Political Science Major

You may want to consider becoming a political science major if any of the following descriptions apply to you. Perhaps you set your sights on becoming class president when you were in school because you had a vision of ways to improve the system. Maybe you are a news junkie and have to know exactly what's happening in government systems around the world - how they treat their citizens and how those citizens respond. Or possibly you consider attending political demonstrations to voice your opinion not only interesting, but also something that all people should do. Whether your interest in the ways governments interact with one another and with their citizens is based upon a passionate sense of right and wrong or upon an analytical fascination with the way logic and reason are used by governments as essential tools of negotiation, studying political science might be your most important next step.

  • Political science examines governmental behaviors and policies as well as the actions of groups that have joined together in support of or opposition to a common cause.
  • It looks scientifically at statistics, patterns, and causes and consequences, and takes a humanistic view of the ethical or moral standards that shape these patterns of political behavior.

In a sense, all human behavior can be interpreted from a political science perspective in that every action is either designed to further the actor's best interests or is a spontaneous reaction designed to protect the actor's best interests. In your political science studies, you might focus on groups that are clearly political, such as governing bodies and political parties, or focus on other areas, such as the way political goals ultimately shape nearly all human interaction.

The world is, and has always been, composed of shifting political allegiances.

Political science studies the nature of change in political agendas, whether radical change is gained through power or persuasion, and how policies toward a group's allies or enemies are created and used. Through a careful analysis of political relationships at the individual, group, and governmental levels, political science majors will learn to think and speak critically and convincingly about political beliefs, and analytically, outside their own perspectives, about the behavioral patterns they identify in political bodies.

A rigorous, scientific study of how politics operates has a wide range of applications. Not only does the field seek to understand the relationships between governments, but it also studies the rights and responsibilities of the citizens themselves. Studying the nature of political relationships helps to inform an understanding of political behavior and to shape future political behavior, as well. Pursuing a political science degree means learning how factors such as the stability of a government or other organization is maintained and measured. It means understanding how advances in material wealth benefit power and the ways in which political stability is lost. Political science also considers how abstract but very real ideals such as equality, peace, and justice are protected or sacrificed by different types of political organizations.

Majoring in political science prepares graduates for a wide range of careers. Some students go on to represent constituents as an elected public servant. Some become aides or lobbyists. Some gain employment as political advisors hired by governmental bodies. You might use your political science major to pursue a position offered by private interests in research, polling, public relations, or think tanks. Yet another option is to become an analyst who will closely examine public policy to determine subtle long-term ramifications as well as evaluate how specific points in policy will affect particular populations.

There's no end to the possibilities. A political science degree can result in a career in which every day brings new challenges and new satisfactions.

Understanding Political Science

The study of political science is, at its most basic, concerned with the ways in which politics and power coincide, overlap, and transform. While many people assume that political science is primarily concerned with governments, a political science major knows that, in fact, it can also address corporations, nonprofits, social groups, and even individuals.

The study of political science is both highly theoretical and highly practical. In terms of theory, political scientists examine power struggles and their outcomes in order to abstract general theories and principles that can be applied in other situations around the world. Political scientists are "scientific" in that they seek to define a situation or project probable outcomes through the use of statistics, trends, historic developments, and other objective criteria. They also work to establish specific methodologies with which to approach a situation, collection of data, or other information in order to clearly define and understand it.

While the field of political science is very interested in governmental systems around the world, there is far more to its potential applications. Examining groups and individuals that function outside the government, such as terrorists, with methodologies that were originally developed to examine governmental systems can prove enlightening. Political theory can be applied in the marketplace, as well. Most major corporations are extremely interested in how power is conserved, shared, protected, and squandered in the business world, and they employ political science majors to monitor these things within their own organizations.

Communication Skills in Political Science

While it's certainly true that good communication skills are essential for all college majors, they are especially so for a political science major, both while in school and after graduation. There are a number of reasons for this.

First of all, political science is scientific in that it attempts to objectively measure and weigh the factors that contribute to a struggle for power. By observing real-world events and extrapolating from them, political scientists develop theories that can be applied to a wide range of situations that share some of the same elements.

Second, although politics is very often fraught with strong emotion, the role of the political science must above all be objective. The language a political science major uses in the classroom or when writing papers, and the language a political scientist will use professionally throughout a career, must be conceptually clear, supported by evidence, and in most cases as unbiased as possible. While there may be situations in which a strong and persuasive argument must be made, the argument needs to be based upon objective fact rather than subjective feeling.

Also, a political scientist must present a communication, whether verbal or written, in a logical manner that follows the scientific method. The communication needs to be clear, but it also must be deeply considered. Because politics and power manifest complex layers of relationship, any rigorous discussion of them must be precisely formed using clear, concise language.

One of the ways a political science major can ensure that the message is as transparent as possible is by defining in the argument the ideas and terminology the message is dependent upon. Because so many concepts important to the field of political science are extremely abstract, one method that is used to clarify a definition is to operationalize the term. An operationalized term is described in such a way that it becomes measurable, usually by attaching a list of specific characteristics to the abstract term itself. Thus, the term democracy could be expressly defined as "government chosen by the citizens who have the right to vote in fair elections, to express themselves freely, to run for political office, and to receive information through channels that are not controlled by the government." With these criteria, it's possible to discuss to what degree a particular country is "democratic."

Volunteering

Working as a volunteer for an organization, a group, a political party, or a cause is a great way to get important experience in the world of political science. Volunteering will give any political science major a number of advantages. First, the more of it you do, the better you will understand how different types of organizations and groups are structured, as well as how they respond to one another. Volunteering for more than one type of cause is a good idea, not only because doing so will diversify your knowledge and experience, but because it can also help you decide which type of career you might want to pursue after you've completed the requirements for your political science major and graduated from school.

Don't forget that volunteering, while altruistic, is also practical. In addition to gaining valuable experience, you will be able to include it on your resume, and you will make professional connections that might serve you well in the future.

As a political science major, you are no doubt very interested not only in how power is shared, but also in having a hand in helping to create policies that will offer citizens the greatest number of benefits. Even if you don't want to become a politician yourself, by aligning yourself with a cause you believe in, you can help others who represent that cause as representatives, senators, or other elected officials. Voters need to be canvassed, campaigns run, information handed out, and funds raised. Becoming a political science volunteer is, in truth, a win-win situation all the way around.

Political Science Education Jobs

You might decide to combine your political science major with classes in education so that you can teach after you've graduated from the program. There are a number of different positions for political science graduates in the field of education.

If you enjoy middle or high school students, you might want to consider becoming a social studies or government teacher. In this type of teaching position, you'll work with five or more classes per day. Most schools are organized in such a way that you'll meet with the same students three to five times per week. You'll teach your charges about the American system of government, as well as about other types of governmental systems.

If you prefer working with older students and if you earn a master's or Ph.D. in political science, you might decide to pursue teaching at the university level. You might work with undergraduates enrolled in a four-year program to earn a bachelor's degree. If you teach at the graduate level, you'll work very closely with a smaller number of students.

Perhaps you are interested in designing, developing, and running your own research studies, or in working on research projects with colleagues and your university students. Research is one of the most important types of education jobs in political science. Providing your professional peers with statistics, long- or short-term projections, and other research-project results allows them to go forward with their own work.

If you are very well organized, good with all types of people, and enjoy being in an administrative or supervisory position, you might consider a job as a curriculum developer or curriculum supervisor, working with teachers and other administrators to determine educational goals as well as materials and methods most likely to result in accomplishing those goals.

Another administrative position that your political science major can prepare you for is that of a student affairs administrator. You might work with students regarding career development, career placement, academic advising, judicial affairs, student social and political activities, and student leadership programs.

Last Updated: 05/22/2014

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