Institutional Research

What it is

Helping a large organization answer questions about itself by doing internal research. Universities, hospitals, government agencies, corporations, all employ internal researchers to investigate important questions. For example, a university might want to know, What factors influence the success of minority undergrads in social science programs? Why do students choose to come to this university? How is the new academic calendar affecting faculty productivity? And so on. Institutional research, or “IR,” is the unit that answers such questions. It may not always go by exactly that name, but the function is the same across all types of organization: answering questions from internal stakeholders.

Starting points

Many entry-level position titles include the word “analyst.” You would probably start in a position where you are following the instructions of your supervisor. Good way to learn the ropes.


IR professionals can rise to the Director level at their institutions, or can change institutions for greater pay and responsibility. Once you have worked in a given setting (university, corporation, hospital, etc.) for several years, it is probably easier to advance within that domain than to change domains, but still possible. You can also transition into Research Administration without too much difficulty.


Social scientists and anthropologists have an edge here. The more you have analyzed large data sets or done quantitative or qualitative research involving human subjects, the more qualified you are to enter IR. Humanities PhDs have been known to make the leap, too.

Personality and outlook

An institutional researcher should be genuinely curious to learn more about the inner functioning of their organization. S/he should appreciate methodological rigor, be patient and persistent, and have good social skills––IR is most definitely a team sport.


Your own university no doubt has an IR unit. Find it on the website, get a sense of them, then pay them a visit or ask for an informational interview. Ask if they have an internship, or can create one for you. Join IR associations or LinkedIn groups. Read about the profession and conduct informational interviews to learn more.

Real Life Examples