Dr. Joseph Llobrera is an experienced researcher who specializes in food assistance policy, workforce development, and health policy. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Urban Studies from Brown University and Master’s degree in Geography from the University of Washington (Seattle). He holds a Ph.D. in Nutrition and Policy from Friedman school.
We got a chance to interview Dr. Llobrera about his career journey.
In just a few sentences, please tell us about your current job/vocational endeavor.
I am the Director of Research for the Food Assistance Policy team at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute that pursues federal and state policies designed both to reduce poverty and inequality and to restore fiscal responsibility in equitable and effective ways. I serve as the point person on research related to the major federal nutrition assistance programs (SNAP, WIC, school meals) and their impacts on food security, health, and nutrition. I manage our in-house data analysis (using publicly available datasets from USDA and the Census), our portfolio of commissioned research (with external researchers), and synthesize research coming out of the academic and non-profit communities.
How did Friedman School influence your career/academic journey?
After 5 years in the anti-hunger community, I realized that there were many stakeholders in this space, sometimes speaking different disciplinary languages and from different sets of values. I came to Friedman looking to learn more about nutrition science, economics, public policy analysis, and data collection and analysis methods. The training I received prepared me well for the translational work I do in my current role – generating and synthesizing rigorous research on food assistance policy and communicating that to a broad and diverse audience, including Congressional policymakers, advocacy organizations at the federal and state level, and staff at federal and state agencies that administer these nutrition assistance programs.
What advice would you offer to a student who wants to pursue a career path like yours?
Take all the methods classes that you can! In my role as a translator and communicator of research, it’s crucial to have a foundational understanding of survey methodology and techniques for analyzing data and the implications for one’s ability to make causal inferences from the research. Every day I’m reading research articles and trying to figure out how strong the evidence being presented is. Is it correlational? Does the study account for self-selection into federal nutrition assistance programs?
Are there necessary hard or ‘soft’ skills for your job? If so, how do you recommend cultivating them?
I’ve found that, in my corner of the DC public policy space, deepening and expanding one’s expertise is a prerequisite for advancing in one’s career (e.g., staying on top of the latest research and policy arguments) BUT demonstrating the soft skills that help make those around you more effective is also critical. One’s willingness, skill, and passion to get involved in the organizational/managerial aspects of the job is highly valued by employers. That means helping out with recruiting and hiring new teammates, making sure your team’s resources and budget are aligned with the work the team needs or wants to do, and keeping morale high and inspiring teammates through the ups and downs of policy.
If you could leave yourself a message about career development (or life in general!) five years ago, what will that be?
Enjoy this time learning with peers. I miss that. In the moment, it can feel overwhelming and stressful, studying for midterms or finals, crunching on a term paper, and so on. But this is a unique moment. Look around at your classmates – these are the people you will be collaborating with, learning from, or even debating with for years to come!
Schedule a Conversation with Joseph today!