Political scientists research and study the history, evolution and modern operation of political systems. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a slim majority of those in the public administration field are employed by the federal government, but jobs can also be found within nonprofit organizations, think tanks, businesses, advocacy groups and institutions of higher education.
The BLS predicts employment of political scientists will decrease by 2% from 2014 to 2024. While employment is slated to decrease slightly, that decrease may be paired by a growing number of political science graduates entering the job market. Competition may be intense, but for those with an exemplary academic record, impeccable research skills and a passion for the subject material, employment is certainly attainable.
Political science is a research-intensive profession. Political scientists are proficient in and conduct both quantitative and qualitative research to develop and test theories. Graduate-level statistics courses and the skills gained from them can be invaluable throughout a political science career. Political scientists are also tasked with documenting and presenting their ideas, findings and analyzes in a number of ways, including white papers, verbal presentations to superiors, and publishing in academic journals.
Political scientists often choose to specialize in one of four major areas of study: American politics, political theory, comparative politics and international relations. The latter two fields are becoming particularly important as our world and our economy grow smaller and more interdependent. A political scientist’s choice of specialization will often dictate the type of organization they become employed with.
Issue-oriented employers like businesses, lobbyists/advocacy groups and nonprofits will expect their political scientists to be experts in the laws and policies that affect their respective industries. Political scientists are charged with evaluating the effects of past and current policies as well as predicting which policies may be implemented in the future and the potential impacts they will have.
More generalized employers such as government, think tanks and academia will expect political scientists to conduct comparative analyzes of all possible policy options and make recommendations based on their research. They may also wish to employ political scientists who can take the nation’s temperature via opinion polls, surveys and election results and then synthesize that data in a meaningful way. Political scientists are expected to be both historians and fortunetellers who are able to predict possible social and political trends before they happen.
As a highly competitive career that requires a great deal of higher education to excel, salaries in political science tend to be fairly high, especially when compared to other jobs in the social sciences. According to the BLS, the median annual salary of political scientists was $99,730 in May 2015. Incomes ranged from under $47,210 to over $162,500. The federal government tended to pay a bit above the median while colleges and universities were at the lower end of the spectrum. A Ph.D. is generally required to be among top earners in the field.
Job seekers with only a bachelor’s degree in political science may be limited to entry-level research assistant positions. Some may qualify to be research analysts for lower paying employers like nonprofits and election campaigns. These are all good early professional experiences. However, most successful political scientists have master’s or doctoral degrees.
The most popular graduate degrees for political scientists are the Master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA) and the Master’s degree in Public Affairs/Public Policy. Some universities do offer more specialized advanced degrees in political science such as comparative politics or international affairs. Earning a Ph.D. in political science typically requires selecting an area of specialization from the four named above. It is a terminal research degree in which candidates must publish dissertations.
Political scientists thrive on logical, intellectual topics. They have a passion for discussing political paradigms and theoretical frameworks. If you have an enthusiasm for research, synthesizing new ideas and writing scholarly articles to present your work, you may be interested in a career as a political scientist. Truly successful professionals have an unending supply of intellectual curiosity that they channel into more clearly understanding the past in order to create better policy for a brighter future.