Nicholas Mills Furman University Alumni

Nicholas Mills '09

— Police Department Crime Analyst

I applied to AIR through the internet. I knew no one at that company and had doubts anyone would read my application. The lesson I took away from that experience is that sometimes you won’t know where your next career opportunity will come from and that you need to have an open mind.


Personal/Professional Journey

How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.

After I graduated from Furman University in 2009, I went directly to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. I graduated with a Master's degree in Public Affairs in 2011. My first full-time job was a Research Associate position with the Project on Educator Effectiveness and Quality (PEEQ), an initiative started by three of my professors at UT. I then relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012 to begin working for the Education Program of American Institutes for Research (AIR), one of the largest behavioral and social science research organization in the world. I started in my current position as an Administrative Analyst with the San Francisco Police Department in 2015.
Was there a catalyzing experience be that critical meeting, research or discovery, being recruited, failing, starting over, or major event, that shaped your career? What advice would you offer someone in the same situation?

One catalyzing experience for me was when a recruiter let me know that the hiring staff at AIR wanted to fly me to California for an interview. This was after I had gone through two phone interviews. 

I applied to AIR through the internet. I knew no one at that company and had doubts anyone would read my application. The lesson I took away from that experience is that sometimes you won’t know where your next career opportunity will come from and that you need to have an open mind. If you are interested in a company, but you have some doubts about whether your application will be successful, just apply anyway.

Within the field

When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?

I suggest finding out if there are any professional groups in your area of interest. Many associations have discounted student memberships. One good organization for policy research in general is the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM). There are also associations for specific topic areas. For example, if you are interested in education policy research, the main association is the American Education Research Association (AERA). With professional development, it’s also very important to realize that the resources or tools you might need will change as you take on different tasks and
How would you recommend someone interested in the same career/vocation pursue a similar path?

The most important step to take is to see if the field is a good fit for you. While I was at Furman, there were several programs where students could assist professors with their research. That might be a good place to start. There are nonprofits based in Washington DC that do policy research that offer internships for undergraduate students as well. 

For someone just getting started

What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?

One important thing I learned while working at AIR is that oftentimes, it isn’t enough to just have a great idea for a study. To get a study funded by an agency or foundation, you may need to convince others who are not always familiar with research, or of its value. 
How could Furman help with getting someone started?

Reach out to alumni. Many are more than happy to talk to you about their career experiences. Professors can also connect you with people they know in a field or point you to opportunities that might help you get started in a given career path.

Furman University

How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?

For me, a background in the liberal arts has given me the mindset that there is always more to learn. That attitude has made it easier for me to adapt in the workplace when challenges arise.
What was your major(s)? And how have you applied it in your career field?

I was a double major in economics and music. My jobs have all been pretty statistics heavy, so the econometrics and statistics coursework I took as part of my economics major has been extremely useful.


Were there particular courses within the economics department that were especially useful in helping you identify your career or that ended up helping you to be successful in your career (maybe unexpectedly)? Were there particular projects or activities from any of your economics courses that were especially useful?

The econometrics course I took as part of my major was very useful. It was helpful background to have both for graduate school coursework and for the workplace since many of jobs have been statistics-heavy. Labor Economics was also a very helpful course because it gave me an important framework to consider the potential effects and unintended consequences of the education policies I was studying at PEEQ and AIR.
Were there particular "engaged learning" experiences (e.g. internships, study away, research opportunities) that were especially useful?

I had an internship with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars during the summer between my junior and senior years at Furman. I think that really opened my eyes to the different opportunities available in public policy research.

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