Perkins joined the Harvard University faculty in 1963 and has held several positions, including Director of the Harvard University Asia Center, Director of the Harvard Institute of International Development, Associate Director of the East Asian (now Fairbank) Research Center, and Chairman of the Department of Economics. He has served as an advisor or consultant on economic policy and reform to the governments of Korea, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Papua New Guinea. He has also been a consultant to the World Bank, the Ford Foundation, various private corporations, and agencies of the U.S. government.