In 2010, I began my first job as a research psychologist by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in Washington, DC. The BLS is an independent agency but is contained within the Department of Labor (DoL) and is one of several major statistical agencies in the federal government. The primary focus of BLS is in the area of labor economics. You are likely familiar with our products whether you know it or not. We are the people who release unemployment figures on the first Friday of every month. You are also probably familiar with the Occupational Outlook Handbook that guidance counselors and teachers in high school use to show you career options. BLS also collects and disseminates information about average wages, worker productivity, etc. In addition to these products, BLS collects information about time people spend on different daily tasks (e.g., working, commuting, etc.), what people spend their money on, prices of goods, and much more. Collecting all of this information is difficult and doing it in manner that makes it useful to the government, private businesses, and individual taxpayers is a major priority. That’s where I come in.
As part of the Behavioral Science Research Center in the Office of Survey Methods Research, I serve as a survey research advisor to various program offices within BLS, helping design questions that collect useful information. Most of the surveys administered by BLS are longstanding. In the quest for reliable data across time, these surveys are constantly being improved upon. So I also help develop improvements to existing surveys through basic research on various aspects of the survey process (e.g., getting people to respond to the survey in the first place, ensuring they can understand what the survey is asking for, improving the functionality of web surveys, etc.). I have also been involved in website usability projects. For these projects we bring in users of our website and ask them to perform a series of tasks to determine potential improvements to the BLS website.
I’m now several years into working at BLS and the job has been going very well. I feel productive/helpful and that’s all I’ve ever wanted in a job. I work 6:00 – 3:00 on most days. I have a couple meetings a week and a steady stream of small and large projects to keep me busy. My colleagues are great, my boss is great, and I have good working relationships with the people that I support in the program offices. I have a good mix of independent and team-driven projects.
I was called up for one last National Guard deployment in 2016-2017. BLS was great with helping smooth the transition into military service and back out when I came back. Since I have been back, I’ve been working on a number of projects that incorporate my new love of programming and data science. I will write more about these projects as they develop.