I have been working as a Research Fellow for a think tank for about a year and a half. I came straight into my job after university. A think tank is a research institute that aims to produce fresh ideas and cutting-edge research in order to influence the policy agenda. In our think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, we endeavour to bridge the gap between policy and academia in order to advance a progressive agenda in a number of public policy areas.

If there is one thing a think tank does offer, in my experience, it’s a stimulating environment. In a typical week, it’s not unusual for you to have the opportunity to attend a number of talks, debates, seminars and lectures – both within your organisation and outside of it. As well as this, your research project almost always involves talking to and engaging with a number of different people, from policymakers, academics and practitioners to the very communities and individuals who could benefit from your research.

The nature of the work is also incredibly varied and being able to work flexibly in such an environment is important. A typical week could involve talking to journalists about a new piece of research you have coming out, or a breaking story that is relevant to your field; organising or speaking at an event related to your project, such as a expert roundtable; managing any staff you have working on your project; meeting with potential funders of future projects; or taking part in wider activities in your field, such as conferences. In short, it’s a great job if you like variety and you quickly pick up an impressive range of skills.

Your colleagues will usually be an exceptional bunch of people. Most researchers in think tanks are quite young. While this may mean that our kitchen can get quite messy at times it often means that you are working with lots of enthusiastic, passionate and committed individuals who are never short of ideas, solutions and different perspectives. 

Most importantly, it’s a great job if you are passionate about enacting change and influencing an important part of the policy agenda. This could take the form of having your policy recommendations or ideas adopted by policymakers, or it could manifest itself in you being able to influence the direction or nature of an important public debate or area of policy. This, along with the experience and skills you pick up along the way, and the variety of people you get to meet, almost always compensate for the times when the pace of the job gets a little crazy!

Dr Rachel Pillai is a Research Fellow, at the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own personal opinions and may not reflect those of Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP.


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