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«Revised and expanded 6th edition Copyright © 2003 American Political Science Association All rights reserved. For noncommercial use only. No part of ...»

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Interpret data Understand components of complex problems See problems from a variety of perspectives Synthesize themes from complex issues Think “outside the box” Think internationally Assess policy and propose options Analyze and solve problems systematically and logically.

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Political science is a both a classical discipline and one of the most recently developed social sciences. The origins of the study of politics reach back to the beginnings of human society. Inquiries about the nature of governments, their leaders and publics, what shapes public policies, and international interactions among nations have always been important.

Aristotle characterized politics as the “queen of the sciences,” and he classified governments according to their various structures, the power of their leaders, and the involvement of their people. Throughout history, philosophers have addressed the same issues. Machiavelli was an astute student of political power. St. Thomas Aquinas analyzed the origins and legitimacy of political order. Among the many other political theorists are Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and Simone de Beauvoir.

Political theory and practice were joined in the crafting of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. The authors of the constitution, particularly Careers in Political Science James Madison, were political theoreticians of the first magnitude. They endeavored to mold political theories into a constitutional design for political institutions responsive to a country with diverse populations and regions. Constitutional amendments and interpretations as well as social, economic, and political events contribute to the evolution of American government.

Much of contemporary political science encompasses a wide range of topics and methods of inquiry. In the twentieth century, the evolution and growth of political science scholarship has taken place primarily in the United States. It is also important to recognize the contributions to political theory and analysis made by European scholars who left Europe in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, such as Hannah Arendt and Paul Lazersfeld. At the end of the twentieth century, the study of political science is conducted throughout the world.

In the past century, political science scholarship, although continuing to embrace philosophy, law, and history, has expanded to scientific inquiry and analytical theory about political behavior and political decisions. Data collections—for example, to examine questions based upon the theories of cognate social sciences such as psychology and sociology—and hypothesis testing, as well as economic and mathematical modeling and policy analysis are significant approaches to the study of politics and governments, domestic and international. Political science continues to include new methods of analysis and to pursue the goal of describing and explaining political phenomena with greater accuracy. Political science today seeks constantly to become more rigorous in its standards of inquiry and proof. It is also a far more diverse discipline than in the past with a growing number of women and minorities, both majoring in political science and teaching it.

What do Political Scientists Study?

Political science is a broad discipline in both content and methods. Political science includes philosophical, historical, and analytical studies of governments, politics, and policies. Political scientists may focus on political behavior, decision making, processes, organizations, and public policies. Inquiry in political science addresses the domestic and international politics of the United States and all other countries and regions. Political scientists study the political values, attachments, and activities of people, individually and in groups. Political science examines both what preferences people share and how they differ according to their personal attributes and positions in the economy and society. Political science also studies how people regard and trust each other as well as their leaders and governments. Consequently, political science has many facets and offers opportunities for many different concentrations (see box to right).

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Careers in Political Science The Personal and Civic Value of the Study of Political Science Today, no less than in the past, people need to learn about the political system in which they live and know how the system relates to other governments and international issues. You ought to know about political processes, institutions, and policies in order to participate in these on behalf of your values and preferences. Political science research shows that higher levels of education and knowledge about politics are positively associated with interest and participation in politics and government.

Knowledge of political systems and public policies is critical to those who expect to have careers in the public sector. Knowledge of political processes and the connections among the polity, economy, and society ought to be acquired by those who seek careers in all sectors.

Political science gives you the specific information and skills to become an effective member... your political of your community and participant in civic life. science training can Students attracted to political science frequently open doors for you have an interest in politics and public issues. You into activities that may be fascinated by the struggle for power and can be rewarding the benefits of public policies. Often, students on a voluntary or have strong preferences about politics and govern- part-time basis.

ment. Usually students of political science retain these interests throughout their lives. And, you have opportunities to participate in community and public affairs where your interests and skills will be valued. You should realize that your political science training can open doors for you into activities that can be rewarding on a voluntary or part-time basis. And, you should realize that your participation is important to the discourse on public problems and the allocation of public resources.

Among the specific arenas for these avocational applications of political science training are political parties and interest groups, particularly at the grass roots level.

“People power” in the form of working on campaigns for issues and candidates is an important resource and often can counter the leverage of money in politics. Political science students may find satisfaction by volunteering in community organizations and organizing local political expression. Current politics, with the attention to education, health, and the environment, is shaped considerably by local and state actions as much as and frequently more so than national policies.

In this century, many people will have full-time jobs with flexible hours and locations. This allows you to find a place for civic involvement in your lives. Such engagement adds a fulfilling dimension to your life and contributes to the well-being of families and communities—which is vital to sustaining democracy.

Federal GovernmentPOSSIBLE CAREERS*

White House advisor; civilian consultant to the Department of Defense; assistant secretary of state for Latin American Affairs; deputy undersecretary of affairs for women in the labor force;

officer, Federal Bureau of Investigations; secretary, Department of Health and Human Services;

teacher, overseas school for military and diplomatic children; program analyst, Environmental Protection Agency; management auditor, field office, Department of Labor; tax inspector, Treasury Department; researcher, Congressional Research Service; foreign service officer;

ambassador; archivist; budget analyst; historian; GAO evaluator; foreign affairs specialist; public affairs specialist; intelligence specialist, CIA; staff aide, congressional committee; information technology manager, Department of Veteran’s Affairs; program officer, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education;Vice President of the United States.


The federal government is so large and varied that it is impossible to catalog briefly the types of job opportunities available. The political science graduate may find a job in nearly any agency or branch of the U.S. Government. The majority of federal jobs are located outside of Washington, D.C., thereby providing numerous employment opportunities throughout the nation and even throughout the world.

Federal service offers stimulating work, the rewards of public service, good entry-level salaries, comprehensive benefit packages, an excellent retirement program for the long-term employee, and outstanding opportunity to advance.

* All of the illustrative positions listed at the beginning of each chapter are or have recently been held by political science majors, many of whom pursued further graduate or professional training in preparation for these positions. Some of the positions are entry level, while others illustrate later stages in a career.

Careers in Political Science “Competitive with the private sector” and “looking for talent” describe the current and future employment needs of federal public service. Like the private sector, organizations throughout government have undergone streamlining and restructuring to become more efficient and less costly to operate. However, federal agencies are still recruiting, and the prospects for a career in federal service have rarely been more promising.

Movement among private sector, nonprofit, and public sector jobs has been increasing. It is no longer true that a 30-year career in government is the only way to have an impact on national issues. Many people are switching back and forth during their careers. This means that you need to be more self-directed in your learning and flexible in both learning and considering career options.

There are many ways to enter federal employment. Some agencies—the U.S.

Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will usually know which ones at any given time—run systematic intern or trainee programs for classes of new junior employees. These programs rotate the trainees throughout an agency for six months to a year to offer a full perspective on the agency’s operations. Employees may then make informed job choices at the end of the training period. Careers working for Congress may also begin with an internship.

Advancement within the federal service may be very promising. Employees may move up a career ladder to increasingly responsible (and higher paying) positions within a department. Many federal employees advance by moving up from one position to another within an agency or to another agency. A common career path begins with work in program management assignments in field agencies in the major regional centers outside of Washington, D.C., followed by a move to a more responsible policy position and then to a policy leadership assignment in Washington.


The federal government employs people in every conceivable occupation and with every possible variety of educational background. For a political science graduate looking for a first job, employment may be based on such qualities as motivation and potential for future development as a government employee. The government will expect a new junior professional to learn, by observation, practice, and future training, the specific knowledge and information required to fulfill the particular job assignment. It does not usually expect said employee to enter the government with a wide range of information about the specific job being undertaken.

Political science undergraduates who are interested in federal employment are advised to acquire analytical skills and the ability to write clearly and quickly.

Analytical skills include the ability to diagnose a problem and contribute to its solution—along with knowledge of problem-solving tools such as statistics, library Federal Government research, legal research, mathematics, logic, and evaluation design. If you are interested in a career with the federal government, your educational program should include some formal training in mathematics and statistics, as well as written and oral communication.

Although federal agencies will not expect the new employee with a bachelor’s degree to arrive with in-depth knowledge of the subject matter at hand, it will be useful for a prospective employee to show some knowledge of the job’s policy area and the mechanics and operation of the national government. Coursework in the executive and legislative processes; budgeting and policymaking; the workings of political parties, interest groups, and the media; and the law and courts will be valuable. Every federal agency currently has an international component of some kind, so a sound knowledge of geography, international affairs, and a foreign language are other desirable qualifications.

Virtually every position with the government requires the ability to work with a team and the willingness to share in the responsibilities of office work. Frequently the best way to acquire and demonstrate these skills is through internship experience. An internship teaches office and work group skills, and will make you known to some prospective employers. A positive reference letter from an internship supervisor can make a difference in a hiring decision. The Peace Corps, and its domestic equivalents such as AmeriCorps and other domestic volunteer service programs, can also provide invaluable experience, both in public service and in career development.


You may be interested in obtaining an advanced degree before seeking federal employment. If you wish to pursue this course of action, an advanced degree in the fields of public policy or public administration is a reasonable route to follow. There are graduate schools or institutes of public policy and public administration attached to many American universities. Most of these programs operate government internship programs that provide in-service experience to the graduate student. The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration’s web site www.naspaa.org has a good overview.

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