A woman smiles in front of shelves filled with books

A political scientist could...

Study how recent decisions by the Supreme Court will affect healthcare. A group photo of the nine United States Supreme Court Justices Monitor the elections of a newly formed government. A woman dropping a ballot into a box
Help governments decide how much pollution industries can release into the air and water. Stacks of smoke rising into the sky Advise local mayors about the best way to convince voters to reelect them. A man stands in front of a city hall
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Do you watch the news and wonder why and how the governments of different countries make decisions, especially decisions that seem contrary to what you'd expect? You might be a political scientist in the making! Political science is the study of governments, public policies and political processes, systems, and political behavior. Political scientists use both humanistic and scientific perspectives and tools to examine the processes and political dynamics of all of the countries of the world.
Key Requirements Curiosity, an interest in the culture and behavior of foreign countries, complex problem-solving abilities, and social perceptiveness
Minimum Degree Master's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Algebra, geometry, algebra II, calculus, English; if available: computer science, statistics
Median Salary
Political Scientist
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Decline Slowly or Moderately (-3% to -9%)
  • Read this interview with Dr. Erik Snowbery, professor of economics and political science at Caltech, to find out what got him interested in this career and what he does as a political scientist.
  • Watch this interview with Dr. Stefan Wolff, professor of international security in the department of political science and international studies at the University of Birmingham, talk about his background as a political scientist and research on peace processes.
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Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

The educational attainment of political scientists is among the highest of all occupations, with most positions requiring a master's or a PhD degree.

Many social science students also benefit from internships or field experience. Numerous local museums, historical societies, government agencies, non-profit, and other organizations offer internships or volunteer research opportunities.

Education and Training

Graduates with master's degrees in applied specialties are usually qualified for positions outside of colleges and universities, although requirements vary by field. A PhD degree may be required for higher-level positions. Bachelor's degree holders have limited opportunities and do not qualify for most of the occupations discussed above. A bachelor's degree does, however, provide a suitable background for many different kinds of entry-level jobs in related occupations, such as research assistant, writer, management trainee, or market analyst.

Other Qualifications

Political scientists need excellent written and oral communication skills to report research findings and to collaborate on research. Successful social scientists also need intellectual curiosity and creativity because they constantly seek new information about people, things, and ideas. The ability to think logically and methodically is also essential to analyze complicated issues, such as the relative merits of various forms of government. Objectivity, an open mind, and systematic work habits are important in all kinds of social science research. Perseverance, too, is often necessary.

Nature of the Work

Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems and public policy. They conduct research on a wide range of subjects, such as relations between the United States and other countries, the institutions and political life of nations, the politics of small towns or major metropolises, and the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Studying topics such as public opinion, political decision making, ideology, and public policy, they analyze the structure and operation of governments, as well as various political entities. Depending on the topic, a political scientist might conduct a public-opinion survey, analyze election results or public documents, or interview public officials.

Watch Juan describe what it meant for him to be part of the team that represented the United States of America during a meeting with the President of Colombia.

Work Environment

Most political scientists have regular hours. Generally working behind a desk, either alone or in collaboration with other social scientists, they read and write research articles or reports. Many experience the pressures of writing and publishing, as well as those associated with deadlines and tight schedules. Sometimes they must work overtime, for which they are usually not compensated. Political scientists often work as an integral part of a research team. Travel may be necessary to collect information or attend meetings. Social scientists on foreign assignment must adjust to unfamiliar cultures, climates, and languages.

Political scientists employed by colleges and universities usually have flexible work schedules, often dividing their time among teaching, research, writing, consulting, and administrative responsibilities. Those who teach in these settings are classified as postsecondary teachers.

On the Job

  • Teach political science.
  • Disseminate research results through academic publications, written reports, or public presentations.
  • Identify issues for research and analysis.
  • Develop and test theories, using information from interviews, newspapers, periodicals, case law, historical papers, polls, and/or statistical sources.
  • Maintain current knowledge of government policy decisions.
  • Collect, analyze, and interpret data such as election results and public opinion surveys; report on findings, recommendations, and conclusions.
  • Interpret and analyze policies, public issues, legislation, and/or the operations of governments, businesses, and organizations.
  • Evaluate programs and policies, and make related recommendations to institutions and organizations.
  • Write drafts of legislative proposals, and prepare speeches, correspondence, and policy papers for governmental use.
  • Forecast political, economic, and social trends.
  • Consult with and advise government officials, civic bodies, research agencies, the media, political parties, and others concerned with political issues.
  • Provide media commentary and/or criticism related to public policy and political issues and events.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Political Scientists

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