Nonprofit and think tank careers

What is a Nonprofit?

What type of organization comes to mind when you think about a nonprofit? Some nonprofit organizations (NPOs) such as the Salvation Army or the YMCA may be familiar, but there are many other types of organizations that are considered NPOs and many that hire PhD level scientists. The National Council of Nonprofits is a great resource to start learning more about nonprofits and the topics that they focus on. For more basic information on nonprofits, including nonprofits in countries other than the United States, check out the Wikipedia page for NPOs. Some examples of the types of organizations that may be NPOs are charities, foundations, professional associations, service organizations, patient associations, trade unions, and academic societies (Science Careers).


What is a think tank?

Wikipedia defines a think tank as “an organisation that performs research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture.” Some think tanks may be more familiar, such as the Heritage Foundation or Brookings Institution. According to The Economist, “think-tanks aim to fill the gap between academia and policymaking. Academics grind out authoritative studies, but at a snail’s pace. Journalists’ first drafts of history are speedy but thin. A good think-tank helps the policymaking process by publishing reports that are as rigorous as academic research and as accessible as journalism.” Thus, many think tanks are more focused on influencing government policy. This article from 80000 hours includes a review of careers in think tanks, including pros and cons of this sector, tips for getting hired into this industry, and some personal factors to consider regarding these positions.


What does a career at a nonprofit or think tank look like?

A major theme for those considering a career in NPOs is that employees at an NPO are more interested in achieving the organization’s mission and solving problems than the bottom line. Work at an NPO may have an immediate impact on society. For scientists with a PhD, this article from Science Careers will help you figure out where to start as well as some advantages and disadvantages about working in the nonprofit sector.

What might a career at an NPO look like for a PhD-level scientist?


What might a career in a think tank be like?


What are some job titles for those who work at a nonprofit or think tank?

  • Entry level: Scientific Project Officer or Scientific Program Manager
  • Mid-level: Associate Director of Research, Director of Research
  • Senior level: Executive Director or CEO of a foundation or organization (Maria Qadri)
  • Associate Projects Analyst
  • International Director of Program Strategy
  • Editorial Scientist (ACS)
  • Outreach coordinator
  • Program officer


Get experience

  • Volunteer or intern at an NPO
    • NIH resource for volunteer opportunities at nonprofits and think tanks
  • Volunteer for an event whose mission you are passionate about
  • Host your own event to raise money for a cause (Idealist Careers)


Examples of organizations who hire PhDs


Is the Nonprofit/Think Tank field a good fit for you?


Good question! Find out by completing the AAAS's My Individual Development Plan Assessment Tool, which OCPD co-created. Answer three assessments and it will calculate and compare your skills/interests/values responses to key factors for 60 different career paths within 20 different career categories that are options for you as a scientist (including consulting!). Click on the image to the left to see a sample report.


Ready to start your job search?


Take a look at some sample job descriptions.

**these are meant to serve only as examples. Actual job listing may be closed.


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