A Summer with The Urban Institute


A Summer with The Urban Institute

By: Ashley W. Li


My last day at The Urban Institute is still two weeks away, but I have long been aware that I would really miss my time here at one of the nation’s top research centers. I will be finishing my three-month internship as an Emerging Scholar at the UI’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy (CNP), and now I would like to share my experience first by breaking a few myths you might have had in your mind.

(Note: all myths and facts are listed only for the purpose of providing information in a reader-friendly format. Comments are made just based on personal experience.)



Myth #1: The Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at The Urban Institute is very large.

In the nonprofit sector, we’ve heard about The Urban Institute’s big name through its numerous publications and nation-wide studies. But actually the UI’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy has a much smaller staff size than we expected! The tight team of around ten full-time researchers (excluding part-time researchers, consultants and affiliated scholars) handles dozens of research projects and is responsible for managing the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), a database with Form 990 information for all the nation’s nonprofits. At a good research center, you’ll be impressed by people’s high productivity and ability to learn!


Myth #2: Researchers at The Urban Institute are very senior and might be hard to approach.

Actually researchers at the Urban Institute are all very nice and helpful! They are very willing to answer your questions and share their expertise, and they also respect ideas from lower-level staff members. When you start a new project, you may also consider talking to other UI experts who have done related research. I actually talked to two senior researchers from other centers and even the author of the well-known book Performance Measurement, Harry Hatry, about a project I was working on. It was definitely fun talking to someone whose names I saw on book covers!


Myth #3: The Urban Institute only employs people with a master’s or higher degree.

At each center, there are entry-level positions called Research Assistants, which are normally filled by new graduates from college with a strong quantitative background. An RA could be involved in several projects and work directly with senior researchers. It is good for those who want to gain some work experience right after college. But if you want to serve the UI for a long-term, most employees do make efforts to obtain a Ph.D degree to secure a higher position.



Fact #1: What is the work environment like at The Urban Institute?

I would say the work environment at the Urban Institute is like a huge Ph.D pro