Occupations for non-academic research?
November 30, 2010 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Occupations for non-academic research?

I love doing research, and I'm in library school. I'm interested in finding out the proper terminology and career options for people who are non-academic researchers. I'm not interested in specific subjects, so I suspect academia is out, but correct me if I'm wrong. Public opinion and market research jobs are out as well.

There are only a few places that I can think of where such people are employed: the Congressional Research Service, and fact-checkers for news shows (think Rachel Maddow, who frequently sings the praises of her 'crack team of researchers'). Are CRS workers generalists, or do they specialize? Are news researchers in-house or freelance? What job title do they have, and what other kinds of workplaces can they be found in? Would my MLS degree and work-related research experience be considered good qualifications?

I took a cursory look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook, but I only found descriptions of academic and market researchers. I'm a bit embarrassed that I can't find more info, and I want to be the kind of person who can find anything. Hence, this is anonymous.

Thanks, meta-pals!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a freelance news and media researcher. Most of my work comes from broadcasters (I mostly do radio), but I have also worked for documentary producers and for journalists.

It's a fantastic job. When I'm on a broadcast team, I'm responsible for finding topics and guests, as well as doing the research for the hosts. Basically my job is making sure they know what they're talking about. It involves a lot of surfing the web, reading through lingo-heavy documents to distill their essence, and digging through old magazine articles.

I got started after journalism school by doing an internship at the CBC, as have most researchers I know. Community radio stations also need volunteer researchers, it's a great place to learn the basics.
posted by OLechat at 9:42 AM on November 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have an MLIS and have had numerous jobs like these. Some of my titles along the way: "information research specialist," "knowledge management specialist," "information analyst." I had many years of experience as a university business librarian first, then moved on to Big Software Company, then worked in Big Health Care. Caveat: these jobs are the first to go when layoff time comes.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:47 AM on November 30, 2010

They've been running a lot of ads on the morning news for some reason which is why they spring to mind...but perhaps....the CIA*?

=== from the link ===
Information management- Most people who work in this field are considered information management officers. They have a large pay scale (the average entry income range is around $57,000)....To get into this department, applicants must have a Library Science degree or in another major such as Business, Liberal Arts or Management Information Systems...Other good skills to have include technology, search, communication and customer service skills...

* Motto: Assassinating Castro since 1959
posted by Wink Ricketts at 9:54 AM on November 30, 2010

I once interviewed for a research job at E! (for True Hollywood Story, actually.) They hired someone with an MLS and four or five years of experience, if I recall correctly (might have been more experience.) But note: all I had at the time was "almost a bachelor's in Political Science" and that was good enough to get the interview. It paid better than my job at Disneyland, but that wasn't saying much. The job was all office-based work; they had other people to go out and bother county clerks in Iowa.

Anyway, I assume that all of the Discovery/History/TruTV/etc. shows have a few jobs like this.
posted by SMPA at 10:06 AM on November 30, 2010

CRS, from what I understand, does require a certain amount of specialization. At least they do for legal research positions. Those are highly coveted jobs so I wouldn't bother applying there until you have some pretty substantial work experience.
posted by orrnyereg at 10:11 AM on November 30, 2010

I assume what you mean by research is collection from primary sources rather than generation of those sources yourself (i.e. the work of conducting surveys, doing consultations, interviews, focus panel and the like).

There are a lot of people in government who do exactly that, usually as "researchers" or "policy analysts", though these people are directed towards specific subjects and are generally expected to become subject-matter experts. Non-profits and industry groups do the same sort of work, on the opposite side, as it were, to aid their lobby efforts of government. These may be broader in scope, as nonprofits and industry associations tend to have a range of interests, but will still be specific to a certain subject area. Depending on how narrow "too specific" is for you, they may be broad enough for you.

Both government and the non-profit/lobby sectors will hire generalist researchers but you will always be directed towards specific subjects, depending on their interests. Note that academics do the same too. They just get to choose their interest area. In many ways, academics are the ultimate in narrow specialization.
posted by bonehead at 10:15 AM on November 30, 2010

Research services for novelists, like Lisa Gold.
posted by dhruva at 10:25 AM on November 30, 2010

Community radio stations also need volunteer researchers, it's a great place to learn the basics.

Can you say more about this? Where would you go / who would you ask about this sort of volunteer work?

posted by nebulawindphone at 10:34 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm also a freelancer researcher for film and TV, and while I specialize in visuals, I also do the odd bit of historical work, news, etc. Most of these jobs are for freelancers (almost no production company keeps someone on staff full-time, unless they're also an AP, assn't editor, writer, etc.)

I started in production work from print journalism, and went from there. I don't have a specialty, outside of images. Maddow's team aren't checking just facts--they're assisting the producers, getting in Broll, pre-interviewing guests, etc. Most news/talk show outfits have similar staff.

For news and talk shows, an MLS degree isn't all that useful--knowing about TV production and where to find information quickly is more helpful. Even long form documentaries need someone who can wear several hats, not just research.

Freelance work means you're always looking for work, and most people who do what I do have several projects going on at the same time.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:43 AM on November 30, 2010

Opposition research for a campaign or consulting firm of your favored political flavor. An MLS would probably be helpful, but really it's more important to know how to find information fast and have a good sense of what's politically important. Unions also hire lots of researchers. The AFL-CIO even has a researcher job bank that you can submit your resume to.
posted by fancypants at 11:30 AM on November 30, 2010

Prospect Research is one avenue. It has a "private detective" vibe that can be fun, if that's your thing. Prospect researchers also spend time doing issue based research, as well as foundation and corporation research. It's one way to enter the non-profit world and work for causes you support.
posted by kimdog at 11:51 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who used to work for the Library of Congress. Her job was to write up small reports on, for example, the trends in yearly dairy output in the upper peninsula, in response to requests from members of congress.

I always thought that the coolest of jobs - she basically knew a little bit about everything, as the information requests were all over the map
posted by overhauser at 12:06 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

nebulawindphone - My city (Montreal) has at least four or five community stations, plus the university ones. I volunteer at one of them two days a week in the newsroom, covering local politics and other Montreal news, mostly doing research. I would just email either the volunteer coordinator or the programming director to see if they need any researchers.
posted by OLechat at 12:52 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Congressional Research Service jobs are pretty area-specific these days.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:31 PM on November 30, 2010

An unconventional opportunity...
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:02 AM on December 2, 2010

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