What Is a Research Analyst?

Research analyst typing on laptop

When research papers are assigned, do you jump for joy while other students in the class groan? Do you enjoy sorting through data, organizing it and reflecting upon it? You may have what it takes to become a research analyst.

What is a research analyst, and what does a research analyst do? Essentially, a research analyst is someone who is responsible for compiling, organizing, analyzing and writing reports. They can work in a range of fields—from pharmaceuticals to finance—but this career guide focuses specifically on the role of public-sector (government) research analysts.

Responsibilities of a Research Analyst

A government research analyst is a subject matter expert (SME) who analyzes raw data and turns it into actionable insights and recommendations for government agencies to consider as public policy is shaped and evaluated. Their work can inform the evaluation, planning and implementation of various agency services and programs. There are many possible specializations that a government research analyst could choose, including political, financial, energy and emergency management.

For example, an economic research analyst who works for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) might be responsible for keeping track of foreign economic, trade and financial interests. These foreign interests can affect the interests of the U.S. and guide our foreign policy. An economic research analyst who works for the CIA might also explore the financial interests of global terrorists and other criminals, such as by investigating money laundering or foreign corruption.

What Does a Research Analyst Do?

The day-to-day tasks of a government research analyst will depend largely on the mission and needs of the government agency they work for. In general, a research analyst may engage in the following tasks:

  • Compile data: A research analyst must first identify the types of data needed and the likeliest sources for these data. The analyst must also verify the accuracy of the data collected.
  • Analyze data: Mathematical, statistical and analytical models are used to analyze the raw data. Analysts pay particular attention to data patterns and trends.
  • Apply data: Research analysts may need to interpret the data so their resulting insights can be applied. In other words, they may develop recommendations that can shape public policy and government programs.
  • Present data: These professionals must clearly explain their findings and any recommendations to stakeholders, who may include program directors and government officials.

How To Become a Government Research Analyst

Now that you know the answer to the question, “What is a research analyst?” you may have decided that this career appeals to you. If it does, you can get started working toward your ideal career right now, even if you’re still in high school. Talk to your high school guidance counselor about your career aspirations and adjust your course load accordingly.

Mathematics courses—especially classes in statistics—are helpful for aspiring research analysts. Other relevant courses may depend on your preferred area of specialization. For instance, if you’re thinking of becoming an economic or financial research analyst, you should take economics courses.

Some government job openings for research analysts may indicate that foreign language proficiency is required or preferred. This is especially true of agencies that handle foreign matters, such as the CIA. In addition to foreign language classes, consider taking a public speaking course or signing up for a public speaking club, as you’ll need to develop strong presentation skills.

As you approach your high school graduation date, you’ll need to start thinking about your bachelor’s degree. An undergraduate degree is the minimum requirement for aspiring government research analysts. In some cases, these professionals may be expected to earn a graduate degree as well.

Earning Your Public Policy Degree

Your first major step toward your future career as a government research analyst is to earn a public policy degree from an accredited university. Research analysts can come to this role from other academic backgrounds, such as finance, criminal justice or emergency management, depending on their intended area of specialization. However, it can be a smart move not to specialize too early.

A public policy degree is a versatile choice that is applicable to a range of specializations. In this degree program, you’ll study political leadership, public governance and public policy development. The specific curriculum can vary from one school to the next, but in general, this degree may examine the following areas:

  • Key concepts of the U.S. Constitution
  • Qualitative and quantitative research methods in politics and public policy
  • The processes and impacts of policymaking
  • Comparative government, international politics and foreign relations
  • The theories and practices of government administration
  • Contemporary topics in state–local government relations in areas such as healthcare and homeland security

Depending on the particular type of agency you’d like to work for, you may wish to declare a minor in a field such as a foreign language or international relations. It can also be helpful to explore internship opportunities in local and state public agencies. For example, you might serve as a legislative intern in the state legislature.

Earning a Graduate Degree

Not all government research analysts are required or expected to have a graduate degree; it depends on the particular job and agency. It’s possible to land an entry-level job in this field with just a bachelor’s degree.

However, if you would like to qualify for a senior position later in your career, it can be helpful to pursue a master’s degree. So, which type of graduate degree should you earn for this career?

Students may choose a graduate degree that focuses on areas like public administration, public policy or government. For example, a Master of Public Administration (MPA) with an Emphasis in Government and Policy would be a versatile choice. This type of degree program would explore topics such as leadership in public organizations, ethical public governance and public budgeting. 

When choosing a graduate program, consider your preferred area of specialization. For instance, if you’d like to focus your career on emergency management, healthcare or criminal justice, then you may be better off choosing a graduate degree that explores those specific areas.

Generally, government research analysts aren’t expected to earn a doctorate degree. However, doing so could enable you to climb to the top of your profession. Another option to consider is skipping the master’s degree and instead going to law school after earning your public policy bachelor’s degree, although earning a JD (Juris Doctor) is certainly not mandatory for aspiring research analysts.

You can begin working toward a rewarding career in public policy and government when you earn your undergraduate degree at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Arts in Government with an Emphasis in State and Local Public Policy degree program explores relevant topics such as future public servants, with an emphasis on ethical leadership, critical thinking, sound research and analytical reasoning. You can learn more about joining our dynamic learning community online or in person by clicking on Request Info at the top of your screen.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.