Frequently Asked Questions about Academic Life at RFF

  1. What does RFF’s academic community look like?
  2. How does RFF promote academic collaboration?
  3. What are some examples of career paths taken by RFF researchers?
  4. How can researchers be involved in external academic opportunities?
  5. How can researchers engage in public service and the policymaking process?
  6. How can researchers contribute at RFF, outside of producing research papers?
  7. How does RFF support its researchers?
  8. Does RFF take institutional positions on public policies?
  9. How is RFF funded?

1. What does RFF’s academic community look like?

At RFF, you will find about 25 PhD colleagues engaged in environmental, energy, and natural resource policy research and analysis. Many university faculty members hold joint appointments at RFF or serve as visiting fellows at RFF. The work atmosphere is informal, much like a university. Daily work schedules are flexible. During any given week, RFF hosts both in-house seminars on current research and public seminars that convene high-level policymakers, the business community, and leading academics from around the world.

2. How does RFF promote academic collaboration?

Researchers at all levels of experience are actively encouraged to initiate and develop creative ideas for research projects on their own or in collaboration with their colleagues. Collaboration and coauthorship are the norm—RFF researchers are able to focus on academic and policy issues in a noncompetitive setting that is characterized by active give-and-take among peers.

3. What are some examples of career paths taken by RFF researchers?

Starting an academic career at RFF provides a distinct advantage for those interested in both developing high-quality academic research and having an impact on public policy. RFF researchers work at the intersection of academics and policy in ways that affect both areas and offer researchers the flexibility to chart their own course. The following experts all began working at RFF shortly after receiving their doctorates and each has pursued a distinct career path.

Dallas Burtraw

After receiving a PhD in economics from the University of Michigan, Dallas joined RFF in 1989 and has been the Darius Gaskins Senior Fellow. Dallas is one of the nation’s foremost experts on environmental regulation in the electricity sector. For two decades, he has worked on designing efficient and cost-effective methods for controlling air pollution. He is particularly interested in incentive-based approaches to environmental regulation and is known for his research on tradable permit systems. He has served on advisory boards to the National Academy of Sciences, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the states of California and New York, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Dallas’s work has been published in the following academic journals, among others.

He has also contributed to the Annual Review of Environment and Resources and the International Yearbook of Environmental and Resource Economics.

Carolyn Fischer

Carolyn has been at RFF since 1997, after earning a PhD in economics from the University of Michigan. In 2014–2015, she served as a Marie Skłodowska–Curie Fellow of the European Commission, visiting at Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM) in Venice, Italy.

Her current research focuses on the interaction between international trade and climate policy, options for avoiding carbon leakage, and the implications for energy-intensive, trade-exposed sectors. She has served on the board of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists and on the editorial board of Resource and Energy Economics. In the areas of climate change and energy policy, Carolyn has published articles on designing cap-and-trade programs, fuel economy standards, renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency programs, technology policies, the Clean Development Mechanism, and the evaluation of international climate policy commitments.

Carolyn’s research has appeared in a variety of journals, including those below:

Richard Newell

Richard began at RFF in 1997 and focused his work on economic analysis of incentive-based policies, technological change, and the operation of markets.

He was associate editor of Energy Economics and a reviewer for numerous public and private institutions, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the National Commission on Energy Policy, among others. While at RFF, he took a one-year sabbatical to serve as senior economist on energy, environment, and resources at the Council of Economic Advisers at the White House.

In 2007, Newell was appointed Gendell Professor of Energy and Environmental Economics at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. From 2009 to 2011, he was on leave to serve as administrator of the US Energy Information Administration. He has since resumed his position at Duke, where he also directs the Duke Energy Initiative, and currently serves on RFF’s Board of Directors.

William Pizer

Former RFF Senior Fellow William (Billy) Pizer worked at RFF from 1996 until 2008, when he was appointed deputy assistant secretary for environment and energy at the US Department of the Treasury, where he coordinated the department’s domestic and international environment and energy agenda. Billy is now on the faculty at Duke University.

4. How can researchers be involved in external academic opportunities?

RFF researchers are recognized as top experts in their fields. Those who wish to teach can easily arrange to lecture or instruct classes at universities in the Washington area. RFF was one of the founding institutions that supported the creation of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists and remains a charter member of that organization.

RFF experts publish widely in the academic literature, including journals such as these:

5. How can researchers engage in public service and the policymaking process?

Like a university, RFF prizes high-quality scholarship and designs the researcher career path to promote accomplishment. However, unlike a traditional academic institution, RFF affords its researchers the opportunity to actively engage with policymakers at the highest levels. The chance to make a palpable difference in the nation’s policy choices is considered a key reason why researchers choose to be a part of RFF.

RFF researchers regularly appear before various federal congressional committees, such as the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the Senate Committee on Finance, the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, among others. RFF researchers also hold informal briefings with elected officials and staff, as well as workshops with agency administrators at federal, state, and local levels.

They are also routinely called upon for service in the federal government, including as senior staffers on the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers. For example:

RFF researchers are frequently asked to serve on high-level honorary, advisory, and technical committees sponsored by federal agencies and organizations, including those below:

6. How can researchers contribute at RFF, outside of producing research papers?

In addition to publishing academic discussion papers and issue briefs, RFF researchers have the opportunity to contribute to a number of RFF publications, such as these:

Resources magazine: RFF’s free, flagship magazine features articles, interviews, analysis, and more.

Common Resources: RFF’s blog features insights from RFF experts and contributors on ongoing research and current events.

RFF on the Issues: RFF’s news tip sheet, which connects RFF research to current events, is distributed to Hill members and reporters and posted on Common Resources.

RFF Connection: RFF’s monthly newsletter provides a summary of recent RFF research and events and is sent to a global list of stakeholders.

RFF researchers are also regularly quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, National Public Radio, Marketplace, the Associated Press, National Journal, Politico, USA Today, the Financial Times, US News & World Report, and a host of trade press publications.

7. How does RFF support its researchers?

About two-thirds of RFF researchers' time is funded through foundation and government grants. The balance is covered by RFF’s reserve fund and unrestricted contributions from corporations and other donors, which provides researchers with flexibility to develop new research areas for which there is not yet an external demand. RFF also often has internal competitions for funding, most notably through its New Frontiers Fund, which provides support for innovative new approaches to environmental economics problems.

During their first two years at RFF, researchers have substantially reduced fundraising expectations and are provided with significant mentoring opportunities for both writing grant proposals and journal articles. Senior RFF staff members often bring new researchers into existing projects and new proposals as part of this mentoring process.

RFF awards endowed chairs to its most accomplished scholars and the chairs fund additional discretionary time for research.

RFF strives to support its academic staff with not only research assistants and administrative help but also an experienced communications and editorial production team, an engaged and seasoned fundraising staff, a research library, and a robust information technology group. Researchers also receive professional skills training on how to better communicate with policymakers and the media.

8. Does RFF take institutional positions on public policies?

RFF is independent and nonpartisan. It neither lobbies nor takes any institutional position on legislative, regulatory, judicial, or other public policy matters. Individual researchers, speaking for themselves and not for RFF, are free to express personal opinions and judgments on policy matters based on their research conclusions that may differ from those of other RFF experts, officers, and directors.

Because many RFF researchers are economists, there is a strong concern that public resources be spent wisely and that policy goals be achieved cost-effectively, with reliance on economic incentives where feasible. Researchers also have considerable interest in issues of fairness that arise from the distributional effects of policies and in issues related to the functioning of the policy process itself.

RFF shares the results of economic and policy analyses conducted at RFF with members of all political parties, environmental and business advocates, academics, the media, and interested citizens.

9.How is RFF funded?

RFF operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt organization. The majority of RFF’s funding comes from individual contributions, foundation grants, corporate contributions, and government grants. RFF augments its income by an annual withdrawal from its reserve fund to support operations. Details are available in RFF’s annual reports.

RFF does not conduct private or proprietary research for any funder, business, or government entity. RFF publishes all research findings openly. To ensure research independence, RFF does not accept corporate gifts for individual research projects.