If you are interested in public policy, foreign affairs, effective governance, or a number of other complex policy issues, you may want to consider working for a think tank.
Think tanks are a little like universities without classes — scholars and thinkers perform original research, host events and conferences, and publish studies and summaries that are intended to deepen understanding, and influence thinking about, complex issues of national and international significance.
Most think tanks offer internships and entry level jobs. Depending on the topic and the organization, college students and recent graduates may be supporting scholars and contributing to their research (which requires very strong grades — usually above a 3.6, and some expertise in the particular field a scholar is most immersed in during the period of the internship or job). Alternatively, they may be engaged to work on the operations of the think tank: planning conferences and events, publicizing or summarizing research through newsletters and social media channels, or fundraising to support the mission of the organization. These positions require organization, good writing, and people skills, but may not have such stringent subject matter expertise or GPA requirements.
Salaries vary widely depending on role, geographic location, and level of experience. Look at specific roles in the the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Do your research to get a better sense of what specific companies in particular cities are paying entry-level employees. Check out Glassdoor and Salary.com to get an idea. Also, a cost of living calculator can be very useful when trying to compare salaries in different parts of the country.
Resources & Organizations
Top 10 Think Tanks in the US
The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC. Brookings produces a wide range of research spanning international affairs and foreign policy, economics, governance, global development, and metropolitan policy. Throughout its history, the organization has had a substantial impact on US domestic and foreign policy, and it is one of the most cited think tanks by US media and politicians. Brookings employs more than 300 government experts and academics, and while these individuals have diverse points of view, the organization is sometimes described as liberal.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations and promoting active international engagement by the United States. Carnegie supports this mission by analyzing and developing new policy ideas and engaging with decisionmakers in government, business, and civil society. One of Carnegie’s most defining features is its endeavor to become the first global think tank. As a part of actualizing this plan, the organization has established research centers in Beijing, Beirut, Brussels, Moscow, New Delhi, and Washington.
- Jobs and Internships at Carnegie
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
The Center for Strategic and International Studies is a bipartisan, nonprofit policy research organization headquartered in Washington, DC. The Center’s 220 full-time staff and network of affiliated scholars conduct research and analysis and develop policy initiatives with a focus on defense and security, regional stability, and transnational challenges ranging from energy and climate to global development and economic integration. Congress, the executive branch, and the media regularly call upon CSIS to explain the day’s events and offer bipartisan recommendations to improve U.S. strategy. Jobs at CSIS
- Internships at CSIS
Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
Headquartered in New York City, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, nonpartisan organization dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, civic leaders, and other citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries. CFR’s think tank is composed of more than seventy full-time and adjunct fellows who cover regions and issues shaping the current international agenda.
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
The Wilson Center, chartered by Congress as the official memorial to President Woodrow Wilson, is a non-partisan policy forum that assesses global issues to inform Congress, the Administration, and the broader policy community. Through over 30 research programs with regional and topical focuses, the center’s experts and scholars analyze and develop solutions for domestic and international matters.
The Cato Institute is a public policy research organization dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace. The institute’s research covers a wide range of policy topics including health care, education, environment and energy, foreign policy, and international human rights. Throughout their work, Cato scholars are committed to applying America’s founding principles to current issues, countering the expansion of government beyond its constitutional constraints, and confronting attacks on individual rights. While the institute is not formally associated with any political party, some describe the organization as conservative or libertarian.
RAND Corporation is a nonprofit think tank that develops solutions to public policy challenges with the goal of making communities throughout the world safer, healthier, and more prosperous. RAND’s research and analysis focus on global security, health, education, sustainability, growth, and development. Much of this research is carried out on behalf of public and private grantors and clients. More than 5 million research products are downloaded annually from RAND.org by policymakers, academics, and the general public.
The Heritage Foundation is a public policy research institution dedicated to formulating and promoting conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. The Heritage Foundation’s research staff is organized under three Institutes, each focused on developing policies grounded in conservative principles with the aim of strengthening the US economy and society. The Foundation’s more than 100 policy experts and researchers are invited to testify before Congress nearly 40 times a year.
- Careers at Heritage
Center for American Progress (CAP)
The Center for American Progress is an independent policy institute devoted to improving the lives of all Americans through progressive ideas and action. The Center develops progressive policies in 17 issue areas including criminal justice, the economy, education, energy and environment, foreign policy, healthcare, immigration, LGBT, poverty, and race and ethnicity.
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
NBER is the nation’s leading nonprofit economic research organization. The Bureau conducts economic research and disseminates its findings among academics, public policy makers, and business professionals. NBER-affiliated researchers study a wide range of topics and employ many different methods in their work. Key focus areas include developing new statistical measurements, estimating quantitative models of economic behavior, and analyzing the effects of public policies. The Bureau’s research themes include Africa, Brexit, charter schools, China’s economy, energy, the Greek Crisis and the Euro, immigration, inequality, tax policy, and international capital flows.
- Jobs at NBER
*NBER does not have an internship program.
Other influential think tanks in the US
- Pew Research Center
- American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research(AEI)
- Center for a New American Security (CNAS)
- Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE)
- World Resources Institute (WRI)
- Atlantic Council
- Urban Institute
- James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
- Hoover Institution
- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
- Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
- United States Institute of Peace (USIP)
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)
- Stimson Center
- Center for International Development (CID)
10 Influential Think Tanks Outside the U.S.
Chatham House (United Kingdom)
Chatham House is an independent policy institute based in London devoted to building a sustainably secure, prosperous, and just world. The institute carries out independent analyses of key global, regional and country-specific challenges and opportunities as resources for leaders, policymakers, the private sector, and civil society: current topical focuses include the US Election 2016, Brexit, the refugee crisis and war in Syria, climate and energy security, and global health strategy. The organization develops policy recommendations in collaboration with policymakers, experts and stakeholders in each area. Chatham House staff regularly brief government officials, legislators and other decision-makers.
Bruegel is an independent think tank specializing in economic issues with a mission to improve the quality of economic policy with open and fact-based research, analysis and debate. Bruegel’s key research areas are European Macroeconomics & Governance, Global Economics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation, and Innovation & Competition Policy. The organization’s members include EU Member State governments, international corporations, and institutions.
- Jobs & Internships at Bruegel
French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) (France)
IFRI is a leading institution for independent research and debate in France focused on analyzing international affairs and global governance. IFRI’s policy-oriented research strives to illuminate and contextualize international events for political and economic decisionmakers, academics, opinion leaders, and civil society. The institution’s research activities favor analyses concerning European and international affairs: key topical focuses include economic issues, security and strategic affairs, energy, space, migration and citizenship, health, and the environment.
- IFRI Website
International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) (United Kingdom)
The IISS is an independent research organization with a mission to promote the adoption of policies that further global peace, security, and civilized international relations. Headquartered in London, the institute also has offices in Washington, Singapore, and Bahrain. The IISS’s research agenda focuses on global security across a wide range of regional and policy areas, including armed conflict, cyber security, defense, economic and energy security, geo-economics and strategy, and nuclear policy. It is well known for its annual Military Balance assessment of countries’ armed forces and for its security summits, including the Shangri-La Dialogue. Additionally, the IISS’s corporate advisory arm provides strategic advice and political-risk analysis to commercial and governmental clients.
- Jobs & Internships at IISS
Transparency International (TI) (Germany)
Transparency International is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to eliminating corruption in government, business, and civil society. Founded in 1993, TI’s research projects analyze corruption across 18 topical areas – such as defense and security, health, climate change, private sector, and poverty and development – as well as by country. While based in Berlin, the organization has over 100 national chapters worldwide.
- Jobs & Internships at Transparency International
Amnesty International (AI) (United Kingdom)
Based in London, Amnesty International is an independent, non-governmental organization that strives to protect human rights worldwide. With more than 3 million supporters, activists, and volunteers in more than 150 countries, AI produces a broad spectrum of human rights research and advocates for policies advancing human rights through legislative work, media outreach, and grassroots mobilization. AI’s research areas include prisoners, refugees and migrants, women and children, LGBT, free speech, military and police, and business, all assessed through the lens of human rights.
- Jobs & Internships at Amnesty International
Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) (Belgium)
Based in Brussels, Centre for European Policy Studies is an independent think tank specializing in European Union affairs. CEPS’s research agenda spans the focus areas of economy and finance, regulation, rights, energy and climate change, institutions, and Europe in the world. The organization is comprised of 53 researchers and 18 support staff in addition to a large international network of partner institutes.
- Jobs & Internships at CEPS
Korea Development Institute (KDI) (Republic of Korea)
The Korea Development Institute is a leading think tank in Korea that strives to enhance the economic development of the country through research and policy recommendations. The organization’s research areas cover macroeconomics and financial economics, health and welfare economics, labor and education, international economics, industrial organization, economic development and growth, the North Korean economy, agriculture and environment, and regional economics. Throughout its research activity, KDI is dedicated to preparing and guiding Korea through fluctuating international and domestic conditions.
- KDI Website
Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) (Denmark)
The Danish Institute for International Studies is an independent research institution with a focus on international affairs. Financed primarily by the Danish state, DIIS conducts multidisciplinary research on globalization, security, development, and foreign policy and continually assesses Denmark’s foreign and political positions. In addition to its research agenda, the organization undertakes policy work commissioned by the Danish parliament, its ministries, NGOs and other clients as well as research-based consultancy. DIIS participates in academic networks and publishes in a number of influential academic journals.
- Jobs & Internships at DIIS
Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) (Japan)
Founded in 1959, the Japan Institute of International Affairs is a private, nonpartisan policy think-tank focused on foreign affairs and security issues. In addition to its international research projects, JIIA examines Japanese foreign policy and makes policy proposals to the government. The institute, in conjunction with a large network of affiliated scholars, strives to serve as an indispensable resource on international affairs to individuals worldwide.
Additional Influential Think Tanks Worldwide
- Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) (Germany)
- Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) (Germany)
- Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) (Sweden)
- Carnegie Moscow Center (Russia)
- Fundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV) (Brazil)
- China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) (China)
- German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) (Germany)
- Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) (United Kingdom)
- Carnegie Middle East Center (Lebanon)
- Asia Development Bank Institute (ADBI) (Japan)
- International Crisis Group (ICG) (Belgium)
- European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) (United Kingdom)
- Fraser Institute (Canada)
- Clingendael, Netherlands Institute of International Relations (Netherlands)
- Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) (United Kingdom)