RAND Europe is a not-for-profit research institute that ‘seeks to improve policy and decision-making through independent and objective research and analysis’. Clients include philanthropic foundations, charities, the public sector and private organisations whilst their research covers everything from defence and education, to transport and healthcare. Catie, based at the Cambridge office, works for the Innovation, Health and Science team. As a trained mathematician whose PhD was based on mathematical modelling in cell biology, she was well placed to compare her current role with academic culture.
For a start, working at RAND Europe allows her to research topics that directly relate to current events. “I can explain to people why what I am doing is truly relevant – something I struggled to do for my PhD” Catie said. As an example, RAND Europe was recently commissioned by the Royal Society to investigate the importance of international mobility for UK research, in part to inform debates about the potential impacts of Brexit on science. “This included both the role of international researchers in the UK and opportunities for UK researchers to work abroad” Catie explained. The project, which used literature reviews and a survey, picked up considerable media interest, including Times Higher Education and even BuzzFeed . It's likely that the Royal Society will use the report to argue that opportunities for researcher’s mobility remain as open as possible.
But whilst Catie enjoys the potential impact of her work, she made the limitations clear. “What we do is quite upstream in the decision making process” she explained. “It definitely feeds into the discussions that are asked but we don’t always know how it affects the outcome”. Nevertheless, it can certainly make for a rewarding and highly varied career outside the lab. Catie described how a typical day for her could be a whirlwind of interviews, team meetings, project updates, presentations and client interactions. “We generally work on multiple projects at once – what you do in the morning will often have no relation to what you do in the afternoon!” she said. Not surprisingly, time management skills are key, as are team-working, critical thinking, budgeting, customer relations and plenty of writing: reports, blogs, commentaries, emails and more! But as Catie pointed out, a key advantage over academic research is that “success is based on a project simply being well executed and not so much by having to find something new or make a novel discovery”.
But if you’re up for a high-paced job with diverse colleagues and the chance to work on a variety of trending topics, then perhaps it’s time you started thinking about a career in a Thinktank…
RAND Europe's Project on Understanding Researcher Mobility
The Open Science Monitor for the European Commission