Ben Zaranko

Published on 20 July 2022

Senior Research Economist, Pensions and Public Finance research programme

What first attracted you to IFS?

After studying economics at university, I did a stint in the private sector for an actuarial firm. I quickly realised that this wasn’t where my interests lie, and that I wanted to return to economics. I was attracted to the IFS in part by its reputation and remit, but also by the financial support the IFS provides towards postgraduate study. I was pretty sure I wanted to do a Masters, but the courses I was interested in were (and are) enormously, prohibitively expensive. The option of doing a part-time MSc at UCL while working at the IFS was therefore hugely appealing.

Which projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m writing this in late 2022. I spent a large part of the summer and autumn co-editing the IFS Green Budget, our annual flagship publication looking at the options and challenges facing the Chancellor ahead of the Budget. This year, that meant continually adapting and re-writing chapters as the economic picture changed, and as the political and fiscal chaos unfolded. That’s been interesting and rewarding, but it didn’t leave much time for my other, slower-paced research projects. I’m now switching my focus to other, more academic, projects, examining things like the returns to human capital in nursing, the impacts of high NHS waiting lists, factors affecting the retention of social care workers, and the distribution of NHS spending.

What kinds of things do you do during a typical day at work?

It really depends on the day and the time of year. Today, I started with a call with a journalist to talk them through some analysis we’ve recently published. I then spent an hour or so analysing some new NHS data published that morning, before joining a call with my co-authors to discuss the next stage of an academic paper we’ve been working on, and then spending a few hours editing a first draft of a report we’re putting out later this month. Some days, I might spend most of the day buried in data analysis; on other days, I might spend the entire day writing. In the run-up to or aftermath of a Budget or fiscal event, I might spend more time dealing with media enquiries or doing radio or TV interviews. It varies – but I think that’s a nice feature of the job.

What do you particularly enjoy about the job?

It’s a bit of a cliché, but I really enjoy working with such a bright and impressive group of colleagues. The mix of work, and the balance between quick-paced responsive work and in-depth academic research, also suits me. I also particularly enjoy the public-facing side of the role, whether that be giving presentations and lectures, speaking to journalists, doing broadcast interviews, or sharing our findings via social media. The IFS occupies a pretty unique role in public life and it’s great to be a part of that.  

How has your career progressed so far at IFS?

I joined the IFS as a Research Economist at 22, with an undergraduate degree and 9 months of work experience in the private sector. I’ve since studied part-time towards a Masters at UCL, been promoted to Senior Research Economist, and started to develop my own ‘niche’ and area of specialism. There’s nowhere else I’d have rather spent the last 5 and a bit years.

What have you learned from working here?

For starters, I’ve learned an awful lot about UK fiscal policy. I’ve still got a way to go to catch up with some of my colleagues, but I’ve steadily built up my knowledge of obscure features of our tax system and public finance framework. I’ve certainly developed as an economist, partly through formal study and training, but also through exposure to ideas, discussion and top-quality people. My ability to think about, work through, and communicate economic ideas has undoubtedly improved. I’ve also learned to code – something which I never expected to enjoy, but which I’ve found surprisingly rewarding.

How would you describe the working environment?

I arrived on my first day worrying about whether I was dressed smartly enough, only for my manager to come down to reception in shorts and a t-shirt, and make me worry instead that I had over-dressed. The office is incredibly relaxed in that sense. More broadly, people at the IFS are demanding in terms of the quality of your work, but don’t spend the whole time looking over your shoulder – you are trusted to get on with it. There is a definite culture of knowledge sharing and helping others, which makes it a really supportive work environment. On the social side, I play for the office five-a-side football team (which is high on enthusiasm, low on quality) and frequently join colleagues for a drink after work on Fridays. 

Education and profile

BA Economics and Management, University of Oxford, 2016

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