Political science is a social science and refers to the study of politics, government, and public policy, both in the United States and and the world. Like other social sciences, political science focuses on human behavior, both individually and collectively.
Political scientists seek to understand the underlying ways in which power, authority, rules, constitutions, and laws affect our lives. This includes the study of the processes of government, the study of the institutions of government, as well as the study of the behavior of the people in government, both the elected officials and government workers, and the study of how citizens interact with their government.
Political scientists focus upon political systems, including the effect of environment on the system, inputs, the decision-making agencies which render binding public policies, and system outputs. Approaches to the study of government and politics include the normative approach, in which philosophical attention centers on values by asking the question “What ought to be?” and the behavioral approach, in which an attempt is made to develop verifiable theories through scientific methods by asking the questions “How?” and “Why?”
The vast majority of political scientists are teachers at colleges and universities where they conduct research and write books and articles on political theory. Political scientists armed with the practical and theoretical knowledge of government may enter political life. They generally do not run for public office, but very often their expertise is enlisted by candidates to ensure a successful run or reelection. A great many become political aides, helping those elected analyze and interpret legislative issues and their constituencies. Some become political commentators on television and radio or write columns for newspapers; others become public opinion pollsters.
Political scientists approach problems using one or a combination of four distinct methods: Objective, analytical, comparative, and historical. The adequacy and integrity of a political scientist’s theory rests on their ability to set aside their own prejudices and remain objective in gathering, analyzing and presenting their findings. Using commonly available research-interviews, newspaper clippings, periodicals, case law, historical papers, polls and statistics-to test theories and develop new ones, political scientists analyze, compare, and even trace problems back to their sources. In gathering data, political scientists often employ the technique of the “participant observer,” blending with crowds while carefully observing a particular interaction. The questionnaire is another research tool the political scientist uses. Questions are carefully ordered and worded to be as objective as possible.
Most jobs require a master’s degree, if teaching at the college and university level is your goal, then nothing less than a Ph.D. will do. Students who specialize in a particular field such as public administration, international relations, or public law will fare slightly better in seeking jobs. Computer and language skills will also significantly enhance job prospects. Entrants start out as trainees in political science research at universities and think tanks or as assistants in independent public opinion research organizations. Education, experience, knowledge and an area of specialty-especially public administration-are indices of better salary levels.
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