Think tanks are fast becoming the go-to resource for paving to the way towards a career in research. Syeda Ailiya tells us what think tanks are all about and how you can be part of one.

n his book The Fifth Estate: Think Tanks, Public Policy and Governance, James G McGann aptly defines think tanks as “public policy research, analysis, and engagement institutions that generate policy-oriented research, analysis, and advice on domestic and international issues that enable policymakers and the public to make informed decisions about public policy issues. Think tanks may be affiliated with a political party, a university, or a government; they are independent institutions that are structured as permanent bodies, not ad hoc commissions.” While this definition might seem broad, it is more important to understand the role of think tanks in bridging the divide between academics and policymakers by acting as a medium through which research can be applied to policymaking for the greater good of the public. In Pakistan, a limited understanding of a profession in social science subjects has resulted in a lack of students willing to study them in higher education. A lack of information on the scope, career pathway and job opportunities in these particular fields have further added to the discouragement amongst pupils in pursuing these subjects. It is essential to apprise the upcoming generation of social scientists in the country regarding adopting research as a profession.According to the University of Pennsylvania’s 2018 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report, there are a total of 25 think tanks in Pakistan. There has been a gradual increase in the number, many of which are still not part of the list. Majority of these policy institutes are located in Islamabad. 

 

Scope

The aim of most of these think tanks is to conduct and disseminate objective and rigorous scientific study on issues of national security and global significance. Each has identified specific themes on which they focus including but not limited to international relations, economics, environment, public policy, defence and security, education etc. While some are known for their flagship publications such as their academic journals, others are eminent for generating debate on current and emerging matters through seminars, round tables and conferences.

The aim of most think tanks is to conduct and disseminate objective and rigorous scientific study on issues of national security and global significance.

In general, the output of these organisations may range from analytical commentaries, research and policy papers, issue briefs, books, reports, to videos and podcasts. Internationally, think tanks play an instrumental role in policymaking. Think tanks impact policymaking in five significant ways: by the generation of original ideas, supplying experts to work as government functionaries, offering a platform for essential discussions, informing citizens and contributing in governmental efforts to resolve conflicts. In the United States, experts from think tanks regularly testify at Congressional hearings to give their opinions which help Congress members to shape future American policy.

 

Role Definition

Students in Pakistan pursuing degrees in relevant social science subjects can get some form of practical work experience through internship programmes offered at think tanks. For fresh graduates and those with a couple of years of working experience, positions of research assistant and research associate would be applicable. A research assistant would typically hold a Masters’ degree with some internship experience while a research associate would be an M Phil graduate with a few years experience. In both cases, publications and a strong research background give the applicant an advantage. Simultaneously, research work in the form of research papers and brief analyses are in most cases open for external contributors; therefore students can and must submit their writings for publication irrespective of their qualification.

Students in Pakistan pursuing degrees in relevant social science subjects can get some form of practical work experience through internship programmes offered at think tanks. For fresh graduates and those with a couple of years of working experience, positions of research assistant and research associate would be applicable.

 

The Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) aspires to engage the youth of Pakistan. Since its inception in 2015, the centre has intended to work with fresh ideas and a dynamic team of young researchers. Currently, we have four research programmes: China Pakistan Economic Corridor Initiative, South Asian Security, Environment Sustainability and Climate Change, and Mapping Emerging and Future Technologies. These programmes are modelled to accommodate publications, various projects, and events on select themes. Internships at the CSCR are open all year round. We are looking for students or fresh graduates who are determined, committed and passionate about a career in research on global affairs. For full-time paid positions, selected applicants appear in a written test on International Relations and its sub-fields as well as a test of English Language. Shortlisted applicants undergo initial screening by our Research Associates and are later interviewed by department directors. We encourage all those interested in doing serious research to apply by visiting our website.

In Pakistan, there is still quite a gap in the role of think tanks in policymaking. There are various factors which inhibit think tanks in the country from playing an instrumental role in policymaking which include lack of seriousness given by state authorities to the inputs of think tanks, non-familiarization about the concept of think tanks within policy circles, and lack of access granted by state authorities to think tanks to come up with policy inputs. Another very crucial aspect is limited avenues of funding for such organisations. To conduct quality research, it is imperative that the cream of social science graduates find their way to research positions in think tanks so that policymaking in our country is backed by evidence-based research for the policymakers, government officials and the civil society at large.

Syeda Ailiya Naqvi is the Managing Editor at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She can be reached at ailiya@cscr.pk

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