Think Tanks and Research Careers

  • Are you interested in big picture policy issues?
  • Do you have a passion for research?
  • Do you want to help bridge the gap between research and policy?

If so, then you might want to consider working in a think tank.

Career Tracks

Think tanks and research organizations focus on a variety of cross-cutting international and domestic issues like security, health, tax policy, environmental issues, food security, human rights, and many more. These organizations are often supported by governments, foundations, businesses, and endowments.

Think tankers with a BA or an MA can expect employment mainly in administrative positions, though some research opportunities are available. Administrative positions assist with coordinating and managing events and publications sponsored by think tanks. More substantial research positions in a think tank generally require a doctoral degree.

Higher education and experience in the field is generally required for substantive research positions. Strong communication skills, both written and oral, are essential One must be able to write concise briefing reports as well as longer academic works. Presentation skills are also important, as is comfort in addressing an audience of experts. Competitive candidates will also be able to demonstrate proficiency in foreign languages and will have a solid command of word processing and spreadsheet applications and the Internet. Advanced writing and reading skills in foreign languages is a key advantage in getting the job. Many positions require solid quantitative skills and knowledge of statistical packages.

Application Process

In response to budget constraints, research organizations are re-examining their focus. Entry-level positions remain highly competitive and success in securing a post requires planning and persistence. Most think tanks and research institutes do have formal internship programs and many look first to current and former interns to fill new positions. Not only are interns in a position to hear about openings before they are advertised externally, but they also frequently have had prior occasion to demonstrate their specialized knowledge, skills, and dedication.

Benefits

Entry-level employees with an MA or a BA can expect starting salaries from the high 20’s to mid 40’s , depending on the organization, the level of responsibility, the experience of the applicant, and the size and funding base of the institute. Other benefits such as attending events and corresponding with professionals and experts in a certain field are great opportunities to form contacts that may be useful for future jobs.

Fast Facts
  • Think tanks exist to stimulate debate and influence government policy.
  • While research skills are vital for a professional thinker, the objective of any think-tank is to influence policymakers. Good PR and communications are at the core of the operation, and media exposure is often essential to success. Most think-tanks hold conferences and other events to promote the published research and recommendations.
  • Working at a think tank is often an excellent springboard for a career in academia or policy. It is common to see those in junior level positions leaving after 2-3 years to pursue higher education and professional opportunities in academia, government, private corporations, and consulting firms.
  • Many think tanks have well-defined ideological perspectives. Before working at a think tank, do your research. Make sure you are working at a think tank that is consistent with your political beliefs.
Helpful Links

Carnegie Endowment listing of selected think tanks and links to websites: http://www.carnegieendowment.org/about/library/index.cfm?fa=libtanks

National Institute for Research Advancement’s index of research organizations by country: http://www.nira/org/jp/pastice/nwdtt/2005/index.html

Links to Research and Educational Institutes: http://www.cato.org/links/links.html

Yale Alumni Profile

“Think tanks allow researchers to use their academic experience and apply it to real policy work, thinking and writing about the big issues of tomorrow while meeting the most important voices in the field.”

—Donatienne Ruy, Yale Jackson Institute MA ‘15