Political Scientists


Exploring this Job

Call or e-mail college political science departments for information about their programs. You can learn a lot about the work of a political scientist by looking at college course lists and faculty bios. Visit the Web sites of political science departments for further information and links to the curricula vitae of faculty. A curriculum vitae (C.V.) is an extensive resume including lists of publications, conferences attended, and other professional experience. A C.V. can give you an idea of a political scientist's career and education path.

Contact the office of your state's senator or representative in the U.S. Senate about applying to work as a page. Available to students at least 16 years old, and highly competitive, page positions allow students to serve members of the Senate, running messages across Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. This experience would be very valuable to you in learning about the workings of government.

The Job

Political scientists may choose to research political lyrics in rock music, or study how teenagers form their political ideas. They may research the history of women in politics, the role of religion in politics, and the political histories of other countries. Many political scientists specialize in one area of study, such as public administration, history of political ideas, political parties, public law, American government, or international relations.

Many political scientists are employed as college and university professors. Depending on the institution for which they work, political scientists divide their time between teaching and researching.

In addition to teaching and researching, political scientists write books and articles based on their studies. A number of political science associations publish journals, and there are small presses devoted to publishing political theory.

In researching policy issues, political scientists use a variety of different methods. They work with historians, economists, policy analysts, demographers, and statisticians. The Internet has become a very important resource tool for political scientists. The federal government has been dedicated to expanding the World Wide Web, including making available full text of legislation, recent Supreme Court decisions, and access to the Library of Congress. Political scientists also use the data found in yearbooks and almanacs, material from encyclopedias, clippings from periodicals or bound volumes of magazines or journals. They refer to law books, to statutes, to records of court cases, to the Congressional Record, and to other legislative records. They consult census records, historical documents, personal documents such as diaries and letters, and statistics from public opinion polls. They use libraries and archives to locate rare and old documents and records. For other information, political scientists use the "participant observer" method of research. In this method, they become part of a group and participate in its proceedings, while carefully observing interaction. They may also submit questionnaires. Questions will be carefully worded to elicit the facts needed, and the questionnaire will be administered to a selected sample of people.

When conducting research, political scientists must avoid letting their own biases distort the way in which they interpret the gathered facts. Then, they must compare their findings and analyses with those of others who have conducted similar investigations. Finally, they must present the data in an objective fashion, even though the findings may not reveal the kinds of facts they anticipated.

Those political scientists who are not employed as teachers work for labor unions, political organizations, or political interest groups. Political scientists working for government may study organizations ranging in scope from the United Nations to local city councils. They may study the politics of a large city like New York or a small town in the Midwest. Their research findings may be used by a city's mayor and city council to set public policy concerning waste management or by an organization, such as the National Organization for Women, to decide where to focus efforts on increasing the participation of women in local politics. Political scientists who work for the U.S. Department of State in either this country or in the foreign service use their analyses of political structures to make recommendations to the U.S. government concerning foreign policy.

Political scientists may also be employed by individual members of Congress. In this capacity, they might study government programs concerned with low-income housing and make recommendations to help the members of Congress write new legislation. Businesses and industries also hire political scientists to conduct polls on political issues that affect their operations. A tobacco company might want to know, for example, how the legislation restricting advertising by tobacco companies affects the buying habits of consumers of tobacco products.