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December 1, 2020, by Benedict Watson

5 Things I Learned From a Think Tank Webinar

Benedict Watson, Student Blogger

Think tanks are often seen as the underworld of the potential careers for economics graduates. Secretive and selective, it’s rare to find them doing any recruitment work at the careers fairs  regularly attended by the likes of PwC and Citibank. Therefore, when I found that Smart Thinking were doing a webinar with industry experts about how to start a career in policy and think tanks, I was very excited to attend.

The panel included representatives from Bright Blue, the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) and Chatham House. This mixture of large and small think tanks showed a cross-section of the industry. Here are 5 key things I learned from the webinar.

1. Don’t go in it for a high salary

The panel were very open that a high salary was not the selling point when considering a job in think tanks.  Only 3% of researchers (the most common job in a think tank) earn over £45,000 a year. However, the lowest salary offered at Chatham House (for an entry-level position) is £26,000, which is not to be sniffed at for a graduate role.

2. There’s a young workforce

46% of the think tank workforce graduated in the last 5 years. The young workforce is believed to be due to the lack of high salaries, the potential for highly stressful working situations and the great springboard that working in a think tank can provide you with to move into other areas of work.

3. Political alignment is important

Most think tanks have some form of political leaning, whether they may be more conservative or more left-leaning. The panellists stressed that finding out a think tank’s political leaning is crucial before applying to them. This is because working for a think tank which has a contrasting political view to your own could lead to you doing work which you believe is having a detrimental impact to society.

4. Don’t work for a think tank if you don’t like essay-writing

The Bright Blue representative’s advice was “If doing your dissertation was painful, don’t become a researcher at a think tank”. The panellists recommended reading some reports to find out if you would enjoy writing them.

5. You don’t need a master’s to work as a researcher

Whilst it is common for academics to move into think tanks in search of research that has a more direct impact on society, I discovered that it is not a requirement to have a master’s degree in order to work as a researcher in a think tank. The representative from the IPPR said that his firm was making efforts to diversify its workforce. They are placing less emphasis on educational requirements to attract people who wouldn’t usually think of applying. The IPPR recruitment process focuses on why the candidate wants to work for them and to have an understanding of the policy area they want to work in.

The webinar gave me a great insight into a career in think tanks. It is definitely a career choice that shouldn’t be forgotten about when applying for internships and graduate roles.  

Find out more about think tanks and the internships they offer on Smart Thinking’s website. You can visit our website for more information on political and social research. Why not book an appointment and discuss your career ideas with a careers adviser?

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