Political scientists study the structure and theory of government and seek practical and theoretical solutions to political problems. Most current studies and research concentrate on tangible topics such as welfare reform, political campaigns and elections, foreign relations, and immigration. The vast majority of political scientists are teachers at colleges and universities where they conduct research and write books and articles on political theory. Political scientists armed with the practical and theoretical knowledge of government may enter political life. They generally do not run for public office, but very often their expertise is enlisted by candidates to ensure a successful run or reelection. A great many become political aides, helping those elected analyze and interpret legislative issues and their constituencies. Some become political commentators on television and radio or write columns for newspapers; others become public opinion pollsters.
Political scientists approach problems using one or a combination of four distinct methods: Objective, analytical, comparative, and historical. The adequacy and integrity of a political scientist’s theory rests on his ability to set aside his own prejudices and remain objective in gathering, analyzing and presenting her findings. Using commonly available research-interviews, newspaper clippings, periodicals, case law, historical papers, polls and statistics-to test theories and develop new ones, political scientists analyze, compare, and even trace problems back to their sources. In gathering data, political scientists often employ the technique of the “participant observer,” blending with crowds while carefully observing a particular interaction. The questionnaire is another research tool the political scientist uses. Questions are carefully ordered and worded to be as objective as possible.
The job of a political scientist is an intellectually challenging one and places a premium on higher education. Most jobs require a master’s degree. If teaching at the college and university level is your goal, then nothing less than a Ph.D. will do. Students who specialize in a particular field such as public administration, international relations, or public law will fare slightly better in seeking jobs. Computer and language skills will also significantly enhance job prospects. Entrants start out as trainees in political science research at universities and think tanks or as assistants in independent public opinion research organizations. Education, experience, knowledge and an area of specialty-especially public administration-are indices of better salary levels.
Some political scientists move on to law school. A few become consultants to political groups, organizations, businesses and industries. The vast majority who end up in teaching posts at colleges and universities also establish double careers as writers and researchers. A few hold positions as directors or department heads of college programs.