Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems. They research political ideas and analyze governments, policies, political trends, and related issues.

Duties

Political scientists typically do the following:

  • Research political subjects, such as the U.S. political system, relations between the United States and foreign countries, and political ideologies
  • Collect and analyze data from sources such as public opinion surveys and election results
  • Use qualitative sources, such as historical documents, to develop theories
  • Use quantitative methods, such as statistical analysis, to test theories
  • Evaluate the effects of policies and laws on government, businesses, and people
  • Monitor current events, policy decisions, and other issues relevant to their work
  • Forecast political, economic, and social trends
  • Present research results by writing reports, giving presentations, and publishing articles

Political scientists usually conduct research within one of four primary subfields: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory.

Often, political scientists use qualitative methods in their research, gathering information from numerous sources. For example, they may use historical documents to analyze past government structures and policies.

Political scientists also rely heavily on quantitative methods to develop and research theories. For example, they may analyze data to see whether a relationship exists between a certain political system and a particular outcome. In so doing, political scientists can study topics such as U.S. political parties, how political structures differ among countries, globalization, and the history of political thought.

Political scientists also work as policy analysts. In this position, they may work for a variety of organizations that have a stake in policy, such as government, labor, and political organizations. They also evaluate current policies and events using public opinion surveys, economic data, and election results. From these sources, they can learn the expected impact of new policies.

Political scientists often research the specific effects of government policies on a particular region or population, both domestically and internationally. In doing so, they can examine how a particular policy affects a social group, economy, or environment. They provide information and analysis that help in planning, developing, or carrying out policies.

Many people with a political science background become postsecondary teachers and high school teachers.

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Work Environment

Political scientists held about 6,600 jobs in 2012. About half worked for the federal government. Others worked for think tanks, nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, political lobbying groups, and labor organizations.

Work Schedules

Political scientists work full time in an office. They may work overtime to finish reports and meet deadlines.

Education and Training

Political scientists need a master’s degree or Ph.D. in political science, public administration, or a related field.

Education

Jobseekers with a bachelor’s degree in political science usually qualify for entry-level positions in many related fields. Some qualify for entry-level positions as research assistants for research organizations, political campaigns, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies. Many go into fields outside of politics and policymaking, such as business or law.

Most political scientists need to complete either a master’s or Ph.D. program. To be admitted to a graduate program, applicants should complete undergraduate courses in political science, writing, and statistics. Applicants also benefit from having related work or internship experience. Working in an internship on a congressional staff or for a research organization will help applicants gain experience writing, researching, analyzing data, or working with policy issues.

Political scientists often complete a master of public administration (MPA), master of public policy (MPP), or master of public affairs degree. These programs usually combine several disciplines, and students can choose to concentrate in a specific area of interest. Most offer core courses in research methods, policy formation, program evaluation, and statistics. Some colleges and universities also offer master’s degrees in political science, international relations, or other applied political science specialties.

Political scientists can also complete a Ph.D. program, which requires several years of coursework followed by independent research for a dissertation. Most Ph.D. candidates choose to specialize in one of four primary subfields of political science: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory.

Political scientists who teach at colleges and universities need a Ph.D. Graduates with a master’s degree in political science sometimes become postsecondary teachers and high school teachers.

Other Experience

Jobseekers who have earned a bachelor’s degree can benefit from internships or volunteer work when looking for entry-level positions in political science or a related field. They give students a chance to apply their academic knowledge in a professional setting and develop skills needed for the field.

Personality and Interests

Political scientists typically have an interest in the Thinking, Creating and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Thinking or Creating or Helping interest which might fit with a career as a political scientist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Political scientists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Political scientists often use qualitative and quantitative research methods. They rely on their analytical skills when they collect, evaluate, and interpret data.

Critical-thinking skills. Political scientists must be able to examine and process available information and draw logical conclusions from their findings.

Intellectual curiosity. Political scientists must continually explore new ideas and information to produce original papers and research. They must stay current on political subjects and come up with new ways to think about and address issues.

Writing skills. Writing skills are essential for those who write papers on political issues. They must be able to convey their research results clearly.

Pay

The median annual wage for political scientists was $102,000 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,290, and the top 10 percent earned more than $155,490.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for political scientists in the top three industries employing political scientists were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $115,740
Scientific research and development services 99,500
Colleges, universities, and professional schools;
state, local, and private
65,030

Political scientists work full time in an office. They may work overtime to finish reports and meet deadlines.

Job Outlook

Employment of political scientists is projected to grow 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,400 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Employment will increase in response to a growing interest in public policy and political issues. There will be demand for jobseekers with extensive knowledge of political systems, institutions, and policies.

Political organizations, lobbying firms, and many nonprofit, labor, and social organizations will rely on the knowledge of political scientists to manage complicated legal and regulatory issues and policies. Political scientists will also be needed at think- tanks to focus specifically on politics and political theory. Organizations that research or advocate for specific causes, such as immigration, healthcare, or the environment, will also need political scientists to analyze policies relating to their field.

The federal government employs about half of all political scientists, and political scientists will continue to be needed in the government to assess the impact of government policies, such as the efficiencies of public services, effects of departmental cuts, and advantages of proposed improvements.

Job Prospects

Political scientists should face strong competition for most jobs. The small number of positions, combined with the popularity of political science programs in colleges and universities, means that there will likely be many qualified candidates for relatively few positions.

Candidates with a graduate degree, strong writing and analytical skills, and experience researching or performing policy analysis should have the best job prospects. Candidates who have specialized knowledge or experience in their field of interest will also have better job opportunities.

Some candidates with a bachelor’s degree in political science may find entry-level jobs as assistants and research assistants. Many will also find positions outside of politics and policy in fields such as business and law.

For More Information

For more information about political scientists, visit

American Political Science Association

For more information about college programs in public affairs and administration, visit

National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration

FAQ

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