Careers in Think Tanks and Policy Institutes


pc-1207686_640A graduate degree in International Communication is not only for those interested in the corporate world, the government, the United Nations, or the academic world. Many expert organizations are seeking talent with international outlook, analytical expertise, critical thinking abilities, and superb, versatile communication skills.


Dr. Minna Aslama Horowitz attended the ASEEES conference in Washington DC, 17-18 November 2016. This blog post is a summary of the wise advise by the following esteemed Think Tank scholars:

Leon Aron, American Enterprise Institute,

Samuel Charap, International Institute for Strategic Studies,

William Eric Pomeranz, Woodrow Wilson International Center, Kennan Institute,

Steven Watts, RAND Corporation, and

Mary Werden, U.S. House of Representatives.

A viable employer for us interested in international communication, global affairs, and making a difference that you might not have thought about: Think Tanks and Policy Institutes.

Similar but Different

There are several main differences between an academic scholar and a Think Tank researcher. First, scholars in think tanks are mediators: They write for a variety of audiences, ranging from policy-makers to the media, and the policy-curious public. Second, the output of a Think Tank researcher may not be as deep as that of an academic colleague – but also not as narrow. Third, very often a Think Tank scholar needs also to be an entrepreneur and fundraise for his/her projects. (That is, increasingly, the case with post-graduate academic research as well.)

In addition, the concept of time is very different in academic context than in the policy world. A Think Tank researcher will need to respond much more quickly to research and information needs that may emerge due to political or economic events. Finally, a Think Tank scholar mainly works in a team, even if responsible for a specific study or expertise. An academic researcher has more freedom, but often more isolated, and individual projects.

It’s a Question of Temperament

As the above indicates, a Think Tank scholar needs to juggle several “worlds” and enjoy that. Often Think Tanks relate to a specific policy question such as international relations, education, or health, to name a few. But it is good to remember that policies are often very complex. One needs to have a passion for influencing decision-making and patience to learn about policies.

How to Get In? Cultivate Your Experience!

Experience counts more than the prestige of your school. In terms of your discipline, interdisciplinary background pays dividend in the world of Think Tanks. But whatever your field, language and communication skills are the key: learn to explain complex issues to different audiences in a compact, understandable way. Teaching experience is a big plus. Also, non-academic writing (opinion pieces and the like) will be greatly valued. Build your networks: Intern, attend seminars and conferences…

If a career as a Think Tank expert got you interested just remember that most (U.S.) Think Tanks still operate on a two-tier hierarchy of Seniors and Juniors. The latter would have Master’s degrees and work as research assistants. In order to have a Senior position, a PhD is a must.



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