Option 1 after you get your master’s in political science is you can go on for a PhD in political science.
Option 2 is you can get a job. (Scroll to the bottom for helpful links–social scientists with methods training have opportunities in non-profits, NGOs, IOs, government agencies, research institutions, and more.)
Recently I selected option 2. I start my new job on October 28!
Because I did not foresee this happening, and because hunting for non-academic jobs is very much not a discussion topic within academia in my experience, I’m writing about it here. I hope to save someone else some of the anguish I experienced, and also I hope to help someone else find their perfect job.
Timeline of my experience:
Dec 2009: apply to graduate programs, including the Masters in Public Policy at CU.
April 2010: choose CU for its affordability (due to MPP being within PhD-track curriculum).
August 2010: start school as a policy student. Whether I am aiming for master’s or PhD is irrelevant at this stage.
March 2012: conclude that the policy subfield is withering away due to retirements, sabbaticals, and department politics; decide to switch to comparative politics.
May 2012: get master’s degree in political science (comparative politics) because not all classes for MPP have been offered yet due to already-realized withering; am advised I should get MPP later on after I finish the requirements.
August 2012/: Start year 3 of grad school, in pursuit of PhD.
September 2012: learn that I can’t get an MPP using the same classes I used for the master’s of political science; sigh a few times; soldier on.
December 2012: quit triathlon.
January 2013: fail comprehensive exams; cry. Take heart in the fact that we get 2 tries at passing comps; soldier on.
May 2013: learn that as it turns out the MPP does not exist at CU. This is news to all involved. Cry.
September 2013: fail comparative comprehensive exam for the 2nd time; roll eyes.
October 2013: get a job.
What to do/not do
So one lesson evident from the above is to suss out viability of a specific course (e.g. ask a graduate department how many students they have pursuing a particular degree on offer) before deciding that degree will work for you. I thought I could change course and still succeed, but I could not, and I probably should have done better due diligence in the first place.
Another lesson is to perhaps conform to what a graduate student is supposed to “look” like if you want to help your likelihood of success, my racing did not go over well with some of the department. I don’t have regrets about this but it’s still worth thinking about.
A third lesson, for me, is that I actually do not belong in a political science PhD program. Or probably any PhD program. Here’s why: I have never wanted an academic job. One reason for this, among many, is I want to say things that people hear. Anyone who spends time trying to convince a bunch of 20 year olds of anything at all will understand that teaching college is a fairly ineffective way to get your voice heard. Plus college kids don’t write policies. Academic research is a bit better, but still, that’s got its own host of issues and silencers.
From a practical standpoint getting a PhD is kind of financially impractical. For example, graduate student stipends at CU are approximately $17k per academic year. Which is definitely better than professional master’s programs that generally do not offer funding, hence my enrollment here. Anyway. Summer funding at CU is up to the student (most can get a $2500 summer work-study grant that pays 70% of an RA assignment). The cost of living in Boulder is about 25% higher than the national average, says google. Put differently, an admin assistant in Birmingham, AL making $20k per year would need $28k in Boulder to enjoy the same standard of living. A graduate student earning $17k in Richmond, VA would need $21k in Boulder to enjoy the same standard of living. I was lucky to have money set aside to supplement my stipend, but by the end of my third year of school I knew I would need student loans to finish the doctorate. The additional three years to complete fieldwork and a dissertation were financially daunting regardless of other circumstances (e.g. not moving on to the dissertation phase in the first place). P.S. 3 + 3 = 6 years.
So how worthwhile is this investment? Average starting salaries for assistant professors in political science are somewhere in the realm of $40-$60k, depending on a whole bunch of factors like did you land a rockstar job at a research institution. Which is anecdotally not any different from salaries in non-academic jobs for which my master’s degree and methodology coursework make me qualified. In short, three additional years of time and financial constraint produce financial prospects that are virtually no different, or possibly even worse for a while depending on student loans. For students who enter a PhD very soon after earning an undergraduate degree, the investment (and hardship) are probably worthwhile. For older students like me, especially for those who are not committed to academia at the exclusion of all other pursuits and possibilities, I think it’s a different story. Not saving, accumulating debt, this is everything you aren’t supposed to do in your 30s.
The real world looks pretty good
So with a hopeful and excited outlook about my new freedom and new-since-last-job-hunt skills, I set about finding work. There’s a lot out there! My strengths are my statistical and research abilities, which I marketed successfully for a data management position. Here are my favorite resources for non-academic jobs in organizations that effect meaningful change in the world:
For nonprofit careers: idealist.org
International development and consulting: devex
Includes a link to international organization jobs: US State Dept Careers
A wealth of resources here: Peace & Collaborative Development Network
Non-academic job boards in international affairs: PCDN non-academic job lists