Where does a research assistant job lead?

J-PAL and our many partner organizations are in the process of a massive recruitment effort to fill 100+ positions all over the world. The most common position is as a research associate either helping to run a randomized evaluation or analyzing the data from an RCT (often in the US). Many only stay in these positions for a couple of years: they are stepping stones. Where do they lead?

In an RA position you learn a lot about data: how to write a good survey, how to supervise a team of enumerators, how to clean data and (in a few positons) how to analyze it. This highly practical training is a great entry point and complement to the theoretical training in an economics or political science PhD, and many of my RAs have gone on to top PhD programs at Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley, etc. Dan Keniston, for example, was one of my first RAs and is now an assistant professor at Yale.

But a practical training in how to collect high quality data and run rigorous impact evaluations is useful well beyond academics. There are now enough organizations doing high-quality impact evaluations that it is possible to build a career moving up and between these organizations. For example, Mike Duthie, an RA of mine in Bangladesh, went on to become Country Director for Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) in Sierra Leone and now works for Social Impact managing projects all over the world. Buddy Shah and Andrew Fraker worked as RAs for me in India and (with others) launched their own impact evaluation NGO, which is expanding rapidly. Tricia Gonwa worked with me in the J-PAL Cambridge office, then was Country Director for IPA in Liberia, and now works for the Gender Lab at the World Bank.

It is also possible to have a career within J-PAL and IPA: Iman Sen was an RA on my project in Bangladesh and then in Cambridge, and is now Assistant Director of Research at J-PAL South Asia. Shobhini Mukerji worked as an RA in J-PAL South Asia and is now Executive Director there.

Many jobs offer RAs from Europe and the US the opportunity to live and work in a developing country. When I first wanted to get into development work I was faced with a catch-22: I could not get a job in development without having worked in a developing country, but I could not get that experience without already having it. For many, the chance to become an integral part of another society is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. There are few other jobs where you have the chance to work in such a diverse and close knit team. Some RAs go on to build businesses based on these experiences. I have already mentioned IDInsight. Bureh belts is another example. It was launched by Grant Bridgman (South Africa), Dan Heyman (US), and Fatoma Momoh (Sierra Leone) .

If you'd like to apply for a research associate position at J-PAL, click here for more information.