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Ben Zaranko

Research Economist, Pensions and Public Finance research programme

What first attracted you to IFS?

I was initially attracted by the reputation of the IFS and the unique role it plays in public life. I particularly liked the fact that it bridges the gap between the academic and policy worlds and seeks to communicate its research to a wide audience.  After a brief stint in the private sector, I’d also decided that I wanted to pursue further study in economics, and the possibility of studying part-time at UCL whilst working at the IFS really appealed to me. 

 

Which projects are you working on at the moment?

I spend around half of my time on projects relating to the public finances, with a particular focus on government spending. I’m just coming to the end of a report looking at how effectively public spending has been controlled over the last 25 years, which is part of a wider project with researchers from the University of Oxford, and I’m about to start a project looking at some of the options and challenges for the government at the forthcoming Spending Review. I also work on projects relating to health and social care. I was involved in a recent report on the future of NHS funding, and am currently working on an academic paper examining the impact of cuts to social care on how older people use Accident and Emergency services. All in all, I’ve got a nice mix of academic and policy-orientated work on the go.

 

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

This depends on what sort of project I’m working on and how close it is to completion. When we’re just getting started on a project, I typically spend a lot of time analysing data. With the public finances, this is generally done in Excel. On projects with a more academic slant, I tend to spend more time writing code in statistical software packages to conduct more formal empirical analysis. Towards the end, I am more likely to be writing up our findings into a report, academic paper, or presentation. Following the release of our recent NHS funding report, I was also involved with writing articles for newspapers and responding to queries from journalists. Throughout, work at the IFS is incredibly collaborative and I spend a lot of time discussing ideas with colleagues and taking on board their feedback and suggestions.

 

What do you particularly enjoy about the job?

I learn so much from my colleagues: they’re enthusiastic, generous with their time, and the IFS has incredible depth of institutional knowledge. I find my projects interesting and seeing them through to completion is extremely satisfying – especially when our work gets noticed by policymakers and the press. 

 

How has your career progressed so far at IFS?

I’ve hugely enjoyed my first year at the IFS. As well as developing my knowledge and research skills, from a very early stage I’ve had the opportunity to do things like present our findings at academic conferences and to policymakers within government. I’m starting a part-time masters at UCL later this year, which is something I’m really looking forward to. 

 

What have you learned from working here?

My understanding of the public finances and the health and social care system is certainly far better than it was! I’ve also learned to code which, while tough at the start, has been far more enjoyable than I was expecting. My writing has improved in terms of its brevity and clarity, and my ability to think critically about economic issues has improved through discussions with colleagues and attending academic seminars. 

 

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.