Career Paths Profile: Natalie Jackson

Natalie JacksonNatalie Jackson is Senior Polling Editor at Huffington Post, coordinating the Pollster section of the site. Her primary focus is on polling coverage and methodology, statistical methods, and using polls to forecast elections. Natalie has a PhD in political science from the University of Oklahoma, with heavy emphasis on statistics, survey methodology, and American politics. Prior to joining Huffington Post, she worked as a survey consultant as a postdoctoral associate at Duke University and as senior analyst at the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.

What was your primary field of research in graduate school?
American politics and public policy.

What was your first post-PhD job?
I had a pre/post-doc at Duke University’s Initiative on Survey Methodology that I got while I was finishing my dissertation. The first job after that was as a Senior Analyst at the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion (Marist Poll).

What do you do now and what is a typical day like?
Senior Polling Editor, The Huffington Post—I run the Pollster section of the site, including managing polling coverage, the statistics we use for our polling aggregations, and creating election forecasts. My day-to-day responsibilities range greatly depending on what is happening in the news cycle. Lately I’ve been providing a lot of support for reporters and others at HuffPost as they work with polling and data on the primary elections. My team puts out a daily newsletter to summarize the day’s polling news, so that absorbs a decent amount of time. I’m also working on a forecasting model for the general election and writing as much as I can.

Why did you choose to pursue a career outside the academy?
I enjoyed doing on-the-ground survey research, and couldn’t figure out how I would be able to do as much of that as I wanted to in the context of a tenure-track job. I also didn’t like the slow pace of academic publishing—I’m too impatient for that! Working in polling and media is the perfect combination of methodological work, a wide variety of tasks, and the fast-paced work to suit my personality.

How has your doctoral training helped you in your career?
My career thus far has been very path-dependent. No one step could have happened without the step before it, so I wouldn’t be where I am without the PhD training. More specifically, the in-depth knowledge of public opinion and American politics is critical for offering a unique voice in covering polls and political events. I use the statistical methods I learned in grad school (and beyond) every single day.

Do you have any advice for PhD students currently considering a career outside of the academy?
Students who are considering a career outside the academy should make sure they have someone to help guide them through that process. Getting a non-academic job is very different from getting an academic job, so they need a supportive person with experience outside of academia to help. Get involved in professional organizations—there are a lot of options out here for PhD-level researchers, but you have to know where to look.

Why have you continued to be a member of APSA?
My work is political science. It might not be academic political science, but I am still part of the discipline.