Career Outlook: Political Scientist
Political scientists are the professionals that study government systems in order to identify the trends and patterns that cause political efforts to succeed or fail. In doing so, political scientists contribute insights that allow public administrators to enact change through public policy. Political science is an inherently broad professional field in which there are many career paths, but with the knowledge of the political process that can be gained through completion of a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program, adept political scientists can expose themselves to an even wider range of career options.
To understand how to comprehend policies and evaluate their worth to society, aspiring political scientists will need to educate themselves beyond the baccalaureate level, as most active political scientists have completed a Master of Public Administration or other advanced political degree. While an MPA is a great way to get started in a research-based political science role, advanced positions that include public administrative duties or academic lecturing will likely require a doctorate level degree. Though there are not many professional designations offered to political scientists, as of 1996, the Academy of Certified Political Analysts introduced the Certified Political Scientist designation, which can help prospective political scientists stand out from other job applicants. In order to earn this credential, applicants must hold a master’s (or higher) level degree in political science (graduating with a satisfactory GPA) and at least two years of experience in the field.
Roles & Responsibilities
Political scientists are heavily involved in researching and analyzing the behaviors of foreign and domestic public administrations. Their research findings have far-reaching effects on citizens, communities and nations, as their observations hold the power to shape public policy and sway policymakers to lean one way or the other on an issue. In order to ensure that the observations they contribute are based on legitimate data, political scientists must have a keen understanding of the following professional duties.
A political scientist’s duties typically revolve around conducting research in order to develop arguments that can be used to draw hypotheses about how political entities work. This research is often performed by participating in a situation and recording outcomes, observing the behavior of others, interviewing individuals and surveying large groups of people, and reviewing documents and media related to the topic. Once a particular hypothesis has been established, research findings can then be presented at industry conferences; published in journals, newspapers and news-based websites; or presented to politicians, journalists, and other media. While this research is consumed by many different groups of people, government and policymakers stand to benefit from it the most, as having access to more information about the political process allows these lawmakers to plan public policies strategically.
The scope of a political scientist’s analytical duties ranges from analyzing the political environment of small municipalities to analyzing the political climate of entire states, countries, and even international communities. Political scientists closely monitor current events, public policy voting outcomes and how government parties evolve. For example, if a city passes a vote to construct a new baseball stadium, political analysts will ask questions such as, “did the majority of ‘yes’ votes come from registered Republicans? Or Democrats? Or is there any party affiliation with this outcome?” The process of political analysis is essential for providing context to the hypotheses that are derived during the research phase, allowing public administrators deeper insight into how well their programs and policies are working.
Forecasting Political Trends
By combining research and analysis, political scientists can forecast future developments in political environments. With the evidence they have accumulated through research and analysis, an effective political scientist can make assumptions or projections as to how a politically-fueled event may unfold. For example, if a political scientist recognizes the rising popularity of a particular party or politician, they could reasonably expect that the opposing party will adopt tougher campaigning strategies. Similarly, political scientists can forecast the outcomes of elections using complex statistical models that are reasonably accurate.
Key skills for Political Scientists
Because personal opinions and faulty logic have the potential to corrupt research and influence the decisions of policymakers, a career in political science is ideal for individuals who excel at making unbiased decisions based entirely upon logic and research. Furthermore, political scientists with those traits are far better equipped to put their personal interests aside, instead applying the following professional skills to advance the study and practical application of political science.
The job of a political scientist involves a variety of different tasks; to be productive, individuals in this field must balance their responsibilities and prioritize efficiency. Managing time while committed to multiple research endeavors requires an advanced level of organizational skills, especially in positions where assignments must be completed before multiple deadlines.
Working without a plan is usually inefficient, but for a political scientist, undergoing a research endeavor without proper planning and foresight could be catastrophic. A knack for planning helps a political scientist stay on task with their research, while also giving them a set of goals that keep them working towards a specific outcome. Without such a plan, large scale research endeavors may be left incomplete due to time constraints, or valuable opportunities to improve a policy may be missed.
When in-person presentations are not feasible, political scientists must use the written word to convey the results of their research in a way that is comprehensible and actionable to the reader—whether that reader is a journalist, civil servant, or the leader of another organization. By refining their writing skills, political scientists ensure that the work they publish will be clear and informative, allowing such publications to provide real value to the political field.
Speech & Presentation
In some instances, political scientists must present lectures to students; in other cases, they are tasked with creating and presenting professional presentations to their superiors. Similar to writing, an effective political scientist must be able to create clear, easily digestible presentations that portray an unmistakable, useful message. Some key presentation skills include clear speech, proper body language, active listening and charisma.
Designing Research Projects
As research and documentation are the primary components of this career field, political scientists will need to be able to design research projects that will satisfy their employers’ overarching goals. Doing so requires exploring the most impactful methods of meeting research goals and subsequently enacting plans for an optimal outcome based on available resources.
Political forecasting is accomplished using assumptions that are made by analyzing statistical data. If a political scientist is exceptionally skilled at analyzing statistics, he or she will become better at forecasting political trends, eventually giving decision makers the confidence to base important decisions on these forecasts.
Job Growth and Salary
The number of political scientist positions in 2014 numbered 6,200, but that number is expected to decline slightly (by roughly 100 jobs) through 2024. This makes earning an advanced degree even more important, as the competition will become stiffer in subsequent years. For the first two years of employment, political scientists often start out in an entry-level position as a trainee or research assistant with low pay and few responsibilities outside of basic research functions. After five years, political scientists tend to be qualified to lead research projects. At the 10-year mark, they may advance to the position of research director, leading teams and managing projects. The median salary in 2016 for experienced political scientists was $114,290 per year, or $54.95 per hour. Additionally, there are a number of related specialties that draw upon different aspects of political science.
This position involves researching political systems, and the relationships between the U.S. and foreign countries, as well as analyzing election results and developing political theories. Political analysts then publish their findings to raise public awareness of critical sociopolitical issues. The average salary for a political analyst is $88,818, or an hourly rate of $43.
These individuals negotiate with elected officials to advance the goals of employers or clients on various policy issues. They may negotiate with government agencies, trade associations or legislative bodies. An extensive awareness of the policy initiatives of regional, federal, and international governing agencies will aid lobbyists in creating strategies that will align with the interests of the organization they are representing. A job as a lobbyist comes with a lucrative salary— median pay is $108,017.
Journalists report on domestic and international policy both for print and broadcast news. They may also work as an international correspondent or serve as an editor or news director. Although entering into the field of journalism requires additional training and field experience, understanding political science theories can improve a journalist’s ability to connect to current events and topics. Political journalist salaries can vary greatly, but the average annual salary is estimated to be $63,954.
Commanding salaries of over $100,000, this position involves advising political candidates on the campaign trail. This encompasses the coordination of each and every part of the campaign, including planning media strategies, arranging fundraising events, and guiding candidates as to how they can best respond to their opponent’s campaign. In rare cases, they also forecast anticipated return on investments for government ventures.
Many political scientists pursue a career as a teacher or professor—from high school teacher to tenured graduate school professor. They may also stay involved in research and be a member of various industry associations, such as the American Political Science Association.
Foreign Service officer
A foreign service officer helps create and maintain mutually beneficial relations between foreign countries, and represents the United States abroad. In this role, diplomats interact with public administrators from around the world to promote American interests; this position is greatly complemented by fluency in a foreign language and is suited for individuals who are tactful and comfortable with frequent travel. In the foreign service, salaries range from $30,000-$100,000 according to one’s experience and rank.
More than half of political scientist jobs exist within the federal government, and typically offer impressive benefit packages and steady office hours. Graduates of an MPA program could work for a global think tank, a not-for-profit organization or lobby group. However, the intangible benefits include the opportunity to make an impact on government, social issues, and lives of citizens around the world.
As the global population grows, so does the need for talented political scientists. Through their contributions of research, analysis and sound advice, political scientists ensure that governing institutions are equipped to make evidence-based decisions that are ostensibly in the best interest of those who will be impacted by them. By completing a Master of Public Administration degree, those with an interest in political science can accrue political acumen and professional research skills that can prepare them for the myriad career possibilities within the realm of political science.
As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.
Norwich University’s online Master of Public Administration program is a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary program that helps produce graduates with the skills needed to effectively manage a demanding and evolving industry. Our rigorous curriculum helps provide you with an all-inclusive study of organizational management concepts, decision-making processes, strategic planning, and fiscal management.