Education and Training: Master's or doctoral degree
Salary: Median—$86,750 per year
Employment Outlook: Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Political scientists are social scientists who study government and politics. They analyze many areas of political behavior, including voting, public opinion, taxation, and public administration. Knowledgeable in different forms of government that have existed throughout history, such as democracies, republics, and monarchies, political scientists also examine the ideas and theories behind these political systems. They analyze the structure and operation of governments at all levels, and the effects that these governments have on the people who live under them. Political scientists also study the patterns, sources, and psychology of political power. They collect large amounts of information and then try to organize it into a theory or system that will explain some area of politics or government. Political scientists often make use of computerized data in the course of their work.
About 75 percent of all political scientists are employed by colleges and universities. They do research and teach political science. Sometimes they also teach related subjects, such as economics or history, especially in smaller colleges. Other political scientists work for government agencies. Many are employed by the federal government in Washington, D.C. Some work in state capitals or overseas. The remainder of political scientists work either as consultants or full-time staff members for political or research organizations, civic associations, labor unions, large private companies, management consulting firms, radio and television stations, newspapers, or magazines.
Many political scientists are specialists in one area of their field. They may concentrate on foreign affairs, for example, or on the governments of specific countries. Some are experts on political theories of a historical period, such as the time of the American Revolution. Although their jobs and specialties may differ, nearly all political scientists do some research. They may read books, look up facts in libraries, study voting records, survey public opinion, analyze proposed legislation or laws already passed, interview public officials, and observe political meetings. They usually write reports, articles, or books on their findings. They may also give lectures and oral reports to legislative staffs or committees.
Education and Training Requirements
You need an advanced degree to become a political scientist. In college you should major in political science or a related field, such as history. People with a bachelor's degree in political science can get jobs as management trainees or research assistants, but they are not usually considered political scientists. College graduates with a major in political science often find that their college training is a good background for further education in such fields as journalism or public administration. Those who go on to get a master's degree in political science are qualified for many research or administrative jobs in government, industry, and nonprofit organizations. For a teaching and research position at most colleges and universities, a doctoral degree is required. A doctoral degree is also necessary for advancement to many top nonacademic positions in research and administration. Most jobs as a professional political scientist require a doctoral degree. People who study for a doctoral degree usually specialize in one area, such as American politics, international politics, political theory, or urban affairs. Their programs of study often include foreign languages and statistical methods. It usually takes from six to eight years of full-time study beyond high school to earn a doctoral degree in political science. Many political scientists get full- or part-time jobs while they are studying for their doctoral degrees. Political scientists must continue to read and study throughout their careers so that they can keep up with new developments in their field.
Getting the Job
Your professors or the placement office at your college or university will be able to give you information about getting a job as a political scientist. Professional journals often list openings in this field. You may want to apply directly to organizations, businesses, universities, or government agencies that hire political scientists. In some cases you may have to pass a civil service examination to get a government job.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Political scientists can advance to the rank of full professor in a college or university if they have doctoral degrees. In other organizations and in government agencies they can become administrators or directors of research. Most political scientists advance by becoming experts in their special field. Some win the recognition of other scholars. Others play important roles in advising government officials and helping to set policy or draft laws. Some write books and magazine or newspaper articles that influence other political scientists or inform the public about politics or government.
The employment outlook for political scientists through 2014 is fair. Employment of political scientists will grow more slowly than average, mainly because these workers enjoy fewer opportunities outside of government and academic settings. Most openings are expected to arise due to the need to replace political scientists who leave the field. Many qualified people with doctoral degrees in political science are expected to be seeking jobs. There will also be fewer openings on the faculties of colleges and universities and in political and research organizations and private firms. Competition for jobs in all of these areas will be keen, and there will be many more applicants than job openings.
Political scientists spend much of their time in offices, libraries, and classrooms. They usually work in pleasant and comfortable surroundings. Their hours may be flexible but often total more than forty hours a week. Political scientists meet with students, other scholars, government officials, and the general public in certain phases of their work. They should be able to express their ideas clearly and work well with people. Much of the work of political scientists is very detailed and must be done independently. Political scientists have to concentrate on details without losing sight of the broad view of politics that they are trying to explain. They should also be able to write clearly about their findings and hypotheses.
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Earnings and Benefits
The earnings of political scientists depend on their education and experience as well as on the location and kind of position. In 2004 political scientists had median annual earnings of $86,750. Political scientists employed by colleges and universities are usually given opportunities to add to their income by writing books, teaching summer school courses, or doing consulting work. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.