Interview with Ashley W., Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Washington in 2011

Interview with Ashley W., political science graduate from the University of Washington in 2011

Interview with Ashley W., political science graduate from the University of Washington in 2011

Q: Where did you earn your Political Science degree?

A: I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Washington in 2011. I completed my degree one quarter early and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Society during Spring Quarter 2010. I have since worked in several positions and am now returning to school to obtain a second degree.

Q: Why did you choose to study Political Science?

A: Entering college, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to study. I was a strong writer and enjoyed liberal arts, but I also derived great satisfaction from studying the world around me. I chose to take several Political Science courses during my first quarter, because they fit into my schedule. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the field combined my interest in writing with my desire to examine the real world with a critical eye. Political Science provided me opportunities to be creative in constructing written arguments while allowing my work to maintain pertinence real world problems.

Q: Which Political Science subfield was your focus?

A: My focus was Comparative Politics. Comparative Politics attempts to explain the development of countries’ political systems by examining their differences and similarities. A common debate in Comparative Politics is “ideology vs. economics” as the predominant factor in a country’s political development. For example, we studied Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R. We tried to explain their different developmental paths by considering the economic imperatives of each country, as well as ideological factors such as local religion, national narrative, and cultural norms. My university placed great emphasis on the works of Karl Marx and Max Weber as foundational texts in the field. Marx’s work was the lens through which we often examined economic imperatives, and Weber’s The Protestant Work Ethic formed the basis of much of our discussion about ideology.

Q: How does Comparative Politics relate to other subfields?

A: Comparative Politics draws heavily from other subfields of Political Science, most notably Political Theory and Foreign Policy. However, Comparative Politics is based on the empirical method, or the process of collecting data to arrive at a conclusion. Other subfields do employ the empirical methods at times, but none rely as heavily upon it as Comparative Politics.

Q: Why did you choose to focus on Comparative Politics?

A: To me, Comparative Politics asks one of the most interesting of life’s questions: why is the world the way it is? On the surface, the subfield appears limited to the study of political systems. As I got deeper into the subject matter, I found that it is really a study of people and ideas at a very fundamental level. It examines who the people in a country are at a given time (ideology) and what the pragmatic realities of their world are (economics). Then it uses those factors to explain why the world’s countries have become what they are today. I was drawn to the subfield because it used concrete, empirical data to answer broad, age-old questions.

Q: Was there anything you did not enjoy about studying Political Science?

A: I found Political Theory frustrating and unsatisfying. Many of the ideas in Political Theory are very abstract, and the subfield does not incorporate empirical data the way Comparative Politics does. For example, a Political Theory class might spend a class period debating the meaning of “justice” and what the ideal justice system would look like. This frustrated me, because it seemed so detached from real world problems. In Comparative Politics, on the other hand, the same class would study several different justice systems and identify similar and dissimilar factors that may have contributed to their development. I found this to be much more relevant to the modern world. Many students, however, love Political Theory and find it very interesting. Not everyone feels the same way I do.

Q: What do you think are common misconceptions about Political Science degrees?

A: Since graduating, acquaintances have repeatedly asked me why I decided not to go into politics. I was never intending to become a politician; there seems to be a misunderstanding among many people that students of Political Science aspire to be politicians. While I can recall several of my classmates that did want to run for office someday, the vast majority of us had little interest in actually becoming elected officials. Most of my classmates were interested in careers in areas like grassroots political advocacy, NGOs, foreign diplomacy, or journalism. There were also many of us that had educational goals that were completely unrelated to Political Science, such as attending law school or other professional schools.

Q: What were the most important skills that you gained from studying Political Science?

A: My coursework demanded that I learn to write clear arguments very quickly. My teachers were unrelenting in critiquing both my writing and my critical thinking skills. This ultimately made me not only a better writer, but a more rigorous thinker. I will never regret spending my college career improving those skills; they are transferable to any career.

Q: What job opportunities do Political Science majors have?

A: An education in Political Science may be useful in breaking into fields like political advocacy or foreign diplomacy. I know some of my classmates successfully found positions with NGOs, and some joined the Peace Corps after graduating. However, there is no career that corresponds directly with a Political Science major. The skills taught in Political Science coursework are widely transferable to many different careers, so students will have the opportunity to work in a variety of fields after college. This can also pose some challenges for new graduates, however, as students with no work history may be at a disadvantage compared to those that learned a very specific skill set in college, like programming or engineering.

Q: What would you do differently in your education if you knew then what you know now?

A: I have no regrets in regards to studying Political Science. I would repeat that coursework again if I had a second chance. However, I would take a wider array of elective classes while completing my degree. I tended to play to what I believed were my strengths, which meant I took many English and history courses while staying away from physical sciences. I have since discovered that I love of chemistry and math. I wish that I had explored these areas more during my first degree.

Q: What advice do you have for current Political Science students?

A: Treat college as an opportunity to learn, rather than as a vocational school. Choose the subfield that you are most interested in. Explore many different subjects while in college. Keep potential career options in the back of your mind, but do not feel constrained by those options. There are many more career paths out there than you probably realize right now. You do not have to focus on finding the most stable or highest paying job at this moment. Spend this time learning about yourself and improving your skills so that you are ready to decide on a career when the time comes.

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