Over the past six years, approximately 20 percent of senior political science majors indicated in their graduation surveys that they planned to pursue a graduate degree. To help students prepare for graduate school, the political science department offers an annual graduate school advising session. At this event, professors provide an overview of master’s and Ph.D. programs and discuss the application process for students interested in continuing their education.
Since master’s degrees can be expensive, professors urged students to look at their ideal job’s resume to determine if further education is needed. For example, a master’s degree is an entry-level qualification for NGOs in Washington, D.C. but not necessary for many other careers. They also emphasized the importance of viewing the degree as an opportunity to build a solid skillset and not just a credentialing exercise.
When it comes to pursuing a Ph.D., all professors agreed that students should be passionate about their subject matter and not see themselves doing anything else but that type of work. Ph.D. programs can be pursued after completing bachelor’s or master’s degrees and have academic and non-academic career options. Professors cautioned that the job market for academic careers is declining because professors are delaying retirement, the continued negative effects of the 2008 financial crisis, increasing reliance on part-time faculty at some institutions, and limited institutional funding.
Ph.D. programs take four or more years to complete and some programs award students master’s degrees while enrolled in a Ph.D. program. Drawing from their own experiences, professors noted that there is a high dropout rate for Ph.D. programs, and students typically feel overwhelmed especially the first year. They recommended that those pursuing these types of programs treat themselves with kindness and compassion. All professors agreed they were glad they persevered for the end result.
Whether political science students decide to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D., the professors recommended thoroughly researching programs and visiting campuses to speak with current students and faculty. They also stressed the importance of understanding the program’s average completion and success rates along with the job placements of alumni. Students should also be knowledgeable on what types of funding and assistantships are available. Ph.D. programs often provide tuition waivers as well as research and teaching assistantships.
“To be clear, none of this is to discourage students from seeking a graduate degree, which is a highly rewarding experience,” noted Assistant Professor of Political Science and event organizer Dr. Chris Day. “We encourage students to understand the terrain and go in with their eyes open. Graduate school is not a place to warehouse yourself while you figure out your life. It should be part of a plan.”