Working in the Think Tank Industry

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think tank industry

Working at a think tank can be an excellent career option for individuals who enjoy researching and debating topics of debate while simultaneously wanting to shape government policy through public outreach efforts and education programs.

Some think tanks have been accused of blurring the distinction between researchers and lobbyists for their donors, such as Brookings’ alignment of its work on international trade with FedEx’s agenda as a donor.


Think tanks can be found around the world and their purpose is to generate ideas that will influence and guide public policy decision-makers through research, seminars, writing articles or lobbying politicians on certain issues that they care about. Think tanks also lobby politicians or influential people on specific matters related to public policy which they feel may require action from them.

Think tanks come in various forms and each has its own distinctive qualities. While some focus on ideology or broad issues, others focus more on domestic matters while still others go international.

Though think tanks often claim to be independent, documents reveal they often rely on donors for funding their research projects and studies. Donors in turn receive promotion of their brands and tax benefits in return; Brookings shared drafts of its studies with JPMorgan Chase donors who had an influence over its final findings; furthermore they also sponsored events featuring corporate executives with government officials.


Think tanks focus on public policy issues such as health care, economics, education, national defense and military affairs, culture and emerging technology. Some organizations take an explicitly ideological stance while others follow an objective approach when conducting their research.

Think tank organizations primarily seek to influence government policy through conducting research on specific issues and publishing and presenting findings through publications and conferences. Some organisations organise one-on-one meetings with politicians and government ministers in order to push their ideas. Furthermore, these activists often write articles for newspapers or political magazines as well as appear on news and current affairs programmes. Though working for a think tank can be rewarding, it is essential that you carefully consider if it is the appropriate career option for you. When making this determination, ask yourself if their values align with mine; is this position equipped to offer me skills relevant for my future goals.

Role in society

Think tanks play an indispensable role in society as sources of policy knowledge, research centers and incubators of innovative ideas. Think tanks serve to bridge the gap between scholars and policymakers by offering innovative solutions that can be implemented into government policies. Think tanks also play a vital role in young democracies and emerging markets by raising awareness of economic issues while initiating discussions around them, showing policymakers how best to act upon them and providing innovative solutions that can be integrated into government policies.

There are various kinds of think tanks, each depending on its funding source and mission. These include independent think tanks that do not align themselves with any political party or interest group, university-affiliated think tanks and government-affiliated ones; plus specialists focusing on specific thematic areas or practical tanks working more directly on projects like charity campaigns or advocacy campaigns. Each of these types has specific goals and advantages – working at a think tank may even prove more rewarding in terms of advocacy than entering politics directly or civil service service.


Although most think tanks focus on political and social research, some also advocate for specific policy outcomes – this could involve supporting certain political parties, shaping government policies or shaping civil society in specific directions. Others, such as RAND Corporation, provide contract research services to both private clients as well as government.

Think tanks depend on charitable giving for funds, leaving them vulnerable to lobbying pressures from donors who influence the agendas and agenda-shaping capabilities of think tanks such as Brookings. Documents demonstrate this reality as Brookings shares draft studies with JPMorgan Chase donors who help shape final reports with their comments.

Career progression within a think tank can often be rapid and many senior staff possess experience across several sectors. They may move between academic positions, political roles and industry/civil service work; writing articles for news or political magazines as well as appearing on talk shows are common occurrences.

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