Director, Data Labs

Pew Research Center Washington , DC 20319

Posted 5 days ago

Organization Overview

Pew Research Center ("the Center"), a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping the world, seeks an experienced and innovative leader to serve as its next Director of Data Labs. This role presents an exciting opportunity to shape the future of research at one of the nation's most respected institutions.

The Center conducts demographic research, public opinion polling, media content analysis, and other empirical social science research in the areas of U.S. politics and policy views; media and journalism; internet and technology; religion and public life; Hispanic trends; global attitudes and U.S. social and demographic trends. The Center does not take policy positions, and among its core values are independence, objectivity, accuracy, rigor, humility, transparency, and innovation. More information about the Center is available at

In response to the changing nature of data on human behaviors and attitudes, the Center created Data Labs in 2015 to explore the emerging field of computational social science (CSS), which applies data science methods to social science research questions. Data Labs uses CSS to complement and expand on the Center's existing research agenda. The Center's long-term objectives for Data Labs are to integrate CSS among research teams across the Center and to build the Center's external reputation as a leader in applying CSS to practical research questions.

To achieve these goals, the Center seeks a Director with a combination of highly developed technical skills, including CSS expertise, as well as leadership and management experience in a rigorous research environment. Strong candidates will have a track record of building partnerships and relationships with multiple stakeholders both inside and outside an organization; recruiting and developing a high-performing, technically skilled team; superb judgment and focus; and exceptional communication skills and credibility when communicating with external audiences. A Masters, PhD, or other terminal degree with a strong quantitative focus is required.

Pew Research Center has retained Isaacson, Miller, a national executive search firm, to assist in this important recruitment. All applications, inquiries, and nominations, which will remain confidential, should be directed to the search firm as indicated at the end of this document.


Data Labs was established as a testing ground for newly emerging digital and organic data sources and the cutting-edge approaches used to analyze them. The Data Labs team collects text, network, and behavioral datasets; uses innovative computational techniques and empirical strategies for analysis; and generates original research.

Data Labs also explores the limitations of these data and methods and works toward establishing standards for use and analysis that meet the expectations of rigor and transparency required by the Center. In addition to CSS, Data Labs employs methodologies honed across the Center, such as survey research, content analysis and survey experiments. Data Labs both produces its own reports and collaborates with other research groups at the Center, applying new computational approaches to existing research questions. As is true for Pew Research Center as a whole, Data Labs is nonpartisan and nonadvocacy.

Data Labs also manages the Center's computing infrastructure, including building high-performance computing systems and databases that facilitate web data collection and processing; deploying platforms that facilitate collaborative, replicable analysis in R and Python; and developing systems to automate research tasks such as content classification for machine learning. In its first year, Data Labs focused on building its Logos Political Data Initiative, which facilitates research on what elected officials say and how that relates to whom they represent and the way they govern.

Logos has allowed Data Labs to produce several reports on partisan antipathy in congressional communications and Congress' media sharing behavior on social media. More recent Data Labs projects have expanded into other research areas, such as the prevalence of bots on Twitter and social trends in open-ended survey responses.

From an organizational perspective, the Center views the work of Data Labs in two ways:

  • Internal: To foster innovation and experimentation that expands and strengthens the Center's ability to conduct research.

  • External: To maintain and enhance the Center's reputation as the gold standard in the social science field by leading efforts to test and refine current and new methods of data collection and analysis that augment existing research and help tell even richer stories.

While the Data Lab's charter is not to develop new CSS techniques, the organization sees its niche as playing a leading role in rigorously vetting and setting standards for the proper use of CSS, applying cutting-edge CSS techniques to practical research questions, communicating the methods and findings for external audiences, and connecting CSS approaches with public opinion surveys and demographic analysis. Success in each of these areas has required an increased emphasis on internal skill development and external partnership building.

Primary Responsibilities

In the three years since its founding, Data Labs has laid the foundation for CSS integration and technical skill building across the Center. While off to a promising start, the incoming Director must utilize their technical expertise and administrative skills to further these efforts. Reporting to the Vice President of Research and leading a team of data scientists, engineers, and computational social scientists, the Director will be charged with achieving two main goals in the coming years:

  • Internal: Over the next five years, the Center integrates CSS methodologies and data collection across the organization, with Labs acting as a central hub for collaboration and internal consulting.

  • External: Within the next five years, the Center is recognized as a leader in explaining the challenges and opportunities of applying CSS to practical research questions; is sought after to explain these methods to a lay audience; and leads the field in bridging CSS with survey and demographic data.

To this end, the overarching challenge for the next Director is to help the Center achieve these objectives, overseeing efforts to apply CSS to practical research questions internally; to have people seek the Center out to explain these methods to a lay audience; and to be in the vanguard of using blended data when possible.

Specifically, success for the next Director will be measured by how well they meet the following opportunities and challenges:

Continue to build the technical capacity of the Data Labs team

The successful integration of CSS requires research staff with a set of highly technical skills. While the Center has and will continue to offer training opportunities for current staff to develop these skills, its initial approach has been to recruit experts from the outside, enabling it to more quickly increase Data Labs' technical expertise and more swiftly embed CSS in an initial set of research programs.

Recruitment will continue to be an important approach, and the next Director must ensure that CSS expertise is a key factor in future hiring decisions. At the same time, the Director will oversee efforts to develop existing staff, helping them to understand the latest developments in CSS and to possess sufficient skills to productively contribute to a CSS project.

Collaborate with existing Pew research teams

The Center's long-term goal is to build an operation in which CSS is seamlessly integrated into the research agenda. Initial efforts to achieve this integration have focused on teams who were already experimenting with big data analytics or who were aware of the advantages of this approach.

The next phase of this work will involve educating and expanding CSS integration to other Center research directors and teams, some of which are still learning how to incorporate new data and methods into their projects. The Director must be an internal advocate for CSS, building partnerships with research teams and clearly and compellingly making the case for further CSS integration. This will involve finding opportunities to educate new teams on CSS opportunities in their work, engaging early on Data Labs-led projects to ensure coordination across the Center, and building the team's capacity for discernment and scoping of projects that are likely to have a high return on time investment.

Balance research and publication within Data Labs and in collaboration with other research teams

As stated earlier, the Data Labs team like other project teams at the Center -- has the opportunity to propose and execute research projects that contribute to the Center's overarching research goals. While the Labs team's methodological work will continue to originate and be conducted by Labs' staff, over time the Center's goal is to shift toward a model where at least half the research executed by the team is conducted in partnership with other content teams. The latter will involve experimenting with the application of new methods, encouraging the use of Logos and other existing databases, and making new data collections available for analysis.

Lead communications and external outreach on behalf of Data Labs

The Center's Communications team employs a structured, deliberate process that emphasizes relevance, importance, and rigor, and the Center holds Data Labs projects to these same standards. In this environment, the next Director will establish a framework for communications and external outreach that continues to prioritize the Center's core values while imagining new systems and structures that are better suited for the Data Labs context.

In addition to navigating these internal systems, the Director will serve as a compelling and credible external representative of and ambassador for Data Labs and the Center. The Director will regularly interact with the media, present at conferences and other fora, and serve on relevant advisory boards, raising the profile of Data Labs and its experts.

Given the complex nature of Data Labs' work, the Center will look to the Director to play a role in explaining CSS to the media and other external stakeholders. To be effective in this work, the Director must present as a confident and polished public speaker in a variety of settings.

Lead and manage the Data Labs team

An experienced manager, the Director will lead Data Labs staff to maintain high standards of performance and to collaborate with colleagues across the Center's research teams. The Director will bring exemplary organizational development skills to bear in building and managing strong teams, and in galvanizing a commitment to continuous professional development and improvement.

In addition to the aforementioned emphasis on increasing the technical skills of the Data Labs team, the Director has the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing development of research staff through mentoring and professional development opportunities aimed at enhancing skills, such as writing and public speaking. The thoughtful, methodical development of individual staff members will thereby strengthen the larger organization, improving the Data Labs team's ability to achieve the Center's goals.

Knowledge and Skill Requirements

At this critical juncture in Data Labs' history, the Center seeks a leader with a unique combination of technical expertise and administrative skills to advance its goals of building an operation in which CSS is seamlessly integrated into the research agenda and where Data Labs is recognized as leaders in the application of CSS. While no one person will embody them all, the successful candidate will possess many of the following experiences, skills, and attributes:

  • Masters, PhD, or other terminal degree with a strong quantitative focus.

  • Significant leadership, management, and decision-making experience with direct accountability for results.

  • Expert-level skills in CSS as well as an understanding of how CSS approaches can compliment survey and demographic research.

  • Social science research experience relevant to the Center's areas of focus.

  • Honed judgment and focus with an analytical and disciplined approach to selecting opportunities that are likely to have a high return on time investment.

  • A track record of recruiting, developing, empowering, and mentoring a high-performing team, and a management style that actively seeks engagement and input from staff.

  • Demonstrated success in building partnerships and relationships with multiple stakeholders both inside and outside an organization.

  • A deep understanding of the value of a diverse community and a track record of advancing diversity and enhancing inclusiveness.

  • A leadership style characterized by the highest personal integrity and ethics, transparency, and accessibility.

  • A compelling and trusted public presence to amplify the work of Data Labs. An ability to communicate with a diverse group of stakeholders and the media in both formal and informal settings.

  • Political savvy and imagination, and the skill to identify non-conventional ways to meet organizational objectives in a highly structured environment.


Inquiries, nominations, and applications should be sent in strict confidence to:

Andrew Lee, Partner

Amy Segal, Managing Associate

Isaacson, Miller
1300 19th Street, NW, Suite 700

Washington, DC 20036

(202) 682-1504

Electronic submission of application materials is strongly encouraged.

The Pew Research Center is an equal opportunity employer, committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace. Pew considers qualified applicants for employment without regard to age, sex, ethnicity, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity, military/veteran status, or any other basis prohibited by applicable law.

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Director, Data Labs

Pew Research Center