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What are the Different Think Tank Jobs?

By Desi C.
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Think tanks conduct research and advocate for issues that affect different aspects of our lives, mostly those being related to social problems or dilemmas. Some think tanks, also known as policy institutes, specialize in just one research area, while others are more broad in scope. Funding for think tanks varies and can be provided by federal government programs, grants, state or local government funding, corporations, businesses, or political interest groups. Consultation fees can also produce income for think tanks.

Some think tank jobs include researcher, analyst, writer, editor, and legislative associate. Working for a think tank might involve all of these roles, or a person might specialize in a certain area. Responsibilities are very dependent upon the size and scope of the organization, as well as its funding.

Researchers are an integral part of think tanks, as they conduct the studies and collect data that the think tanks need to operate. Analysts interpret data, and writers are often responsible for publishing findings. Editors are responsible for ensuring that everything produced or published by the think tank is free of errors and as accurate as possible.

Because think tanks often deal with political issues, they sometimes employ legislative associates. These associates attend legislative meetings, hearings, and events, as well as communicate with legislators about policy issues. Legislative associates are usually very familiar with the legislative process, and they understand how to communicate effectively with policy makers.

Though most think tank jobs require some type of degree, usually a bachelor's degree or higher, this is not necessarily the case in every situation. Most think tanks will employ interns who often work for free while learning about the think tank world. In many cases internships are reserved for university students, however hiring is at the discretion of the organization.

Think tanks operate in institutions around the world. They can be found in American as well as European universities, particularly large and well known universities with a specific focus on a topic. NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are often supported by think tanks, and are a good source for think tank jobs.

Think tanks tend to research and advocate for issues such as foreign policy, gender issues, poverty, economic issues, health issues, global development, urban issues, housing, and labor. An educational background in any of those topics, experience in the field, or a combination of both are very helpful and many times necessary to work for a particular think tank. A lot of students and graduates who are new to the think tank set up begin by working as an intern, often times unpaid. Internships can lead to permanent placement with a decent salary and benefits for graduating students.

Regardless of education, there are certain skills that think tank jobs require. Though each job will have its own unique requirements, the most general skills needed to successfully work for a think tank are excellent communication skills and writing or journalism experience. A bachelor's degree or work experience in communications; writing/journalism; political science, international relations, international business relations; gender studies; economics; education; or another discipline in the social sciences is highly desired.

Because think tanks are often the backbone of political advocacy they will often be associated with a certain political group and its ideals. Anyone considering a job with a think tank should understand the ethical and political beliefs that the organization stands by. Furthermore, some research should be done to learn about where funding for the think tank comes from.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Georgesplane — On Dec 24, 2010

@ Glasshouse- I think that Highlighter is absolutely right. You should actively pursue what you believe, especially if you are thinking about a career in politics. A politician that is passionate about his or her beliefs is far more likely to strike a chord with potential voters than someone who waffles on her or his beliefs and is too afraid to state what they believe in. It may make you a polarizing figure, but it also "shows where you stand" (to quote various politicians’ rhetoric).

Say for example you were a sustainability scientists and you decided to take an environmental think tank job. This would give you the communication and research experience that you would need to become a good politician, as well as allow you to network with powerful people who are passionate about the same things that you are. It could well be a great way for you to garner political support.

By highlighter — On Dec 22, 2010

@ GlassHouse- There is a big difference between someone who is a political activist and a fringe political activist. There should be nothing wrong with you overlooking nonprofit job openings out of fear that it may come back to haunt you. Most think tanks and nonprofit organizations are close enough to the middle in their beliefs and research that it would likely help you in your career. Many top politicians are associated with or have started think tanks before, during, and after their political careers. There may be times when the beliefs of the organization you belong to or have worked for put you at odds with the majority, but it is the American way that the political pendulum swings from left to right in normal cycles.

By Glasshouse — On Dec 19, 2010

Can working for a think tank potentially ruin your prospects for an elected or confirmed position in politics? I have a number of non-profit organizations that I privately support, but I do not know if I would want to add a non-profit job to my resume since I am interested in political science.

I know that making a career as a federally elected official is a long shot for most, but in the slight possibility that this is something I may be interested in, I need to make sure that there are no skeletons in my closet. I have heard of government officials resigning or being relieved of their position because they supported or belonged to an organization that is considered too far on the fringe, whether that is left or right of center. How do I determine the true bias of a think tank? How do I know if supporting an organization would make me too much of an activist to try to make positive changes as a politician?

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