Thursday, April 21, 2011

2011 PMF Survey: How did you do?

If you are a 2011 PMF finalist, please take the time to fill out this survey. I am collecting this information to get an idea of how effective the job fair was, and some information about the placement rates and geographic distribution of finalist appointments. If your information changes, go ahead and submit a new form. I will perform all the data cleanup this time next year or thereabout, once you all have had a chance to secure an appointment. Pass this link around to all of the 2011 PMFs you know or meet over the next year. If you want access to the information, email me at and tell me your name, your school, and your degree so I can make sure you are who you say you are.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More PMF Finalist Data Visualizations

This is just a quick, fun update, an excuse to aggregate some data and display it in pretty charts for you. Good luck at the job fair, everyone! It looks like I will be at the GovLoop happy hour tomorrow after all, so look for a guy in a luchador mask ;)

The bar chart below is a Google Fusion Tables visualization of the absolute number of finalists year on year for the 10 top academic fields. That is, I took the ten academic fields that have produced the most PMF finalists in all the data years I have, then looked at each one in terms of how many finalists graduated with those degree fields in each year. It's obvious from this that the single largest group of finalists have law degrees, and other two of the top three fields are International Affairs/Administration/Studies and Public Administration/Policy. I don't think there's anything here that you didn't already know.

I also did this with the ten schools that have produced the most PMF finalists from 2009-2011. Again, we can see some pretty obvious things. First, four schools absolutely crush all of the others in terms of representation among finalists: George Washington, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard. Perhaps interestingly, the total number of finalists from these schools decrease in order of increasing distance from OPM (GW is right across the street from the OPM building, FYI).

These charts reinforce things we already know, or that we think we know. What about looking at the data a different way? After thinking about it, I tried sorting to see if there were any schools with finalists this year that didn't have any in 2009 or 2010. I came up with 57, and all but six of them fielded only 1 finalist this year. These are listed below.

I think there are some other ways I can explore this data, especially once it has all been completely loaded into my database for programmatic manipulation, aggregation, and such. As I get time and finish the imports, I will produce more of this.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Misc: Job Fair Guide, Happy Hour, and Collaboration Call

Since I didn't want to post three new (short) posts in succession, I figured I would lump these together. Anyway most of you are probably either in DC already or in various stages of arrival, so I want to keep this brief and to the point.

First, of course, there is the job fair. A number of folks working over at GovLoop have been kind and diligent enough to put together a pretty comprehensive guide to the PMF job fair. If you need some airplane reading, why not check it out? I haven't gone through all of it yet, but I concur with what I've read so far. It's at

Second, also courtesy of GovLoop, a group of current and former PMFs will be meeting up for a happy hour on Wednesday, April 20 from 5:30 to 7:30 PM at Old Dominion Brewery. More details and an RSVP form are at

And finally, the collaboration call. So far, contentious though some of your banter has been, you have shown a great deal of willingness to collaborate, as evidenced by your shared Google Spreadsheet. Here is what I was hoping I could get you all to do. Using that same collaborative energy, let's try to collect as much tabular PMF information as we can. You can see the kind of information that is missing from the PMF site where it displays the finalist lists. Compare that with some of the requests you've made on the data visualization thread, and hopefully you can see where this is going. So we start with the data I already have in tabular format (I will be happy to make it available, names and all), and as you or finalists you know from this year's class accept PMF appointments, simply add into the spreadsheet which agency and the city and state where the appointee will be working. Is this something you all are interested in doing? With that data, we can, for probably the first time, gain an understanding of the geographic distribution of PMF placements, as opposed to the distribution of schools attended. Let me know in the comments what you would need to get this going, and I will provide my cleaned up data shared from my account.

Friday, April 8, 2011

PMF Data 2009-2011

[Update 4/11/2011: As promised to those of you looking for CSV/Excel formatted data, here it is:]

Here is another quick update to let you know that I have made available all of the finalists data from 2009-2011, in JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) format. If you ask nicely and want it, I can offer it in other formats as well.

The data can be retrieved here:

Available fields and descriptions are as follows:

  • label: Either an MD5 hashed version of the original finalist name, or, because I didn't have the names available when I imported the data, something like "applicantX" where X is an incremental number.
  • type: Currently only finalists are available, but when I get to it, other valid values, for which there are available rows, will be "semifinalists" and "nominees."
  • year: The PMF class year. Not every record type is available for every year.
  • rank: This is just the database unique record identifier; you don't really need it for anything.
  • school: The corrected name of the school the individual PMF attended. By corrected, I mean the standardization I undertook as part of the record cleanup.
  • field: Individual's academic field. No effort to standardize or clean these up occurred.
  • latlng: The latitude and longitude of the school, as determined by a separate geocoding script. I expect some percentage of error to have occurred here, but see below for error reporting.
If you have questions about the data or spot any obvious errors, please let me know in the comments. As stated above, I have the greatest expectation of errors in the latitude and longitude data, but this can be fixed pretty easily if you just tell me which school is wrong, and what the correct lat/long should be.

Also, feel free to use the data however you see fit. If you have anything you're trying to put together, I would be happy to link to it. Similarly, I would be happy to help if you want data that's not currently there (assuming I have it).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Furlough and the Job Fair

A number of you have been speculating about what would happen if Congress and the President cannot work out an agreeable budget for the rest of the fiscal year and annual appropriations lapse. Specifically, you have been wondering about the status of this year's PMF job fair. Today, OPM has released some information that you may find interesting, although it doubtless will not set your mind at ease.

Most of OPM operates on funds that are not annually appropriated by Congress, so in the event of a funding lapse, a good deal of OPM will still operate, at least for a while. In the event of a prolonged lapse, a number of these operations may cease if they ran out of money. The Presidential Management Fellows Program Office operates from non-appropriated funds and would be able to continue operations. However, if no budget is in place prior to the PMF job fair, the job fair will have to be postponed, since many of the agencies who would have attended would themselves be furloughed. So this is the answer to how the looming government shutdown will affect you: it depends, but only on the duration of the shutdown.

I wanted to provide this information as soon as I came across it just to make you all aware. For more information about what I just discussed, visit OPM's special page at

Saturday, April 2, 2011

2011 PMF Data Visualization: Semifinalists vs Finalists

[Also posted here]

I spent a good deal of time gathering and sifting through the lists of 2011 semifinalists and finalists, cleaning up school names and gathering latitude and longitude information for each of the schools I saw represented in the data sets. At present, I have not had a chance to do the same for the nominees list, because it is so much larger than the other two sets of data. Once I do, I will showcase what I find, hopefully presenting it in a nice interactive tool so that you can see the sheer drop-off in numbers, especially as a function of geographic distribution.

In the mean time, what I present here are two graphics I extracted from my current visualization efforts, which seek to present this year's PMF program in terms of its geographic distribution. It is of course centered on the US, not only because there are many fewer applicants from non-US schools, but also because I had to have a starting point to make my representation. I will adjust my visualization settings later to indicate the scales of the global distribution of this program, which in some ways out-performs the reach of the PMF program in a certain class of schools within the US (I mean in this case HBCUs, or historically black colleges and universities, whose representation in the PMF program has been marginal in the past). All this is to say that more visualizations are forthcoming just as soon as I can find meaningful ways to express them.

Now let's get on to some graphics. You will want to open these up to see them full size, since this blog theme limits their visibility considerably.

In this first image you can see the geographic distribution of the 2011 semifinalists. The markers are sized according to the number of semifinalists from each of the nominating schools (though see below for some additional detail on my cleanup approach). The legend below indicates the relative sizes, and I should point out that the largest circle is for schools that had 60 or more semifinalists. In all, there were approximately 280 schools represented among the 1530 semifinalists. You will no doubt notice the heavy presence of East Coast schools, especially centered around DC, which should be no surprise; what may be surprising are the volume of semifinalists at Upper Midwest and West Coast schools.

In this second image, which depicts the schools with finalists, you can see a very noticeable decline in the scales of semifinalists and a less noticeable drop in the scope of geographic distribution. Gone is the apparent advantage exhibited in the previous graphic of both the West Coast and Upper Midwest schools. It is quite obvious that East Coast schools are massively overrepresented in this program (and someone has already done a breakdown of degree programs, so we know what that picture looks like). Since there were many schools with single digit nominees, it is also expected that there would be fewer schools represented in the finalists data. From 280 in the semifinalists round, we drop to 210 schools among 858 finalists. That is, approximately 25% of the schools that were represented in the semifinalists data ultimately failed to put forward finalists this year. This is a testament to both the competitiveness of the program and the long road it still has ahead of it to market itself to every eligible graduate school.

Finally, let me talk a bit about the data. The biggest challenge in an operation like this is that with so many data points to deal with, it is incredibly difficult to conduct 100% quality control. There are errors in the data, and I am aware of a few that I have not corrected yet. Additionally, the PMF Program Office, in conjunction with the schools who feed it their nominees, tends to make what I would consider needless distinctions in the school names. For instance, in the lists on the PMF site, you may notice that Harvard has four or five distinct names, one for Harvard University, and the rest for things like the law school, the divinity school, and the like. I realize that students at these schools, and the schools themselves, often pride themselves on such distinctions, but I assure you it makes data analysis an even greater chore. Where possible, I have consolidated schools to the common university names. Besides, it would be utterly meaningless for me to depict semifinalists and finalists at that granularity, because all you would see is a set of concentric circles centered on the latitude and longitude of Harvard, for instance. In addition to name consolidation, I have also expanded each entry to the full text of the school names, which was a prerequisite to gathering the geolocation information. This will become apparent once I am satisfied with and release the interactive tools.

I am interested in what you think of what I've presented, both in my approach and in what the data has to say. Also, let me know what other kinds of views you are interested in. My tools are probably capable of generating pretty much anything, so just let me know.

Friday, April 1, 2011

2011 PMF Job Fair: To Go or Not to Go. Plus Planning Tips

[Also posted here]

Now that the 2011 Presidential Management Fellows finalist list is out, the 850 of you who made it will be wondering whether or not to attend the upcoming PMF job fair, currently scheduled for April 19-21 (the venue is still undecided, but in the past it's been hosted at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center).

So, should you attend or not? I always say it depends on where you are, what your background is, and what you're interested in. I think I speak for most current and former PMFs when I say that the value of the job fair isn't exactly measurable, but almost everyone I've talked to about it thought it was a good idea to have gone; many of us got our jobs at the PMF job fair, and many more of us got our jobs as a result of having made connections there. Plus you will get to meet people from all over the federal government, including current and former PMFs who are excited to be welcoming in the next class (if we weren't, we wouldn't be working at the job fair; I plan to work it this year myself). In short, this is an excellent opportunity that, while it may not result in an on-the-spot job offer, nevertheless provides access to many agencies. And one other thing: just because you talk with the agency of your dreams and they don't hire you, that doesn't mean you can't eventually work with them, perhaps on your developmental assignment or a short rotation. These things are immeasurably valuable.

Now, will every agency be there? No, certainly not. There are agencies who, for whatever reason, either don't know about PMF or the fair, or don't participate in the fair. Also, if you are looking for something outside the DC area, the opportunities are not quite as broad (but they do exist; some agencies headquarter themselves away from DC).

Let's say you've decided to attend. Got your plane ticket and hotel reservation in hand, and are ready to go. Now what? Do you start contacting agencies? If so, who at those agencies? And should you load up your schedule with interviews over the three days? In general, I think these are all good ideas. Don't overload yourself too much, because you will want some time to breathe, but do remember that the more people you can talk to, the better your chances of snagging a job. This is your time to learn as much about the various federal agencies as possible, while trying to make an impression yourself.

Next, I think we should talk about something that people continually bring up. What if you don't really know what you can do or want to do in federal service, or the thing you really want to do isn't available? Do you take the first thing that comes along? In this case you really only have a few options. If you take a job you know you will not like, you are definitely setting yourself and your employer up for disappointment. However, if you approach this process with an open mind, you may be surprised at the kinds of opportunities that you find available. Keep in mind that two years is both a long time and a short time. It is a long time in that over the length of your fellowship, you could work on a variety of projects and assignments (of course, you could also only work on one; seek the variety level that appeals to you), so just because you are hired to do one thing does not mean that you will always be doing that (good or bad). It is a short time in that, once you've started, it seems like there almost isn't enough time to learn everything you need to do your job, get all your training hours, and fit in a 4-6 month developmental assignment. I hope I have conveyed a sense of the variety that is available in this program. Hackneyed platitudes about our "future leaders" aside, this program really does have the potential to provide you access to the kinds of situations people spend a good deal of a career aspiring to.

And finally plenty of people have asked about how to get to DC, where to stay, and how to get around in a cost-conscious manner. I've detailed some of my recommendations in a similar post from last year (linked at the end of the article), but I will reiterate some of them here:

  • Plan Ahead: Most of your last minute and underplanned decisions come with extra cost.  Learn everything you can about the airport you're flying into, the hotel you're staying at, the Convention Center, and how to move between them effectively and cheaply.  Also, this may or may not apply, but if you're arriving from a warmer part of the country, bring a jacket!  It was cold (45 degrees) last year and raining half the time.
  • Fly Southwest: Most of the time (but not always), their fares are the lowest you'll find.  Consider flying into BWI instead of Reagan.  Southwest had some great direct flights into BWI, which saved me time and money. Also, it's not very difficult to get back to DC by train: the MARC train, when I took it last year, was $6 each way, and the Amtrak was $12 each way.  It takes planning to pull it off, but it beats catching cabs everywhere
  • Walk Everywhere: If you managed to snag decent accommodations close enough to the Convention Center, try walking.  It's free.  Of course, if it's raining, this may be less desirable unless you're only going a few blocks.
  • ...Or Learn the Bus Routes: Sure, the subway is fast, and sometimes it's convenient too.  But not always.  The buses cover large areas that are not well served by the metro trains, and in many cases you can plan door to door, minimizing your walk time.  Learn to use the WMATA Trip Planner to find good bus routes, and supplement that with the Next Bus tool (also mobile formatted so you can check it from your web-enabled phone).  If you need another reason to consider buses: they are $0.40 cheaper per ride than the trains, and you can transfer for free within 3 hours if you...
  • ...Get a SmarTrip Card: Paying cash costs more (ten cents, which I know isn't much) per ride than paying with a SmarTrip Card.  It's a $10 minimum investment ($5 for the card and a $5 initial balance), but you can easily rack up more than that in transit costs over the course of the job fair.  Also, if you are going to eventually move to DC, you'll want one anyway.  The other benefit of the SmarTrip Card is that it enables the free bus transfers mentioned above, since Metro no longer issues the paper kind.  This can save you money.
  • Consider Hosteling: Hotels are nice, but that comes with a pretty steep markup.  I don't know of any hotels in the DC area that are both nice and cost less than $75 a night (as listed on Kayak; this rate was for a room in College Park, Maryland).  Most will be significantly higher.  Consider this alternative: Hosteling International runs a hostel within walking distance of the Convention Center.  Their rates run well below hotel rates: $25-$45 a night for dorm style rooms.  Admittedly, it can be tough to get good quality sleep, but you're only going to be there for like three nights.  One other note: if you aren't a member of Hosteling International, you'll have to pay an extra $3 per night as a temporary membership fee.  It's still worth it, in my opinion, since the location is so good.  Also, it's a great way to meet other people from all over the world.

And now I would like to solicit your ideas, things you've observed and, especially from readers of this blog who are themselves current or former PMFs (I'm grateful that you've stopped by to share your wisdom).