(Closed) Is a PhD in Political Science/Public Administration realistic?

posted 4 years ago in College
Post # 2
3611 posts
Sugar bee

Yes, it’s very hard to get a job as a professor. I would not go this route if I were you – there is no sense putting more time and money into a PhD with the idea that you will get a job as a professor when you are unable to find a job with your existing degrees. 

For the most part, the people I know who have gotten tenure-track jobs as professors tend to have graduated from Ivy League or equivalent schools (MIT/CalTech/Stanford) with top grades and/or gotten their PhD degrees from one of the best programs in their respective fields. A lot of people want to go into academia, the number of tenure positions is shrinking, and it’s widely documented that it’s practically impossible to make a living as an adjunct unless you have a second job. Even if you have credentials like I described, getting a tenure-track job as a professor nowadays is a dicey proposition at best and impossible at worst.

Maybe you can try doing one or more unpaid internships at the type of places you want to work (think tanks, nonprofits, government agencies) in order to get your foot in the door for a full-time position somewhere. Check with your undergrad’s CSO to see if they have relationships with any organizations and can place you.

Post # 3
9717 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: August 2016

I’m a college professor. It is a very competitive job field. It’s not necessarily hard to get a job teaching at a college but to get a full-time, tenure track position is very difficult. Many, many people work as part-time instructors at several different schools just to make ends meet. Adjuncts (part-time instructors) don’t get benefits and don’t get paid very much – for example I teach 4 classes which is considered a full load and make about $1500 a month with no benefits so I have a second job.

Getting a PhD is, of course, an extra edge in the competitive world of academics (you can’t really apply for 99%of tenure-track positions without one) but it does not garuntee you a job. I only have a master’s but a lot of the people I work with have a PhD and they get paid exactly the same amount that I do.

Post # 4
5109 posts
Bee Keeper
  • Wedding: December 2014

I have a PhD, but it’s in biology, so it’s a totally different field. I’m not sure how similar the professor job market is in your field, but tenure-track professor jobs are few and far between these days. There are many more adjuct professor positions, which are on a class-by-class basis and usually don’t pay well or offer benefits. If you want to be a university professor, it’s likely that you will need to move, so think about whether you’re up for that. 

You have a master’s degree, can you try to find a teaching position at a community college? Usually they allow master’s level professors. Then you could at least see if you like it before jumping in. 

Post # 5
2600 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: October 2010

It’s extremely difficult to get a job as a professor these days, especially in the humanities. I used to be one and quit. Here’s why: 

1. You have to be flexible enough to be willing to move pretty much anywhere because the job openings are so sparse. My professor friends work in places like rural Louisiana and rural Indiana; other colleagues seem to move every 3-5 years. The profs I know who are MARRIED all work in DIFFERENT STATES (if they are both in humanities; the profs who are both in sciences/tech and/or couples in which one is in science/tech seem to do okay with finding jobs at the same school or at least in the same city)–if they work in the same city, only one of them is in academia and the other is working outside of it. 

2. Life as junior faculty sucks to such a degree that you reaaallllly have to love what you do in order to put up with it, frankly. The starting salary where I was was about $50K, but for that, you had to teach 5 classes, participate on committees, advise graduate students, and somehow, in your *free time* publish and attend conferences. Now, some people are totally cut out for this and love the subject so much that a monk-like existence suits them fine. For me, I wanted a family and to actually spend time with them so this wasn’t a good fit for me. 

3. The politics will get to you. I left academia in the end because I didn’t get tenure. That’s been happening more and more and it’s hard not to be really bitter when it does because if you look at the work you put in above, it’s hard to not to feel like the school pretty much used you for 5 years. And if you don’t get tenure, you have that much of a harder time on the job market and you’re faced with starting over and doing all that for ANOTHER 5 years (and maybe not even getting tenure after that). And while I still believe that if you’re meant to be an academic, you’ll find a way and make it, it’s true that this is also not an uncommon experience these days, and it’s really terrible when it happens. I mean, I felt my record was strong (strong enough to get tenure), and I also graduated from an Ivies and all that–ie, my academic “pedigree,” if you will, was pretty good, so there wasn’t really much in my profile alone that should have prevented me from getting tenure, except that there were people I was competing with who were that much better. It is a competitive job market. 

  This isn’t meant to scare you, and you have to understand that I’m clearly a person who didn’t take to academia so there’s some bias in my feelings, but I am telling you the truth about it being hard to find a job and also it being a demanding job when you’re in it, with (I felt) very little rewards. I think the take-home in all that is a) do consider the lifestyle and how it works with what you want in your life and b) to think about getting a PhD because you really want to be an academic, and NOT because you think it will help you carve out a job.  In my experience, now being outside of academia with a PhD, it *can* open doors, and it can also close them. I do struggle with being told that I am underqualified in terms of experience and overqualified in terms of education–in order to overcome this hurdle, I found more success if my targeted jobs were in a very narrow field (ie, not generalized non-profit but a non-profit specifically invested in my particular area of study). I think you’re experiencing this now, personally, because your Masters in Public Policy demonstrates you can theoretically write a grant, but chances are that the organizations want to see a dollar amount indicating how much grant money you’ve actually raised (you can offer your services pro-bono or find part-time grantwriting work in order to build up that porftolio, btw). Without that number, they won’t care if you have a PhD in development.  So that’s my take on it–get the PhD because it is necessary to do the work you want to do. Don’t get the PhD under the assumption that it will help you become more appealing as a job seeker. 

And one final thing–most PhD programs are fully funded (ie, your tuition is covered and you can be eligible for stipends), but if you’re thinking about any sort of program that requires you to pay money, I would run. 

Post # 6
404 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: September 2016

If you’re really into politics, could you start volunteering your time with your local party of choice, or with a candidate’s local campaign organization as a way to get your foot in the door?

You could use this as an opportunity to beef up your public admin experience, which can totally be put on a resume.

This is the path a friend took. She started out volunteering for the local Democratic party, as well as Obama’s 2008 campaign in her city, and it helped her make connections in politics at the city and state level. She ended up working for one of her state’s House representatives for a few years. (She’s not in politics anymore, but that’s the path she took)

Post # 7
9675 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: March 2014 - Chicago, IL

Unless you can get into a PhD program with all expenses paid it’s not worth it. And yes, it’s extremely hard to get an academic job right now. Academia is saturated with PhDs and there’s not enough teaching positions open. It’s highly competitive, and even if you get the job that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get tenure.

Post # 8
608 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: November 2015

Have you considered trying to teach part-time at a local community college before going all-in on a PhD? It doesn’t sound like you actually have any experience teaching at the college level.

And yes, academics is incredibly competetive.

Post # 9
3281 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: January 2014

BothCoasts:  Blargh, this was depressing. I am sorry you didn’t get tenure. I’m a current humanities doctoral candidate at an Ivy and my spouse is an adjunct, and… yeah. It is unfortunate how many years I’m investing here for such a tenuous outcome! (Also, do you mean teaching 5 classes AT A TIME? Because if so, they totally used you, Jesus H.)

Post # 10
2600 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: October 2010

howsweetitis:  yes, sort of–it was 4 classes (1 grad; 3 undergrad), plus an “advisory section” that was for advising grads. So, it ended up being more like 4.5 becasue I didn’t need to prep for the advisory section but I always had students coming by and there was definitely grading because they’d always come by with more material for their theses that I was responsible for reading/commenting on. And that was each semester

Yeah, totally used. But I have to swallow this somewhat because I know the guy who got tenure and he had the same teaching spread I did and a slightly better publication record so…what can you do? (as a “courtesy” they informally told me I had come in “second.” Which was like getting kicked in the gonads). This is a whole separate issue but (and also good for OP to be aware of this) the other sort of kink in this is that I also had a baby, which affected my output somewhat and the guy I competed against didn’t–that’s nothing on him, it’s just an observation that the ivory tower can still be male-blind and this is a hurdle that a lot of my female friends in academia find they struggle with. Some have put off having kids until 40; some had their kids younger and have been resigned to kind of languish; and literally, 2 that I know that had kids in their 20s or 30s and received tenure–and it doesn’t go unnoticed to me that one has a Stay-At-Home Dad for a husband and the other has a husband who is self-employed and works from home. 

  • This reply was modified 3 years, 7 months ago by  BothCoasts.
Post # 11
9580 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: July 2016

I’m finishing up my PhD and was just on the academic job market for Applied Economics/Policy.  I’ll just reiterate what everyone else is saying–getting a professorship is very competetive, and requires a huge amount of dedication and willingness to be overworked and underpaid (for the amount of work you do).  Those 7 years while you try to publish nonstop while teaching 3 classes a year in hopes you’ll get tenure are hell-ish, and as a previous poster pointed out.. you’ll most likely be somewhere you don’t really want to be (schools in desirable locations have even more competition for the job.. not that it’s easy to get a job at UConn or Kansas State, but it’s much easier than say UW or UCSF).

Getting a PhD is not a waste, if it’s what you really want to do.. but it is a labor of love, not a get rich quick scheme.

Post # 12
187 posts
Blushing bee
  • Wedding: June 2016

Full disclosure: I dropped out of a Ph.D. program. 

Everyone has already educated you on the job prospect front, so I’ll just say this: Under no circumstances should anyone ever pursue a Ph.D. unless they love research enough to sign their life away to it. A Ph.D. is a research degree. It takes 4-6 years to earn, assuming you do it full-time, which is pretty much your only option and involves at least 70+ hours of work per week. This is not something you can treat as a 9-5 job, it is a lifestyle based on a deep love of the subject matter AND a willingness to sacrifice a life for your work. If you do not work from morning until midnight 6-7 days a week, if you dare have children, if you even take a half hour to bake cookies and bring them in, people will talk about your lack of dedication and the fact that you don’t work hard enough (the cookies thing actually happened to my former labmate). Depression, alcoholism, and divorce are rampant.

I could go on, but hopefully you get my point. It is a career and a lifestyle, not a degree. If you’re thinking to yourself that I just had a bad experience or am bitter, I implore you to go speak with graduate students in any Ph.D. program anywhere in the country and you will hear a similar account. I’m not trying to be rude at all, but I am absolutely aiming to be harsh because academia is a harsh, harsh world and it sounds like you have no idea what you’re considering.

Post # 13
9580 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: July 2016

kbee86:  pretty true… academics love to sacrifice their lives and hold that as a gold standard.  Some fields are better than others about that, but even in the best (in my experience, ecology) they have a pretty skewed idea of what “work-life balance” means.

I will say, some disciplines a PhD can lead to a job that’s not as crazy as academia.  Economics (and applied economics) as well as Math and Computer Science and Statistics all regularly lead to “industry” jobs–etiher in tech or in consulting.  These jobs are high paying, 50 hour work week jobs.  In economics government jobs are also common, which are decent paying (similar to professor salary) and 40-50 hour work week jobs.  

Post # 14
2001 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: August 2016

rediceblackfire:  What area are you in? Are you in a state capitol close to government? Location can play a big part in working in politics. I am in the dissertation phase of my PHD in public policy and administration. I work in DC and have been working in politics for 5 years. My PhD is not necessary for current job but in my field having a PhD will be beneficial when everyone has JD behind their name. Most people in politics have a JD. I’m orginially from NC and when I graduated with my masters I was doing something completely unrelated (marketing actually). I had to make up my mind to move to area that was more conducive to my goals so DC it was! It’s not easy breaking into politics. In fact its quite difficult, mostly reliant on who you know and someone giving you a chance. I started out with a congressional internship and that got me in the door from there I just kept going and going to build contacts and my network to work within the system. I don’t have any advice on being a professor but if you want to work in politics put yourself in an area where there are opportunities. Most people have to compromise (volunteer work for local, state, or federal government, campaign work, internships, fellowships, etc). 

Post # 15
2680 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: September 2014

Do the schools where you got your BA and your Masters offer any career counseling for alum? If so, you should definitely take advantage of it. 

I’m also wondering if you are applying for the right jobs? You mentioned that you’ve been applying for management positions. If you lack the relevant work experience you may be overreaching by applying for management roles. Your best bet may be to apply for some entry level or early/mid career positions in organizations that you want to work for and work your way up. A Masters, in the absence of work experience is not an immediate ticket to management or high level jobs. 

hokie2wildcat:  gave a great suggestion re:exploring your interest in politics. 

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