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

Recall I said yes to riding the mountain bike race with Maia last week, with no small amount of hesitation (I had known about it for 2 months).

Eh, what could it hurt.

I headed down to Breckenridge on Wednesday for just the night and the morning race, planning to have at best a moderately good time. My companions, aside from Maia, all work at a triathlon shop, Colorado Multisport. But I quit triathlon. So we probably would not get along.

Thank god for being wrong. For one thing the race was super fun and challenging. Our race strategy was we flipped a coin and so I rode the first lap which started at a civilized 9:40 a.m. Triathletes, this is what you’re missing out on.

Enjoying the view(s) during warmup

I also got to do the parade through town.

George Washington led our neutral roll-out

The race itself was exciting. Lots of climbing and descending and rocks and water and, well, riding. Come to find out 40 kms contains a lot of pedaling and interacting with others. I made it 39.6 of those kms without crashing, which was way better than I expected. (A lady who was behind me tried to tell me how to ride switchbacks when we were in the expo area afterwards, which, I was like look I made it that far, I know how to ride, I was just sooo tired and this guy was right on my tail for what, middle-place men’s team?)


And Maia and I finished 2nd place of the women’s teams! We got america themed polar water bottles, I am excited to try mine out.


For another thing, the CMS folks are great, and so welcoming that I bagged my plans to return to Boulder after the race in favor of another night in Breckenridge.

In sum: the independence holiday reminded me not to sneer so much at those stupid lululemon shopping bag quotes. Go be an adventure, let go of the brakes, high-five a shrimp, and have another margarita.

High-five a shrimp should be on those lulu bags.


Late on Friday, after a few interjections of “only if you want to” and “don’t feel obligated”, it occurred to me that perhaps Dan’s cousin would prefer that I not pick him up at 5 minutes to 7 the next morning so that we could hike to the first Flatiron. Perhaps he’d prefer to hike alone. Or sleep I guess.

Lucky for me, Alex is not only extremely polite, but also has well-internalized Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild… Because it’s true, the memorable experiences are the shared ones.

As for me, I am still early in my post-triathlon exploration of recreation and activities. Before yesterday I had not yet tromped up the rocks that, on the Daily Camera twitter feed anyway, people who don’t check the weather always need rescuing from.

To my future out-of-town visitors: get excited. And maybe get appropriate footwear, my feet are a bit angry with me after wearing old running sneakers.

Yesterday I told Maia I’d love to do the race with her so today I rode with Kerrie for some serious preparations, as you can see from our water backpacks.

I spent the past few days in Santa Fe, NM at a family reunion. Not the “ugh it’s uncle alfred” kind of reunion, but the kind where I thank my lucky stars for these relations all around. The postcard versions:

I babysat for the first time possibly ever, although I do have some teenage experience toddlersitting. The baby was good for the entire three hours, I got some tips on what babies like to do (hint, it’s not sitting) so we swam and danced and I tried to teach it to crawl. We’re not quite there yet.

The kids always have kid-specific activities at these reunions, which last year and this included a day of rock climbing. Since I totally climb now, I invited myself along. It was a chance to spend time with nieces and nephews and cousins, but I am not exactly a kid person. The real draw here was the I’ve-arrived badge of “going outside”. Climbing in the gym is one thing, but a step below the real thing. The real thing!! Well worth having to beg the van to play the quiet game at hour no. 5 of the kid activity.

One evening we went to an art gallery in town before going to dinner. I lost my pamphlets I’d collected of all the artists (see next paragraph) but there was a lot of inspiring art. I did not know acrylic could be so rich. Meanwhile the gallery attendant did not know that I am not rich, she saw me photographing my favorite piece and got me a fancy booklet with her “best price” (close to $11,000?!). Clothing myself from clearance sections can fool people I guess!

My only complaint about these things is not even a complaint. We tend to spend so much time with one another that the setting can get forgotten. So on our last night I joined my second-cousin-in-law for some unchoreographed adventuring, our busboy at dinner took us out to a house party, as in a house where a parent was out of town and the drinks were made to taste like anything but alcohol. Nothing too crazy, just a fun few hours of living a life I was too scared to want when I was their age.


We used to say that the men’s category 3 bike racers got in the worst crashes, because they were good enough to be going pretty fast but not good enough not to run into each other at kind of avoidable times. This was just observational. (And side note we also observed a uniform distribution of bad crashing across all categories of women’s races. Perhaps it’s got something to do with progesterone levels.)

I am calling myself a cat 3 at bouldering now. Good enough to take on fun challenges but not good enough to know how not to get hurt. The other day at The Spot I thought I gave myself an avulsion fracture of the wrist. The pain was so sharp and enduring, I was sure that I had strained the ligaments in my wrist enough to pull off a piece of the ulna.

I did not, as it turns out. Which is bad news for my affinity for drama, but very good news for how much I enjoy running myself ragged. It’s just a strain, rooted in poor mobility of the joints in my wrist, so now I have 2 exercises to do. (And free rein on activities!)

Anyhow one outcome is that my grip is a bit lazy, and a bit slippery when wearing my wrist splint. This caused me to drop my phone yesterday, which I have done hundreds of times, but on this hundreds-and-first time, the screen shattered, and glass splintered off into my ear and hair when I made a woe-is-me phone call, so I went to the Apple store, where despite scowling at being called an “ownership opportunity” to my face, I did actually fulfill that opportunity and become a new 5 owner. It seemed my best option.

And the new phone takes such beautiful pictures! This morning I took it on my run to the Anne U. White trail. It’s becoming a favorite running route because it’s pretty… and because there are rocks that look so very fun to climb…