The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Alumni Profile: Michael Havlin, MPPA 2016

University of Massachusetts School of Public Policy (SPP) alum Michael Havlin

Degree & graduation year: Master of Public Policy & Administration 2016

Current position: I’m still a full-time economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but I have a new part-time consulting job for the political polling company Point Blank Political. I work about five to ten hours a week for them. Essentially I’m their chief statistical consultant.

What I do: My work for Point Blank Political is split between two categories: statistical modeling and survey weighting, and general survey methodology guidance.

Statistical modeling and survey weighting includes running a Random Interactive Model to weight the results of the survey. This is standard for political polling companies. Basically, to ensure the results are representative, I run the survey data through a statistical model that calculates weights for each response so that the results converge toward the known population parameters. I am also experimenting with some machine learning classification models to analyze which voter characteristics are most deterministic of voting patterns. I do all of this statistical work in Python. Finally, I write up a report with graphs and narratives about the results.

The general survey methodology is about offering guidance about what kind of new demographic or preference questions to ask, how to draw the sample, and generally monitoring the process.

How I ended up working there: My colleague and friend from the University of Southern Maine started the company last year and, since I have worked with him on similar projects in the past, asked me if I would be his statistical consultant.

The best part of my job: Working with raw voter data and having the freedom to run statistical and machine-learning experiments with the data.

A recent exciting work experience: Probably the most exciting thing about this is that it’s a startup, and Point Blank Political actually values my input and uses it to make analytical decisions. A nice breath of fresh air from my normal 9 to 5, where I work for a large bureaucracy.

How the School of Public Policy prepared me for my career: Probably the most valuable thing about graduate school is methods, methods, methods. Employers really value new skills and the ability to communicate those skills. It’s what sets newer workers apart from more tenured ones. Although I learned to think critically in my undergraduate studies, I had never applied those skills to research methods and data until graduate school.

Advice to students considering a degree in public policy: In line with the advice above, I would encourage them to focus on methods and research courses and hone their writing and presentation skills. New methods and technical skills help early-career professionals get their foot in the door, but the ability to communicate those skills and results is what allows us to walk through the door’s threshold. So it’s important to learn both technical and “soft” skills.

Future plans: I recently got a certificate in data science from Georgetown University and have enjoyed using new coding and machine-learning methods. I would like to continue honing those skills in finding new ways to use them both in government and in my private consultancy.

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