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Get a Masters, skip the PhD

by Archives March 25, 2008

What can you do with a degree in political science? Last week, a group of professionals in the field gave Concordia students the rundown on the degree’s potential.
Invited to last Wednesday’s session were Elaine Depow, part-time professor at Concordia; and Darren Scott and Houman Kousha, policy analysts working for the federal government.
Depow voiced the fear and insecurity of many in the room. Depow said she had asked herself “What the heck am I supposed to do with this?” when she was studying for her Bachelor of Arts (BA).
Teaching is always an option, and it could be a good one said Depow, who considers it her “best gig yet.”
Scott and Kousha, who have Masters degrees in public policy and public administration, explained that government employment is a complex form of problem solving, because policy analysts must consider not only the best solution to any problem, and also the political implications to any decision.
They admitted a career in political science is an inherently unstable one, and is not for people who prefer regular employment over success.
Darren Scott suggested that students volunteer in order to build their CVs and find out what they are interested in. He said that in retrospect, he wish he had done so sooner.
“I used to go in [for interviews],” he quipped, and [employers] would ask ‘what is your volunteering experience?’ and I sat there with a blank look on my face, ‘What do you mean? They don’t pay!'”
Richard McConomy is a Concordia alumnus from 1966 and was the first president of the Political Science Students’ Association. Now an attorney and mediator at McConomy Navey Green, he reminded the crowd of about 60 not to let whatever work path they choose to interfere with their private life.
“Family is more important than any money you’re going to make,” he said. “I’m sick of having lawyers in my waiting room, waiting to get divorced,” he said.
“I learned a lot,” Alexander Shaulov, a political science student with a strong interest in law, said. “I like how he presented the idea of a law school at Concordia.”
The speakers suggested doing a Masters degree. “I needed to broaden my horizons,” Scott said of why he did his.
“To be successful, a BA is a good start,” Julian Schofield, the program’s undergraduate director, said. “The next level means the big bucks!”
“This was a reality check,” Sara-Eve Leblond, a student present at the meeting, said. “[The advice they gave] was really helpful.”
Schofield closed the panel discussion with some suggestions of his own.
“I would recommend not doing a PhD, because it means you’re effectively unemployed.”
Schofield reminded students not to be in a rush to graduate. He said making “aggressive contact” with professors involved in the field of interest is a good way to build a network, but cautioned that only five to 10 per cent of political science graduates end up being actively involved in political parties. He said a large number of graduates choose to work for NGOs or work abroad, while many choose to work in policy analysis, and those with an interest in statistics often end up working in polling firms.
Many of the political science students present at the two-hour meeting noted they were unsure where their university degrees would take them.
“I didn’t know what I was doing in political science,” said student Zeina Haddad. “Now I’m glad I came, a lot of the questions asked, that’s what I was wondering myself.”
Students still unsure about which career path to choose can consult with Concordia’s Career and Placement Services at http://caps.concordia.ca/.

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