I only have to spend a couple hours each week in meetings, which is really nice.
Typically, how many days each month do you spend away from your workplace on travel?
I am not required to travel.
What apps/software/instrumentation/tools can't you live without?
I mainly use MS Office. I've begun learning to use Stata, a statistics package for social science research, for our more data-driven work, and I think that will become very useful.
What is your work environment like?
I work primarily in a shared office at the ASU downtown Phoenix campus. This is definitely a more businesslike environment than the main campus in Tempe. Most of the programs at this campus are on the graduate level. My job is flexible enough that I can occasionally work from home.
How many hours do you work in a typical week?
I generally work 40 hours a week with little to no overtime. The pace of the work varies so much that it's hard to describe as either fast or slow. Most weeks I have at least a couple of relatively relaxed days, where I'm working on long-term projects. However, those stretches are broken up by times when something big comes up and we're suddenly jumping into overdrive.
For example, if a new rule or regulation is announced, the university president may request a briefing on it the same day. I occasionally get told in the morning that I need to drop everything, learn about a new topic, and write an issue brief on it by the end of the day, sometimes even in just a couple of hours.
What do you like most about your job and why?
I really enjoy the variety of the work. My primary task is focused on education policy, but that is only occasionally more than half my time. The rest of the time I could be working on any number of projects. For example right now, I'm helping organize a conference we're hosting, finalizing the design of a website for a new research center on campus, and writing an academic paper that I'm planning to publish with my boss.
What is your best productivity trick?
Set deadlines for everything. I found this out sort of by accident when I realized that I always get things done quicker when I'm busiest because it forces me to focus. So now I put deadlines and goals for each project on my calendar, so I know what I need to get done each day.
What's the best career advice you've received?
Be open to opportunities and don't be afraid to say yes. If you'd asked me five years ago what I would be doing for a career, this would not even have been on my radar. When I graduated from college, I didn't know that science policy existed as a career option. Today, I really like the work I do. If I'd been afraid to make the leap from lab work to policy, it never would have happened.
What personal talent or trait makes you a great fit for your job?
Two major things: I'm a naturally curious person who likes to learn new things, and I'm a good writer. I have to learn about a pretty wide variety of topics for this job, which fits me perfectly. And I've found that if you're not a good writer, you won't come across as knowing what you're talking about no matter how smart you are.
My science background helps me in working with data. My undergraduate training taught me how to think critically and analytically, and to approach situations logically. I'm taking a class now on statistics for social science research, which will help with my analysis work.
What essential habit do you have now that you wish you'd started much earlier?
This goes back to my productivity trick: daily deadlines and goals. Through college, and even part of my masters program, I wasn't in the habit of scheduling my day. Since I've started writing out daily goals, I've been able to accomplish so much more with my time.
I really enjoy the variety of the work. My primary task is focused on education policy, but that is only occasionally more than half my time."