Disadvantages of a Political Science Major

There is no question that there are many positive reasons for pursuing a political science major. The types of careers such a major can open doors to is almost endless. The personal satisfaction gained by performing public service work for individuals and groups that need representation can be profound. The excitement of political science work in government and the private sector, as well as in intelligence work, is hard to imagine for those who have not experienced it. There are a lot of reasons for becoming a political science major. However, before deciding to pursue this major, it’s also important to look at some of the disadvantages of pursuing a political science degree.

For one thing, political science requires two very different types of study. Students who are pursuing the degree because of the opportunities it will provide in terms of service careers might find the rigorously scientific and statistical studies to be difficult. Students who are interested in the theoretical and abstract aspects of the discipline might be much less interested in the liberal arts – based classes.

Pursuing a political science major will require very long hours of focused study. Political science students must literally know all about the world, and there are so many potential specializations that students must have a sense of all of them in order choose one.

Another disadvantage is that the work can be terrifically stressful. Few political science positions are quiet desk jobs. Most deal with important, even life-and-death, issues on a regular basis. It is very common for political scientists to pursue work for groups with which they identify and to develop deep emotional attachment to the groups’ goals.

Politics, whether governmental, organizational, or individual, involve two or more strongly oppositional viewpoints. Working in political science almost certainly means working, at times, in tough situations or with individuals who represent a position diametrically opposed to yours. People can become stubborn, even downright difficult, in an attempt to sway a decision the way they want it to go. Unless you are able to remain levelheaded and tenderhearted in the face of difficulties, this may not be the best field for you.

Finally, most political science jobs require you to pay careful attention to protocol. This field is filled with procedural steps that must be followed strictly and documented fully. If you are not a fan of paperwork or lack an appreciation for administrative organization, this necessary part of the job might represent a big disadvantage.

Long Hours

If you want to be successful in your education and your career, you need to weigh the negatives as well as the positives when deciding whether to pursue a political science major or a major in another field. One of the things you’ll need to accept is that political science, both in terms of your major at school and of a lifetime career commitment, will demand exceptionally long hours.

If your primary reason for being in school is to party, you’re best advised to pick a major that won’t demand so much of your time and mental energy. Political science is serious business; since schools are training future world leaders, journalists, attorneys, top administrators, and policy analysts, it should be. There’s really no shortcut here. Your core classes will be rigorous and demanding, and you’ll need to put in a great deal of study time in order to make that mountain of essential, core information so familiar and easy to access that it will seem as if you’ve absorbed it into your very cells.

Plan to put in long hours not just memorizing a huge amount of information, but also pondering it, interpreting it, and considering all the different ways it can be integrated with other information that will eventually lead to new concepts, approaches, and conclusions. And the work doesn’t stop there. The world has been in a constant state of social and political flux since the dawn of human time. Politics ultimately boils down to how power is negotiated and managed; there are an infinite number of possible variations, combinations, and recombinations possible and you must stay up to date with all of them.

It’s probably a good thing that pursuing your political science major will require so much of you in terms of time and effort. School will teach you mental and physical habits that you’ll draw upon throughout your professional career. As you can imagine, if you are in the middle of a political uprising and many thousands of people are depending upon you and your crew to report the latest skirmishes, you can’t take a few hours for a little “me”- time. If you accept a position as a high-ranking administrator in your county’s schools and a crisis occurs, you need to stay focused on the tasks that must be handled immediately, prepare for those that must be handled shortly, and constantly integrate new pieces of information as they come to you in order to establish control and return the situation to normal as swiftly as possible. If you decide to pursue a political position elected by voters, you’ll have to put in many long and grueling hours on the campaign trail and, once elected, you’ll discover quickly there is no rest for the weary. It’s essential to both your career success as well as to those you’ve dedicated your professional life to serving that you understand that very long hours are a requirement in the world of political science.

Emotional and Stressful

As a political science major, you are no doubt only too aware that this is a field replete with strong feelings and a great deal of stress. You’ll face some of the same stressors as a student in pursuit of a political science degree as you will once you’ve graduated and stepped into the field in a professional capacity. At its most basic, political science comes down to a matter of who has power, how it is shared, and who wants it. Those who have it want to decide who, if anyone, to share it with and at what cost. They feel very strongly that they have the power because they deserve it or because they have earned it; anyone who tries to take it away without trading something of value is, in their eyes, a thief. On the other hand, those who don’t have power and don’t have anything of value to trade for it can easily feel that the imbalance is morally or ethically wrong, and highly unfair. Emotions run deep in situations such as these.

A disproportionate number of people who are drawn to politics in general and the field of political science specifically are often quite sure they see the world in a unique way. In the field of political science you are more than likely going to come across a lot of people with strong ideas, little flexibility, and the conviction that their position is the correct one. Trying to communicate with individuals who aren’t much interested in ideas other than their own can be stressful, to say the least. Even the calmest personality will, at some point, feel like screaming and kicking to get a resistant, difficult coworker, team member, or opponent to bend a little. Part of becoming politically successful will involve quite a bit of ego-stroking. It’s inevitable, and becoming good at it is essential. But at some point you’ll also begin to wonder if anyone else has noticed what a terrific job you yourself have been doing. You will want not just to give recognition, kudos, and praise; you’ll also want to receive it. You might even be willing to insist upon it, or fight for it! Going day after day soothing the enormous egos that surround you while yourself fighting to be recognized can be exhausting.

In order to know for certain that the field of political science is right for you, it’s in your best interest to consider how well you handle other people. Is accomplishing a goal more important to you, or is accomplishing a goal and getting recognized for it more important? If the latter, you might indeed succeed in the field, but understand you’ll become one of the difficult individuals with overwhelming egos that have been described here. As exhausting as it can be trying to appease those egos, it’s even more exhausting being the owner of an ego that needs constant affirmation, attention, and reward. If, on the other hand, it’s most important to you to find a way to accomplish a goal for the good of your constituents, clients, or group, and if you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, then the world needs people just like you in the field of political science. While you might find yourself enraged at times when dealing with difficult people or situations, or find yourself heartbroken at times when, despite your best efforts, you were unable to achieve a goal you believe in, at the end of the day you’ll know that you’ve contributed not just to the field but also to the future.

Dealing with Difficult People and Situations

In order to survive in the world of political science, you need to learn a few techniques that will help you handle difficult people and situations. While there might not be a class in your curriculum that teaches you these skills, as you work your way through the requirements for your political science major, you will no doubt have the opportunity to begin developing your survival chops.

The field of political science might have more than its share of people that others find difficult. Some people enter the field because they have a strong, clear vision of how the world should be run. While some of us might call this type of person egotistical, they see themselves as having been given a mission to accomplish. As they stride with single-minded determination toward their goals, knocking down anyone in their path, it can be tempting to stick out a foot for them to trip over. However, if you’re going to make a career in political science, you will have to learn some essential social skills that will serve you better. For example, rather than locking horns with a terminal ego, learn to negotiate by asking a calm but well-articulated question that is both thoughtful and even-handed. Follow it up with a subtle, and minimal, acknowledgement or, if you can stand it, even a compliment. If you’re negotiating for a piece of the power pie, nothing confuses an overblown ego more than humility coupled with respect. Rather than addressing a political opponent by calling him an idiot with absolutely zero scruples, expressing respect for his single-minded determination just might make him more willing to hear what you have to say.

Another reason you will encounter difficult people in your political science career is because, let’s face it, when you feel a passionate identification with the group whose interests you are protecting, you’ll fight for it until your last breath. As long as you’re in agreement with one of these folks, their devotion to the cause is inspiring. But if they are on the other side of the table, suddenly they seem downright difficult.

Keep in mind, too, that political science careers can also have an overabundance of difficult situations. Some are downright dangerous; international journalists, for example, report on political upheaval around the world, putting themselves into the path of bullets and bombs. Using your political science major to land a Secret Service job in which you help protect officials of the United States and visiting dignitaries means you’ll frequently put yourself into situations that could result in physical harm or even death.

But a situation doesn’t have to be life-threatening in order to be called difficult. Imagine, for example, that you work as an advocate for foster children. You’ve courted representatives regarding a bill under consideration that would negatively impact the lives of the children for whom you advocate. You’ve gathered data, studied research, quoted experts, and created tables and charts using the most up- to-date statistics. The futures of hundreds of children are in your hands. The urgency of your mission means you must do everything in your power to influence the vote. This situation is never easy, even if the vote ends up going your way. Eating little, sleeping less, not seeing your family for days at a stretch, and the ever-present anxiety of not knowing what the outcome will be doesn’t create a sense of peace. If the vote goes the way you hope, you will be elated, but even elation can be difficult. Most people won’t be able to relate to the depths of your joy, and you soon realize that it’s time to set aside your own joy to dive back into work and go through the same process all over again. And if the vote doesn’t go the way you hope, you have to refuse to give in to despair, because the children still need you and you cannot allow yourself to give up.

Regardless of the difficult people and situations that most political science majors will, at some time, face, if you believe this is the field for you, by developing some coping skills you’ll find that in the midst of difficulties is often deeper joy.

Strict Procedures and Processes

You are interested in pursuing a career that will take advantage of your political science major. You’re aware of all the benefits: a career in which you can serve the public, or one in which you travel to the far ends of the earth, or one in which you influence policy decisions that will affect hundreds or even millions of people. You’re aware that earning the degree and working in the field will require tremendous focus and that you’ll have to put in long hours of study and long on-the-job hours.

One other thing to consider when deciding if going after a political science degree will lead to a satisfying career is the complexity of the processes and procedures you’ll need to understand and follow.

For example, many political science jobs require the gathering and interpretation of data. While it might seem to the uninitiated that such efforts should be fairly cut and dried, anyone who has ever studied statistics knows otherwise. In order to gather data that is truly useful, a wide-enough range of subjects must be included; after all, asking a small group of individuals with similar points of view to complete a questionnaire isn’t likely to result in a sample that has any use other than to reinforce a predetermined set of beliefs.

One important aspect of political science is the ongoing search for newer and more effective methods of information gathering. What works in one type of society may not work in another, and what worked in one historic period might not be appropriate today. While many political science careers depend upon statistics that have been gathered by experts in the field, how those statistics are interpreted can be essential.

Keeping careful records is also extremely important. In many political science jobs, it’s also important to keep track of details that might seem minor. Someone else might take over the work you are currently doing, and something that doesn’t appear to be especially important today might, weeks or years from now, turn out to be pivotal.

While many political science careers require creative thinking and interpretation, it’s equally important to follow standard procedures and processes so that outcomes can be measured.

Do You Want Fries with That? - Negative View of a Political Science Degree

Last Updated: 05/22/2014

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