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How to Become a Political Scientist

By Oluwadamilola Osisanya

Published:

Are you captivated by the intricacies of political systems but find the pathway to becoming a political scientist shrouded in ambiguity? The challenge of breaking into a field that shapes nations and influences global events can seem formidable. Unravel the complexities with our authoritative guide on becoming a political scientist, transforming your fascination into a strategic and achievable career plan.

Career Summary

Political Scientist Salary

Political Scientist Salary

The political scientist salary at different stages can vary based on numerous factors. Here are the key political scientist salary figures according to Glassdoor:

  • Entry-Level (US$ 88,000)
  • Median (US$115,000)
  • Senior (US$151,000)

When compared to the general average salary across the United States, which was reported to be $61,900 in 2022, even the lower-paid political scientists receive a higher salary.

What does a Political Scientist do?

A political scientist studies the structure and function of political systems and political behavior. They analyze governments, political trends, policies, ideas, and related issues. They may conduct research, collect and analyze data, compare historical cases, develop theories, and publish their findings.

Political scientists often specialize in areas such as domestic politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory. They typically aim to understand how policies are formed, the impact of policies on societies, and how political dynamics shape the governance and power structures within and among countries.

Political Scientist Career Progression

It’s beneficial to delve into the career progression and understand what does a political scientist do at each level.

  • Research Assistant: In this entry-level position, your duty will involve data collection, preliminary analysis, and support for senior researchers.
  • Policy Analyst: Here, you will have to analyze and develop policy proposals, and this position typically requires a master’s degree. You may work in think tanks, governmental agencies, or NGOs.
  • Political Consultant: Transition into political consulting, advising political campaigns, parties, or advocacy groups on strategy, messaging, and public relations.
  • Political Scientist: Your role here will be to conduct in-depth research and publish findings, and you may also begin to specialize in a specific area of political science.
  • Senior Government Official: Some political scientists transition to senior roles in government, such as becoming a cabinet member, advisor to a head of state, or ambassador.
Political Scientist Career Progression

The Pros and Cons of Working as a Political Scientist

Pros: 

  • Exposure to diverse political perspectives and culture
  • Opportunities to influence public policy and political processes
  • Intellectual stimulation and continuous learning about political systems
  • Travel opportunities for research, conferences, and consulting
  • Flexible working hours, particularly in academic settings

Cons: 

  • Potentially high levels of stress during election cycles or political crises
  • Difficulty in finding stable employment, especially in academia, due to limited tenure-track positions
  • Often competitive for funding, grants, and research
  • Ethical dilemmas may arise when dealing with sensitive or classified information
  • Public scrutiny and criticism can be intense, especially for politically charged research

Useful Skills to Have as a Political Scientist

  • Analytical skills
  • Research skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Foreign language proficiency

Popular Political Scientist Specialties

  • International Relations
  • Political Theory
  • Political Economy
  • Public Administration
  • Political Methodology
  • Environmental Politics
  • Human Rights

How to Become a Political Scientist

Political Scientist 3 Steps to Career

In the journey to becoming a political scientist, education provides the theoretical framework and analytical tools necessary to understand complex political phenomena. Practical experience, on the other hand, is invaluable for applying this theoretical knowledge to real-world situations.

Education

Education serves as the cornerstone for any aspiring political scientist, offering not just a rich tapestry of political theories and historical contexts but also cultivating the critical thinking and analytical skills essential for the profession.

Do I need a degree to become a Political Scientist?

Yes, a degree is typically necessary to become a political scientist. Political science as a professional field is quite academic and research-focused, and employers usually expect candidates to have a considerable level of education.

Here’s a breakdown of the educational requirements for a career in political science:

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in political science or a related field such as public administration, international relations, or political economy is generally the minimum requirement for entry-level positions in political science-related fields. 

This could lead to work in various support roles, such as a legislative assistant, policy analyst, or roles in public service or campaigns.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in political science, public policy, or international affairs, among others, opens up more advanced opportunities, including higher-level positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector. It may also qualify individuals for certain teaching positions, research roles, and specialized analytical work.

Ph.D.

For those aspiring to be political scientists in the traditional sense—conducting detailed research, teaching at the university level, or holding senior positions in policy development—a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in political science is typically required. 

The Ph.D. program involves several years of study beyond the master’s degree, including original research culminating in a dissertation.

Why is it important to get a degree in Political Science?

Obtaining a degree in Political Science is vital for several pivotal reasons:

  • Foundational Knowledge: A degree in Political Science provides the essential theories, concepts, and historical knowledge that underpin the field. It’s the academic bedrock for understanding the structures of power and governance.
  • Research Skills: Political scientists must conduct comprehensive research. A degree program equips you with the methodologies needed to perform this research, which is a central component of the profession.
  • Analytical Abilities: The ability to analyze policies, political behaviors, and trends is crucial. A Political Science degree trains you to think critically and analytically, indispensable skills for a political scientist.
  • Credibility: In a field that values expertise, a degree lends credibility and demonstrates your commitment and knowledge to potential employers or academic institutions.
  • Career Prerequisite: For most positions within academia, government research, or high-level policy analysis, a minimum of a master’s degree in Political Science or a related field is often a prerequisite

How long does it take to get a degree in Political Science?

The time it takes to get a degree in Political Science can vary depending on the level of education and the pace at which you complete your studies.

Here’s a general breakdown:

Bachelor’s Degree
  • Traditional Full-Time Student: Typically takes about 4 years.
  • Part-Time Student: This may take 6 years or more, depending on the number of courses taken each semester.
Master’s Degree
  • After a Bachelor’s: Usually requires 1-2 years of full-time study. Some programs may offer accelerated paths.
  • Part-Time Student: Could extend to 2-4 years, depending on the course load and program structure.
Ph.D.
  • Post-Master’s: Generally takes an additional 4-7 years. This includes coursework, comprehensive exams, and dissertation research and writing.
  • Direct-Entry Ph.D. Programs (post-bachelor’s): Some programs accept students directly after a bachelor’s degree, which can take 5-8 years to complete.
Combined Programs
  • Bachelor’s to Ph.D.: Some institutions offer combined programs that allow for completing both a bachelor’s and a Ph.D. in a slightly condensed timeframe, potentially reducing the total time spent.
Accelerated Programs
  • Combined Bachelor’s/Master’s: Some schools offer 5-year programs where students earn both degrees, shortening the overall time by about a year.

These timelines assume that the student is proceeding through each educational stage consecutively without breaks. If a student takes time off between degrees or pursues education while working, the total time can increase accordingly.

How much does it cost to study Political Science at university?

The cost of studying political science varies widely based on the type of institution and the residency status of the student.

Tuition fees for a bachelor’s degree in political science typically span from roughly US$10,560 at public institutions for residents within the state to about US$37,650 at private colleges. 

Regarding a master’s program, the average expense begins at approximately $8,950 for students enrolled in public colleges who qualify for in-state tuition, while private institutions may charge upwards of $42,030. 

As for obtaining a Ph.D., the cost can average around $11,440 for in-state attendees at public universities and escalate to an average of $25,083 for those coming from out of state. At private universities, the average price for a doctoral program hovers around $44,910.

Students may offset expenses through financial aid, scholarships, work-study programs, or assistantships. It is crucial to research and apply for these opportunities well in advance.

Before investing in a political science degree, prospective students often ask, ‘What does a political scientist do post-graduation?’ This helps gauge whether the financial investment aligns with their career ambitions.

Can I become a Political Scientist through online education?

Yes, it is possible to become a political scientist through online education. The advancement of digital learning platforms and the increasing acceptance of online degrees by employers and academic institutions have made it feasible to pursue a career in political science through this mode of education.

Here’s how you can approach it:

Bachelor’s Degree

Many accredited universities offer online bachelor’s degrees in political science. These programs cover core subjects such as political theory, comparative politics, international relations, and political economy.

Master’s Degree

Online master’s programs in political science, public administration, or related fields are widely available and designed for recent graduates and working professionals looking to advance their knowledge and careers.

Ph.D. Programs

Some institutions offer hybrid or fully online Ph.D. programs in political science or related disciplines. These programs might require occasional on-campus residencies or intensive study sessions.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become a Political Scientist?

For those looking to build skills specifically tailored to political scientists, various resources are available online.

Here are some specialized platforms and resources that provide information, training, and skill development pertinent to the field of political science:

  • American Political Science Association (APSA): APSA provides a range of eLearning modules, webinars, and teaching resources tailored specifically for political scientists. These resources cover topics like research methods, data analysis, and current political issues.
  • Political Science Research and Methods (PSRM): PSRM is a general political science journal published by the European Political Science Association focusing on research methodology. It’s a valuable resource for those wanting to refine their research skills.
  • International Political Science Association (IPSA): IPSA offers online courses and webinars focusing on international political systems, comparative politics, and research methodologies.
  • The Comparative Politics Newsletter: Published by the Organized Section in Comparative Politics of the American Political Science Association, this newsletter includes articles about the study and teaching of comparative politics.
  • Council on Foreign Relations (CFR): CFR provides resources and content on international affairs and foreign policy, which are critical for political scientists focusing on global issues.

Practical Experience

Hands-on experience provides emerging professionals with the concrete skills and subtle insights necessary to navigate the complex world of politics proficiently.

What are internship opportunities for a Political Scientist?

Internship opportunities for political science students or graduates can provide invaluable practical experience and networking opportunities that can pave the way for future career prospects.

Here are some types of internships that those interested in political science might pursue:

Government and Legislative Internships
  • Congressional Offices: Interning for a member of Congress or a Senate office, either on Capitol Hill or in a district/state office.
  • State Legislatures: Many state legislators also offer internships that provide insight into state government operations.
  • Executive Branch: Internships in various departments and agencies, like the State Department, Department of Defense, or smaller agencies, depending on interest.
  • Local Government: Opportunities in city or county government offices can provide experience in local governance and community issues.
Political Campaigns and Parties
  • Political Campaigns: Interning with a political campaign can provide hands-on experience in political strategy, grassroots organizing, and communication.
  • Political Parties: National, state, or local party organizations often offer internships, especially during election cycles.
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Think Tanks
  • Public Policy Think Tanks: Internships in research, policy analysis, and advocacy on various issues.
  • International NGOs: These can offer experience in international relations and global policy issues.
  • Advocacy Groups: Organizations that lobby for specific causes provide opportunities to engage with policy-making processes.
International Organizations
  • United Nations: Internships in different UN agencies offer exposure to international policy and diplomacy.
  • USAID: Offers internships focused on international development and aid.
Legal Internships
  • Law Firms: Some political science students may intern at law firms to gain experience in legal research and understand the intersection of law and politics.
  • Courts: Internships at local, state, or federal courts can provide a look into the judicial process.

What Skills will I learn as a Political Scientist?

As a political scientist, you will develop a wide range of skills that are both specific to the discipline and transferable to many other fields.

Here’s a rundown of the key skills:

Analytical Skills
  • Critical Thinking: Assessing theories, principles, and research to understand political systems, ideologies, and policies.
  • Data Analysis: Interpreting complex data, including using statistical software to analyze and forecast political trends.
  • Research Skills: Conducting thorough, methodical investigations into various political subjects.
Communication Skills
  • Written Communication: Articulating complex ideas clearly and effectively in writing, from research papers to policy briefs.
  • Oral Communication: Presenting findings and arguments in a persuasive manner to various audiences, including stakeholders and the public.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Engaging effectively with colleagues, stakeholders, and the public, often collaboratively.
Technical Skills
  • Quantitative Research Methods: Using statistical techniques to conduct and analyze research.
  • Qualitative Research Methods: Conducting interviews, surveys, and other forms of field research to gather in-depth information.
  • Information Literacy: Sourcing, evaluating, and synthesizing information from various mediums.
Problem-Solving Skills
  • Policy Analysis: Evaluating current policies and proposing changes or alternatives.
  • Strategic Planning: Developing long-term strategies for political campaigns, policy implementation, or advocacy efforts.
  • Decision-Making: Weighing the pros and cons of different approaches to political issues and making informed choices.
Knowledge-Based Skills
  • Political Theory: Understanding various political theories and ideologies that have shaped political thought over time.
  • Comparative Politics: Comparing different political systems and governance structures worldwide.
  • International Relations: Understanding the dynamics between countries, including foreign policy, international law, and global issues.
Soft Skills
  • Adaptability: Being flexible in various situations, particularly in the face of changing political climates.
  • Cultural Competency: Understanding and respecting different cultures, which is essential in international relations and diverse societies.
  • Ethics: Upholding strong ethical standards, especially when dealing with sensitive information or controversial issues.
Project Management Skills
  • Organizational Skills: Managing time and resources efficiently, especially when handling multiple research projects or campaigns.
  • Leadership: Leading projects, teams, or research groups and making executive decisions when necessary.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Political Scientist?

The work-life balance of a political scientist can vary significantly based on their specific occupation, employment sector, and whether they are engaged in active research, academia, or governmental work

Academic political scientists typically have the flexibility to set their own hours but may face periods of high demand around teaching, advising, and publication deadlines. 

Those working for the government or think tanks may have more structured schedules, but intense work periods can coincide with legislative sessions, election cycles, or times of political crisis. 

Political consultants or campaign staff often experience long, irregular hours, especially during election seasons. 

What’s the Career Outlook for a Political Scientist?

The career outlook for political scientists in the USA indicates moderate growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of political scientists is projected to grow by 7% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations.

This growth is partly due to a continued need for political analysis and research in various sectors, including government agencies, nonprofits, and consulting firms.

The demand for political scientists will also be driven by a growing interest in public policy and political issues, as well as by the need for analysis and research on political topics and trends. Moreover, political scientists will be needed to advise lawmakers, candidates, and the public on issues, policy options, and the potential effects of new laws and regulations.

Political Scientist Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Political Scientist?

The job opportunities for political scientists are diverse, encompassing various roles across public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

Here are some of the job prospects for individuals with a background in political science:

Public Sector
  • Policy Analyst: Analyzing and developing policies for government agencies or legislative bodies.
  • Legislative Assistant: Working for a legislator, assisting in drafting, researching, and understanding legislation.
  • Public Affairs Specialist: Managing communication between government agencies and the public.
  • Diplomat or Foreign Service Officer: Representing and protecting a nation’s interests abroad.
  • Intelligence Analyst: Working with agencies like the CIA or NSA to assess and interpret intelligence data.
  • Urban and Regional Planner: Developing land use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities.
Nonprofit Sector
  • Program Coordinator: Managing programs and services designed to support a nonprofit’s mission.
  • Research Associate: Conducting research for think tanks or non-governmental organizations focusing on specific policy areas or issues.
  • Advocacy Director: Leading campaigns and initiatives for change on specific societal issues.
  • Community Service Manager: Overseeing programs and organizations that support public well-being.
Private Sector
  • Political Consultant: Advising political campaigns on strategies to influence public opinion.
  • Market Research Analyst: Studying market conditions to examine potential sales of a product or service, including political campaign products or public opinion research.
  • Public Relations Specialist: Creating and maintaining a favorable public image for the organizations they represent.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Manager: Developing and implementing efforts to promote ethical practices and community growth.
Academia and Education
  • Political Science Professor: Teaching at the postsecondary level and conducting research.
  • High School Teacher: Teaching government, civics, history, or related subjects in secondary education.
Media and Journalism
  • Political Analyst or Commentator: Providing insights and analysis of political events for media outlets.
  • Journalist/Reporter: Covering news stories related to politics and government.

What Type of Companies Hire a Political Scientist?

Political scientists are sought after by various types of organizations where their analytical skills, understanding of political systems, and policy knowledge can be of significant benefit.

Here’s a look at the types of companies and organizations that might hire a political scientist:

  • Consulting Firms: Consultancies specializing in political risk, economic policy, management, and strategy often hire political scientists to help navigate the complex global political landscape. These professionals provide insights that help clients mitigate risks and make informed decisions.
  • Research Organizations: Both for-profit and nonprofit research organizations that focus on public policy, international relations, or social sciences may employ political scientists to conduct studies, analyze data, and publish reports on political and social issues.
  • Think Tanks: Think tanks, which are involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture, actively seek political scientists for their expertise in policy analysis and development.
  • Government Contractors: Companies that contract with government agencies often require the expertise of political scientists to understand the nuances of government regulations, policy impacts, and public administration.
  • Financial Institutions: Banks, investment firms, and insurance companies may hire political scientists as analysts to understand how political events can affect markets, economic conditions, and the financial sector.
  • News and Media Organizations: Media companies, including newspapers, magazines, and digital news outlets, employ political scientists as analysts, reporters, or commentators to provide depth to their coverage of political events and issues.
  • Lobbying Firms: Lobbyists work to influence political decisions on behalf of their clients. Firms in this sector value political scientists for their understanding of policy-making processes and their ability to craft compelling arguments.
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): NGOs focused on international development, human rights, environmental advocacy, or humanitarian aid often hire political scientists to design policies, manage programs, or conduct advocacy work.
  • Educational Institutions: Universities and colleges may hire political scientists for administrative roles, to work in student affairs, as policy analysts, or in institutional research.
  • Technology Companies: Tech companies, especially those with platforms or products that intersect with public discourse or policy, might employ political scientists to help navigate regulatory challenges or engage in policy research.

Should I become a Political Scientist?

Your journey toward becoming a political scientist should be a carefully considered decision, one that aligns with your personal interests, skill set, and long-term aspirations. 

The insights provided in this article illuminate the multifaceted nature of the field, the academic commitments required, and the breadth of opportunities available to political science professionals. 

As you weigh the prospects and challenges, reflect on your passion for political systems, policy analysis, and public service. Remember that this career path is not just about the roles you might fill but also about the impact you can make on society. 

Should you find resonance with these elements and are prepared to embark on a path of continuous learning and adaptation, then a rewarding career as a political scientist could very well be the right choice for you.

Careers Related to Political Scientist


Oluwadamilola Osisanya

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