Think tanks and independent research institutes - such as the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Adam Smith Institute, and Demos - are often making the news. Some have a political affiliation and their focus can be national, international or very specific issues ranging from public policy to defence.
Most think tanks are quite small enterprises so there are few vacancies. Some organisations only employ experienced researchers on contract work. Junior researcher is the typical entry level post. Research, both desk-based and in the field, is central but you will have to do a lot of your own administration at that level too. Team working, networking, excellent written language skills, a keen interest in public policy, current affairs or a specific strand of the organisationís work are all essential.
For many think tanks, you will need a social science degree. Postgraduate research, experience of collecting and analysing statistics, specialist knowledge of a specific subject area, or some combination of those factors, are commonly asked for too. In-depth knowledge of an area central to the organisationís work can be crucial. Quite a few web sites include staff profiles Ė have a look to see how they got where they are.
Internships, usually unpaid, are a good way to get experience. Open to undergraduates and recent graduates, they are usually a mixture of research and administration work. Very occasionally, they may lead on to a permanent job.
Where to find vacancies:
- Think tanks occasionally advertise vacancies with the Careers Service. The Guardian (Wednesdays), New Statesman, and specialist journals such as the Times Education Supplement, and individual think tank web sites, are the most common sources.
- The Think Tank Directory Europe contains information about the most important think tanks in the European Union.
Social research in general
Try to gain experience in the broader social research field as an alternative. The Social Research Association has many links. There are four main areas:
- Market research organisations
- Charities, pressure groups, trade unions - few research jobs but donít ignore admin or other more general posts. Campaigning posts are also an option.
- Central, local and devolved government - notably the Office for National Statistics. Local government opportunities come up occasionally - visit LARIA - Local Authorities Research & Intelligence Association or Local Government Jobs. Opportunities in the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales are available too.
- Academic organisations University departments or research centres such as the School for Policy Studies at Bristol. You will normally need a social science or statistics degree for the last two groups.