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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Think Tanks and Other Research Positions

If the part of your academic job that you enjoy most is research, you may be able to find a position in a sector outside of academia where your primarly responsibility is research. Many of these positions are found at organizations known as "think tanks," which mostly conduct policy research. Other research-based positions may be hard to identify at first, but you can find many of them if you know where to look and what they are called.

What are think tanks?

Think tanks are public policy research organizations and could be nonprofit or for-profit entities. There is a lot of diversity in the makeup and mission of think tanks, with most of them engaging in some combination of “public policy research, analysis, advocacy, education and formulation."[1] Similar types of work go on at state level and are performed by legislative policy analysts, but think tanks are different because they are independent of government bodies.

Think tanks bridge the gap between policy and academics—researchers in think tanks analyze specific problems that policy makers need information on to make legislative decisions. Of course, even though think tanks are independent of government, they may be aligned with particular political beliefs or beholden to their funding sources, so their research cannot be considered absolutely objective.[2] Their funding can come from government contracts, endowments, private industry, foundations, or other nonprofits.

In addition to sponsoring research on policy issues, think tanks can also host conferences and produce publications, including magazines. Such magazines include Reason, the Cato Journal, Focus Magazine, and many others. Think tank scholars frequently contribute articles to other magazines and newspapers.

Jobs at Think Tanks

As a researcher for a think tank, you may or may not set your own research agenda. It will be almost certainly be limited by the scope of the organization you work for and the particular grant that may fund your work. The writing you do to report your research might be intended for an audience of other experts, as in academia, but it’s likely that you’ll also need to pitch it to policy makers, sources of funding, and the wider public.

In addition to research assistant positions, you might consider an entry-level administrative position at a think tank, such as an administrative specialist or project coordinator, in which you’ll need to draw on skills such as attention to detail, familiarity with research and statistics, knowledge of international issues, and ability to deal with strong personalities.[3] Your duties might include hosting a conference, assisting with think tank publications, composing and editing correspondence, and other administrative work. These positions could be a good starting point, though due to the limited number of higher-level think tank positions and the low turnover, it may be difficult to move up.

Salaries

Pay for entry-level administrative workers and research assistants could be in the high 20s to low 30s, while a higher-level researcher might expect to earn a salary in the high 30s to low 40s.[4]

Action Steps

•    Consult pages 123-126 in Careers for Bookworms & Other Literary Types for information about think tanks and a list of organizations
•    Find posts about think tank work on After Academe for an idea of the pros and cons of think tank work
•    Visit the LACS library in FAC 18 to read more

Print and Web Resources

List of think tanks in the U.S.
National Institute for Research Advancement’s World Directory of Think Tanks
-    Information on 318 think tanks from 89 countries and regions. Includes info on research focus, annual budge, size and makeup of staff, and contact info (including URLs).
The U.S. State Department’s list of think tanks with links to their employment pages
Stratfor - Policy analysis firm in Austin
Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs Office of Career Services. “Career Opportunities in Think Tanks and Research Institutes”. School of International and Public Affairs Office of Career Services, September 15, 2006.
Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management
Eberts, Marjorie, and Margaret Gisler. Careers for Bookworms & Other Literary Types. 4th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
McGann, James G., and Erik C. Johnson. Comparative Think Tanks, Politics and Public Policy. Edward Elgar Pub, 2006. Print.
Axelrod-Contrada, Joan. Career Opportunities in Politics, Government, and Activism. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Facts on File, 2008. Print.
-    See pages 132-134 for Policy Analyst description

Other research positions

Genealogist

Genealogy can be an interesting direction for historians, especially if you have some experience researching your own ancestry. You can be self-employed and help people find information about their family backgrounds. No formal training is necessary, though certification is available through the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Their website also lists educational opportunities, including institutes and conferences. Professional genealogists are essentially freelance researchers or consultants, so they charge clients by the hour, which can vary from between $15 to $100, but somewhere between $25 and $60 is more realistic.[5]

Board of Certification for Genealogists
Association of Professional Genealogists
Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. 3rd ed. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2000. Print.
Camenson, Blythe. Careers for Introverts & Other Solitary Types. 2nd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005. Print.

Curators, Historians, R&D, and Others

Other research positions can be found within government, business, and nonprofits.
•    Research skills are essential for museum jobs like archivist and curator.[6]
•    Media organizations need researchers to help writers with their articles and stories.[7]
•    Political campaign managers and consultants employ researchers to dig up dirt on the candidate’s opposition.[8]
•    Historians and and other researchers are needed to analyze “past trends for banks, insurance companies, investment services, manufacturers, utilities, and public relations firms."[9] Eberts and Gisler estimate that 30% of academically trained historians settle in jobs outside of academia, though the number is surely higher since the Great Recession.

Researchers in private industry are often in the research and development (or R & D) area of the business. They could be involved with the “study of trends, behavioral observations, and/or forecasting future developments” in order to “improve policies and heighten understanding of human behavior and anomolies."[10] An entry level research and development job would be Research Assistant to the Principle Investigator. You might not be setting your own research agenda, but you can put your research skills to work on practical problems. Plus you don’t have the teaching responsibilities that a professor must handle.

Another route to pursue is that of independent researcher, sometimes called “information broker.” This is a type of consultant position specializing in heavy research. See www.batesinfo.com for example of independent researcher.

Print and Web Resources

Association of Independent Information Professionals
National Coalition of Independent Scholars
The Independent Scholar
Bates, Mary Ellen. Building & Running a Successful Research Business: A Guide for the Independent Information Professional. 2nd ed. Medford, New Jersey: Information Today, Inc., 2010. Print.
Camenson, Blythe. Opportunities in Museum Careers. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.
-    Profile of a director of research at a small living history museum (100-102)
Eberts, Marjorie, and Margaret Gisler. Careers for Bookworms & Other Literary Types. 4th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.
Princeton Review. What to Do with Your Psychology or Sociology Degree. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Review, 2007. Print.
Axelrod-Contrada, Joan. Career Opportunities in Politics, Government, and Activism. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Facts on File, 2008. Print.

Notes

1. James G. McGann and Erik C. Johnson, Comparative Think Tanks, Politics and Public Policy (Edward Elgar Pub, 2006), 11.

2. McGann and Johnson, Comparative, 13-14.

3. Princeton Review, What to Do with Your Psychology or Sociology Degree. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Review, 2007), 54-56.

4. Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs Office of Career Services, “Career Opportunities in Think Tanks and Research Institutes” (School of International and Public Affairs Office of Career Services, September 15, 2006).

5. Blythe Camenson, Careers for Introverts & Other Solitary Types, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 68.

6. Marjorie Eberts and Margaret Gisler, Careers for Bookworms & Other Literary Types, Fourth Edition, 4th ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008), 126-130. See also “Museums” page in this guide.

7. Eberts and Gisler, Bookworms, 22.

8. Joan Axelrod-Contrada, Career Opportunities in Politics, Government, and Activism, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Facts on File, 2008), 11-12.

9. Eberts and Gisler, Bookworms, 131.

10. Princeton Review, Psychology, 92.

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