This is the one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
Maj. Bradley DeWees knows what it’s like to perform under pressure.
DeWees grew up in New Mexico and was accepted to the Air Force Academy after graduating from high school. Neither of his parents attended college and both he and his family were overwhelmed by the college application process. By comparison, the Air Force seemed like the simpler option.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” DeWees recalled, yet he soon found himself thriving in the highly regimented, meritocratic environment.
“Being in that environment has a way to force you to forge really close relationships,” he said. “I found myself excelling and becoming a better person day in and day out — and that was reason enough to stay.”
Overcoming his early misgivings, DeWees did, in fact, go on to earn a master’s degee in international security and economic policy from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy in 2011.
Then in 2015, DeWees received a prestigious fellowship from the Air Force to pursue a Ph.D. at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the public policy program affiliated with Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).
The catch? Complete the program in only three years.
Generally, Ph.D. candidates focus on coursework and exams for about two years before proceeding to the research portion of their degree. Without the luxury of time, DeWees began his thesis research as soon as he arrived at Harvard. His dissertation focused on judgment and decision-making with the goal of combatting ingrained biases, which he began exploring through experimental work.
Though most of those early experiments did not make it into his final dissertation, DeWees said it was “a critical learning step,” because it allowed him to allocate his time more effectively in his final year.
One of his advisers, HKS Professor of Public Policy and Management Jennifer Lerner, said they began with an intensive one-on-one tutorial in his first year to help combat his time pressure. This crucial tutorial spawned a number of research projects for DeWees.
“For Brad’s part, he found multiple ways to work at an accelerated pace,” Lerner said. “Long before he arrived to start school, he wrote to request in-depth reading lists. Once here, he made special arrangements with the building security guards so that he could be let in early in the mornings before the building is actually open to students.”