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Why Major in Political Science? Why Now?

Professor Jeffrey Becker, who has done a great deal of work developing Pacific’s course on careers and professionalism for political science majors takes a bold stand and defends mom while considering the usefulness of the political science major:

Recently, a friend’s son, frustrated about his perceived diminishing job prospects during a second year in law school, accused his mother of bad parenting; confronting her with the following:  “why didn’t you tell me a political science major can’t get me a job?!”  But underlying this outburst is the anxiety inducing question all undergraduates will face:  what does my major prepare me to do, and what jobs can I get with my degree?

She asked, “What should I tell my son?”

As a political scientist, here is my response:

  1. Political science is a major where you learn how to think.  At its core, political science aims to teach students the difference between knowledge acquired through empirical study and thoughtful reflection, and opinions based on parroting back half-thought-out positions one hears on the radio or television.  Determining whether an opinion is supported by reasonable argument, empirical data, or careful historical study is what sets political knowledge apart from opinion.
  2. Political science asks students to reflect on why and how they should participate in the political life of their nation, state, county, and community.
  3. Political scientists, at least at the University of the Pacific ask their students to write essays that 1) present a problem to be addressed, 2) express the student’s interpretation of course materials, and 3) support that interpretation with appropriate arguments and evidence.

What about the job market?

Political science does not have an automatic career track.  Political science is not accounting; vast numbers of Fortune 500 companies do not line up to hire college graduates to work in the political science divisions of their corporations.

Because the career track of a political scientist is not obvious or self-evident, the courses in the political science major at Pacific demand that students craft their own focus to their major.  And this self-created focus is the challenge and the reward of a degree in political science.  At Pacific, the political science major fosters a culture of learning and collaborative thinking, bringing the classroom knowledge closer to students through practical internships, and the active participation of students in the classroom.

As a major that has as its learning objectives the broadening of one’s mind, and the refining of one’s skills as a researcher, writer, and thinker, political science expects, maybe even insists, that students consider their coursework as it relates to the responsibilities one has as a citizen.  Teaching the obligations of citizenship is also the promise of a liberal arts education:  to highlight the responsibility students have to continue the best traditions of their broader community; thinking critically is not just about interrogating ignorance, but also about understanding the commitments one makes to fellow students and members of one’s polity.

Practically, a degree in political science opens doors:  doors to law school, lobbying, government service, business and management, marketing, survey research, issue advocacy, and graduate research—to name a few.  But, buyer beware, students have to choose and make their own path; students have to take responsibility for their careers, and in small measure live off your wits; political science is not a major students can take on auto-pilot, blithely waiting for someone (like your mother) to hand you a ready-made career as if it were a chocolate-chip cookie.

Were I to respond to my friends’ son directly, I might say the following:  “You are currently in law school.  It appears your major provided you with the critical thinking and reasoning skills for you to earn acceptance to law school.  So, please stop blaming your lack of job prospects on your major, and your mother.”

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