Five Research Jobs You May Have Overlooked

For students and research assistants, academia is a fairly obvious career aspiration. Research skills can take you down a number of other career paths, however, including work with government, corporations and nonprofit organizations. Even people who might feel that their humanities or social science backgrounds don’t apply outside of academia might be surprised by the career options available to them.

Stephanie Kinkaid, assistant director of the Wackerle Career Center at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, says the list of potential jobs for people with research experience is lengthy.

“Students come to me, often as a junior or senior, saying ‘I’ve got this liberal arts degree, now what do I do with it?’” she says. “Sometimes people gloss over the fact that liberal arts is not just liberal arts, but reading, writing, researching. These are skills that can carry you to almost any field.”

In addition to suggesting that students talk with a career counselor and look at job-market trends, Kinkaid identifies a few research-oriented jobs for students and research assistants to consider:

1) Grant Writing: When nonprofit and government-run organizations – school districts, for one – need to raise money for a project, they often submit a grant proposal, and for this, they hire a grant writer. Grant writers must analyze data, explain it in a way a layperson can understand, and market it to a specific population – all of which are skills researchers need. If the grant involves money for a research project or a subject area the researcher is familiar with, a research background is even more important.

2) Literature Review: Researchers have to know how to read and analyze texts. This is a valuable skill for businesses in many industries that are trying to understand exactly what government policies and regulations mean for them, and how they can navigate their way through them. Particularly for students in the humanities and social sciences, this can be a great field.

3) Forensic Accounting: If you have an eye for numbers and patterns, a forensic accounting position might be perfect for you. Corporations and governments trying to thwart fraud and embezzlement are increasingly turning to people with both research and accounting skills to find numbers that are out of place and potentially save the organization millions of dollars.

4) Legal Researcher: Someone with research skills and a paralegal certification (or a JD) can become a research assistant at a law firm. In their activities inside and outside the courtroom, attorneys primarily spend their time speaking to clients, other attorneys and judges. For those situations, they need someone to do the research on specific case law and other details, and that’s where a legal research assistant comes in.

5) Corporate Researcher: There are dozens of research-related positions at corporations, from forensic accountants to literature reviewers to planning executives. Most of these positions involve collecting, reviewing and analyzing data and writing reports about them.

Research in Action

Rebekah Turner is a researcher with Beal Associates, a Milwaukee-based firm that matches executives with companies. She researches and compiles reports to inform companies of industry trends – such as trends in compensation of executives – and performs similar research to compile biographies of executives. These biographies go into a database which helps match the leaders with companies who need them. She is just one example of a researcher who has transferred her abilities into a lesser-known career field.

Whatever position you seek, Kinkaid emphasizes the importance of successfully conveying your research skills. An online portfolio with examples of your research and other skills and related background can be a great way to do that. Conference presentations are another valuable way to showcase skills, because they show you can not only research, but communicate your findings and their significance to an audience.

To repeat Kinkaid’s advice: you must also be aware of market trends (perhaps with the assistance of a career counselor) and, of course, mindful of fields where hiring prospects seem brightest. This doesn’t mean, however, giving up on your passions, just as using your skills doesn’t mean staying within your subject area.

“Students shouldn’t get stymied into one particular role because that’s what they studied in college,” Kinkaid says. “What employers care about is the experiences you’ve had and how you’ve applied them.”