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Think Tanks

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Careers in Think Tanks

There are a large number of think tanks and research organizations with a focus on domestic and foreign policy issues. These organizations are often supported by contracts from the government, foundations, private businesses and endowments. Think tanks, in the most traditional sense, are seen as non-partisan organizations, which employ interdisciplinary approaches to finding long-term solutions to policy-related issues.

There are many variations in the perspectives and focus of research organizations: some may be viewed more as advocacy groups which promote a particular agenda; others may resemble private sector consulting organizations or academic institutions. In addition to their research efforts, many research institutes produce major publications or organize professional conferences, lectures and policy forums. Think tank scholars testify before congressional committees, submit articles to major newspapers and may serve on government task forces.

Career Paths

The type of positions available varies considerably between organizations and is very much dependent upon one’s level of education. In addition to research-related positions, which usually require an MA or Ph.D. and specialized expertise, many organizations utilize interns and individuals with BA and MA degrees for a range of administrative positions. Entry-level positions for individuals with MA degrees include:

Program Manager/Assistant – Coordinates and handles logistics for major program events, meetings, conferences, and international visits, and manages a range of program support functions, including communications and publication work.

Research Assistant – Provides research support to Fellows and Senior Associates, drafts documents, manages database records, handles correspondence and provides general administrative support.

Research Associate – Develops and implements research plans, prepares funding proposals, analyzes data and synthesizes findings, publishes and presents findings to various audiences.

Advancement into senior positions usually requires education at the Ph.D. level and/or extensive specialized expertise, so 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.

Qualifications Necessary

Higher education, at a master’s or doctoral level, 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 also will be able to demonstrate proficiency in foreign languages and will have a solid command of word processing and spreadsheet applications and the Internet. Many positions require good quantitative skills and knowledge of statistical packages.

Potential Employers

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