The Many Layers of Being a Professor

Sorry for being away for so long, my classes have become more demanding, not giving me too much free time. In previous posts, I have already written about my sessions on post-university jobs, where I basically counsel students on possible careers after getting a degree in political science, discuss internship options, and provide advice about which courses would best fit the interests of the given student. These sessions are relaxed and quite fun.

However, something happened the other day after one such session that made me a bit stressed.

I noticed that during the session, one of my students seemed very absent-minded. This particular student is one of my best students, always participating in class with interesting comments, she has an inquisitive mind and approaches her studies in a very critical way – something that is crucial for political science students.

At this session, however, it seemed like she wasn’t paying attention at all and could barely finish the assignments I have given them. So after the session, I asked her if everything was okay, and she broke down – she started crying uncontrollably. At first, I couldn’t even understand what she was saying. I somehow assumed that it was connected to the studies, after all, I am well-aware of the high stress and anxiety levels that students often experience due to constant pressures to achieve. So I invited her to my office, made some tea to calm her down and then we resumed the conversation.

The poor girl told me that she was afraid she may have to take a break from her studies because she was finding it hard to make ends meet. The bills were too high. On top of it all, her water heater had stopped working and she didn’t have the money to fix it or get a new one. She was showering at her friend’s place for weeks now. As a professor of political science, I am no miracle worker and I can’t say that my salary is extremely high. So I thought of what I can do to help her. After all, this was one of my best students and I wanted her to finish her studies on time. After realizing that fixing the water heater wasn’t really an option, I decided to give her a gift: a new water heater. I thought it would be a good investment that can help her by lowering the bills a bit. Needless to say, she was overjoyed. In the meantime, she has managed to find a part-time job that doesn’t interfere with her studies and has decided not to take a break.

If you are a professor who is close with their students, then you may face a situation where some of your students open up about some personal issue. Most of the time, we are unable to solve all the problems in our students’ lives. However, I think that being a professor goes beyond teaching about political science, it is also about showing empathy and kindness to young students. And let’s not forget that a small act of kindness can go a long way. Some day, I am sure this student will pay it forward.

An Interesting Conversation

As a professor of political science, part of my job is to meet with and counsel students. They want to know what courses to take to secure their futures. It is important to discuss possible careers and getting an internship is the first step to personal progress. I get great joy in finding students who identify with special field. I particularly like helping to train critical minds. In the course of a work day, the more students I see the better.

Sometimes the students who get the best grades surprise me. You think you know the type, but you really don’t. For example, I have a female student who is quite the glamour girl. Most of the rest of them, men and women, are a bit on the nerdy side. When I was sitting at my desk facing this particular student, I couldn’t take my eyes off her eyelash extensions. They made her look like a model or a movie star. Most of my female students don’t wear makeup at all. They are too busy reading the materials and studying for exams. So you bet I noticed when I saw someone with a different appearance. How exactly is this look done? I came right out with it and asked. She didn’t mind revealing her secret. She went through the whole process of selecting the style of lashes (according to the thickness, darkness, and length) and buying a tube of adhesive (a fancy word for glue). If you want to put them on, she counseled, you need a special applicator like these. Of course, I wasn’t thinking along these lines: I was just curious. For a teacher and a student, we were having an interesting conversation.

Now that I knew so much about eyelash extensions, right down to the method of putting them on, I started to notice who was wearing them. In fact, I started to make judgments about who needed them, too. Some women just don’t have thick lashes and their eyes look pale. I can see that eyelash enhancement would help. You don’t have to make them as exaggerated as my student had done. You can choose a natural style of false eyelashes and limit the mascara or apply none at all. I am not touting this cosmetic process but my words reflect the fascination I felt when viewing my student at close range. Then I started thinking about job hunting since many students would be out there shortly competing in a crowded field. Would good lucks help the women who often are second citizens when it comes to acquiring a position right after college? Batting dark, long eyelashes at an interviewer may very well help. They say that good looking and tall people get jobs faster than plain Janes. I wonder if this is true. Apparently there are statistics that tell the tale.

Now in my sessions on post-university jobs, I mention appearance including makeup, clothing, and shoes. You can’t do enough to stand out.

A Stitch in my Free Time

No matter your age, status in life, accomplishments at work, there is always a reason to learn new things. Sometimes these things relate to what people do in their spare time as crafts, hobbies, pastimes, and more. They are things you do in your youth, for example, that you may not have time for in adulthood. I would most definitely include sports in this giant category of new things to learn and practice. You might have missed out when you were in school and find that it is now or never to indulge. I was pondering this state of affairs in my life as semester break was fast approaching. I was not leaving town or considering a vacation. I didn’t have a backlog of work to catch up on. I wanted to learn to do something new that pertained to some matters at hand—the fact that I need new curtains. The obvious answer is to learn to use a sewing machine. I would learn to stitch in my free time.

I have been wanting to make the curtains for a while now having looked at ready-made goods in the department store. I didn’t see the fabric I wanted nor the size. Curtains and drapes come in fixed measurements so if your space diverges, you are out of luck. You would have to spend the money to have them altered, and who needs that extra expense for no reason. If you have two hands, you can learn to sew, so I am told. I decided to go to the fabric store and take lessons on a basic Singer sewing machine designed for beginners. It was a class for beginners. We learned how to thread the machine and make bobbins with matching thread. We learned the different ways to adjust the stitch size and direction and how to operate the foot peddle. It all was fairly simple at the beginner level. I wasn’t going to have to do a stretch stitch, which can be tricky, or put in a zipper. Maybe later in due time if the curtain project was a success I would make some clothing. Mostly because I was enjoying my newfound hobby.

After a few lessons, I felt ready to roll. I bought the fabric of my choice and measured it perfectly with the help of the expert store clerk. I didn’t know that fabric comes in different widths so all you have to do is pick the right one and do a little math. I have to tell you that cutting the fabric was a breeze. You do it when it is folded over so it goes fast. Curtains need a hem at the bottom and a casing at the top if you are going to use a rod. If you want to get fancy, you can hand sew rings at the top for a more professional look. I went for the casing since the curtains were for the bedroom. I am proud of my accomplishment and have left the machine out for immediate use.

Choosing to Be Healthier

Sometimes I step aside from political science, which normally frames the way I view the interactions in the world and the way governments work. There is nothing happening out there today which is not touched by political science. Well, may be some things aren’t. As I step aside so to speak, I am preoccupied with personal health. In this sphere, traditional political science does not apply. Here’s something I have to view from my perspective of who I am today and how I would like to be tomorrow. End of subject. No windy theorizing need enter the picture. I am only concerned with my personal politics on weight. What is ideal for me relative to my body fat index. It is a combination of the two figures that determines if you are “on track” to good health. There are charts galore that take your height, age, bone structure, etc. into consideration to determine where you should be to call yourself fit and healthy.

Going through all the ramifications of body fat and weight, I have come to the conclusion that I might have gained an unwanted pound or two and that I need to shed them posthaste. I am not one to say “tomorrow.” I also have come to the conclusion that I need to start an exercise program to awaken my body to a new state of being. I am choosing, as a citizen of my geographical state, to be healthier. I am electing to trim fat. I have an ally in my quest to return to my former perfection (which is so far back it could have been in college for all I remember). I have purchased a special digital scale that also had a body fat analyzer review along with weight. Since I look at it every day, there is no excuse for me to know where I stand at any given moment in time and if I have entered the no man’s zone. Then I have to set a goal and program the computer in the scale to let me know when I reach it. It will speak to me through my laptop and remind me of where I am on my journey. I hear it will even make a nice graph. If only the scale would speak, it would be a real life coach at my side. Actually, I think some of them do.

So let’s celebrate good health in this blog and one of the chief ways of assessing it: weight and body fat. Let’s applaud any effort to lose unwanted poundage in order to stave off the consequences. Let’s push diabetes, heart disease, and stroke far, far into an unknown future where they might not even take place. I will do anything and everything I can to live a long and happy life thanks to my decision to get healthy and lose weight now. It is not that I am an obsessive personality, mind you, just a practical soul who has physical ambitions to be in tip top form.

Working in the Dark

I can’t say that I relish working in the dark. I can’t say that I ever thought I would have to. A student prank left the building containing my office without power. At first I thought it was one of my own students who didn’t like the last grade I gave them on a political science paper. But I know my people and I couldn’t envision this happening with one of them. It had to be some other evil doer in for another teacher. I have good relationships with students and pranks are not their last resort for a response. They have voices. Some immature students may think this is the way to get attention, but take it from me, it is not. When you find out what the grievance is, you are bound and determined to ignore it or do the opposite of what they are asking. Let’s say they don’t want a mid-term exam. The prank is to cause a power failure so the teacher can’t prepare one. This is truly ridiculous. The teacher can always go home, go to the library, find another well-lit office, or take other appropriate and prompt action. Surely the teacher has a copy from the exam for last year. Who would remember the questions? Not likely the average pupil or the prankster. Memories are not that good. If yours is, you probably already knew the exam material and can pass without fuss or bother.

The custodian of the building brought over a small generator to power the computers and some lights until they could get everything back up and running. It was ingenious and fast and it worked. That only took about an hour. Reading portable generator reviews, we discovered that the model in question had enough juice to keep things in play at least that long. What a great invention. If I were the teacher writing the makeover exam, I would have had no trouble at all. The prankster would have been mighty disappointment to attend class the next day only to find the mid-term exams being distributed. We all searched far and wide for the culprit, listening to all the rumors circulating campus. We wanted to know so badly that we offered a free portable home generator to the person who divulged the name. It was a kind of a joke of a prize. We didn’t expect a winner. After all, if the winner knew the name, he or she was most likely in on the prank. If he or she had just been a witness, what took so long to give up the ghost? In any case, I will remember that night the generator saved the day.

Update: a month later, we found the prankster caught in the act of attempting the same power outage during another exam period. You would think that he would have been smart enough to avoid the same time and place. The student was promptly expelled and wouldn’t have to deal with mid-terms ever again. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t have to deal with power outages either.

Democracy at Work!

It’s an election year. We are certainly seeing democracy at work, the better aspect of its operation and the weaker elements that invoke inevitable criticism. It is going to be a tough road ahead compared to years past. We hope the outcome will be satisfying. It could go either way. Meanwhile on a more microscopic scale, in my school, we are seeing democracy at work. Well, it has to start somewhere. It takes the form of a petition the teachers and staff will sign to have a new electric water heater installed in the faculty gym. We don’t expect the school to spend the money without some duress. They aren’t going to roll over and play dead. We have to exert political pressure, or what? We strike! Not likely, but we will certainly gripe. We are tired of taking cold showers. Surely the administration can understand the distastefulness of that.

Some coworkers and I got this brainchild a few weeks ago after one last dousing with cold water set us over the edge. We had seen petitions for other issues succeed in our school and within the community. Petitions are the latest thing online. There are websites where you can initiate one and call for sponsors and supporters. That works for larger issues, but I am not sure it would apply to one small school. Plus hot showers is not an emotional concern that tugs at anyone’s heart strings, but ours. Meanwhile we did some research on the best electric water heater and were pleasantly surprised that they are affordable. Plus, we are entitled as a school to an institutional discount. I can’t think of one reason on earth why we won’t be enjoying warm to hot showers in the near future. How many perks after all does the faculty get? You can count them on one hand. We don’t get free lunches or a discount in the staff cafeteria. We don’t even get free morning coffee or tea. Kids fare far better than teachers when it comes to the little extras.

We took a poll amongst the faculty and the biggest complaint had to do with the gym. Almost to a man, they voted for hot showers as the next obligatory perk. We thought about straight out asking for the new hot water system after we realized that the administration did not find a new one to be obvious. Then the petition crossed our minds. We wrote a great one that wasn’t too self-serving. It spoke about better productivity while teaching, happier staff, and less conflict in general. We tried to give the administration reasons and benefits to them. It wasn’t that we were greedy for steamy showers when other areas of the school infrastructure needed attention. Somehow we wanted a symbolic gesture on the part of administration that faculty mental and physical health matters. It would not be reaching for them to give us the hot water heater system as a token of appreciation.

Website and Print Resources

If you are considering political science as a college major or as a career choice, I have some tools to help you familiarize yourself with the ideas, people, and concepts behind it so that you can make an educated decision.

Check out the course listing for any colleges you are thinking of attending. Many will have these online; others may require a call or visit. At the very least, the titles of their classes will give you a good idea of the scope of the class as well as the types of information you’ll be covering. If you are more interested in international relations, be sure to find a program that reflects your interests. Once you are enrolled in a program, utilize your advisors, professors, and TAs. They will be excellent guides on your journey.

There are a plethora of political science books, ranging from historical texts to current best sellers. Books like The Federalist Papers, The Rights of Man, and The 48 Laws of Power will give you an excellent idea of what types of reading material will be part of your course load. Look through Amazon’s bestsellers in political science and see if anything there interests you. If you’re reading something you are interested in, you are more likely to complete the book, of course, but retain the information and enjoy it more. Your local librarian can also be an invaluable source of information when looking for books on any specific topic. Or, you can simply look through the stacks. Political Science books tend to be located in the non-fiction section and are in the 320 section. See what grabs your attention. It’s an excellent place to start.

You can also find a variety of trade journals covering all sorts of political science topics. The American Political Science Review is an excellent place to start. Their website allows you to preview articles in their current issue to pique your curiosity. If international affairs are more to your liking, Cambridge University Press also publishes International Organization, which should satisfy your appetite on a regular basis.

If you are looking specifically for political science information regarding the U.S. or U.K., a great resource for you is Richard Kimber’s site. He has compiled links and documents about all things political for these two regions and makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. Interesting links include access to congressional email addresses, links to The Atlantic Monthly’s archives and a breakdown of local and regional information. Another option is to go directly to the source and look at the State Department’s website. Here you can find daily press briefings and information about travel concerns. Also, be sure to check out the Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs tab, which will give you links to many of the government bureaus involved in political science.

One last good resource is this site, of course! Feel free to ask me questions in the comments or suggest a topic you’d like me to cover!

Schools With Great Political Science Undergrad Programs

Full disclosure: I am a political science professor. I may or may not have included my own program here, but I won’t say for sure to prevent any bias.

If you want to study political science while having ringside seats to the action, excellent choices are George Washington University, Georgetown, or American University, all located in Washington D.C. All three have outstanding programs and make full use of their location to further their students’ education and strengthen the program’s overall experience. If you are serious about going directly into politics, these schools are worth a look.

As for the Ivy Leaguers: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia have very prestigious programs, and each can call at least one president an alumni. Taft and both Bushes went to Yale. Wilson and Madison went to Princeton (so did Kennedy, but he transferred). Both Adamses and both Roosevelts went to Harvard (and so did Kennedy). Obama is a Columbia graduate. The connections and networking you can make through an Ivy League school may prove to be invaluable as you establish yourself in your career of choice.

Other major schools with solid programs include New York University, Washington University (Saint Louis, Missouri), Villanova University (Villanova, Pennsylvania), and the University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Indiana). Each one has a robust political science program that will give you a well-rounded education as well as prepare you for a career after graduation.

Picking the college or university that is right for you can be an incredibly daunting task. Since already know what you want to major in, you can narrow the field considerably. Remember, too, that this is not a decision written in stone. While I do try to discourage my students from transferring without truly giving my school a try, know that you do have the ability to change your mind and look elsewhere to finish your education. A school can look perfect for you on paper but by your second year, you could be ready to drop out and work as a barista full time instead. The things you want as a 17 year old trying to predict your future might not be the same as the 19 year old who has actually tried living out the beginning of that plan. It is OK to change majors or schools. Students do it all the time. The important thing is to find something that is going to make your time at school worthwhile for you.

Finances can, and should, definitely play a part in your decision, but make sure you don’t rule out a school just because you don’t think you can afford it. Look into grants, scholarships, and financial aid before you eliminate a school based on costs alone. Be sure to exhaust all your financial options before crossing a great school off your list.

My other piece of advice is to consider the location when looking at schools. Do you want to be near family? How near is near? For some of my students, as long as there is a regular flight back home, they consider themselves near enough. For others, if they can’t drive home to do their laundry on a Saturday night, then the school is too far away. Others need to be able to commute for financial reasons. Decide how you feel about this before you fall in love with a school that’s half a world away. Once you’ve decided how much your home life is going to factor in, look at the area around the school. Is it somewhere that internships will be easy to obtain during the school year, or is it out in the middle of nowhere? Is there enough of a campus life there to keep you from getting bored? Is the school somewhere you always pictured yourself living after graduation? Answering questions like these honestly can help you consolidate your options and make the decision making process much less intimidating. I also recommend speaking to both current students and alumni at any school you are interested in attending. Current students can tell you about the admissions process and what the cultural atmosphere of the school is at presently; alumni can tell you about their experiences both during their time at school and afterward, for example, how hard it was to get a job upon graduation, what their favorite memories were, and what classes they enjoyed and why.

Why Study Political Science?

I can think of a myriad of reasons why everyone should take at least a course or two in political science, mostly because I truly believe everyone would benefit from the basic understanding of how their own government operates.However, I am writing this post under the assumptionthat you are at least considering political science as a major in a secondary education setting. You are reading this blog, after all.

To start, you will not be short on school choices. There are many liberal arts schools that offermajors or minors in Political Science, and you can achieve any length of degree you are looking for: Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate. At each of these degree levels, you will explore not just the government of your own country, but other nations as well. Topics covered may include public and foreign policies, voting analysis, terrorism, international relations, globalization and a host of other courses. Also, if you decide to move on to a different field of study after completing a two or four year program, you will find your transition to another program an easy one. Many students with a Bachelor’s in Political Science go on to law school, journalism programs, or any other field, and are very successful there.

The best part is that the skills you acquire throughout your time in school are transferable to almost any career field you are interested in exploring. Here are a few examples:

By studying historical events, political theory, and government figures with a critical and analytical eye, you will be sharpening your deductive reasoning skills, while learning from the mistakes of the past and the potential issues facing us in the future will engage your problem solving skills. You will be an asset to any troubleshooting meetings or brainstorming sessions.

Your research, oral, and writing skills will be put to the test to earn that diploma. There will be many, many research papers and debates during your years of academia. However, these communication skills will come in handy when you are giving presentations, writing memos, and doing employee evaluations. A well-spoken employee is always valued and it will be obvious to your future employer from day one that you know to express yourself in a professional and appropriate manner.

Your exposure to other cultures and other ways of thinking creates a level of tolerance and acceptance many others lack. This sociological background will give you the ability to work with different types of people who may have different beliefs or ways of doing things than you. Many companies are now international, and when you have a background on other governments and their regulations and cultures, you will have significant advantages in the job market.

For these reasons and many others, I truly hope that you will consider giving yourself a great head start on your future and choose political science as your field of study.



Famous Political Scientists


WMaurice Duvergerhen you decide to go into political science, you will find yourself in great company. Many of the most influential men and women throughout history have come from a polisci background, some even before it was a recognizedfield of study. Here are just a few to illustrate my point:

Everyone is at least a little familiar with the Machiavellian term “the ends justify the means.” What is not quite as common knowledge is that Machiavelli is also considered the father of modern political science. This inspiring Renaissance man was clearly ahead of his time. His infamous book The Prince is an excellent discourse on the difference between political ideals and reality, while the often-studied Discourses on Livy focused on governmental republics, even discussing early versions of checks and balances. His many other works cover a variety of other topics and make for some fascinating reading. Imagine writing something that becomes so much a part of a culture that a day-to-day expression attributed to you is still in use nearly 500 years after your death!

Other political scientists have the advantage of modern media. Fareed Zakaria, a brilliant foreign affairs expert, is a highly respected journalist. While he may not carry a lot of name recognition outside of political circles, he certainly has a lot of media exposure and you likely would be able to identify him by sight. He has a show on CNN, has written for papers like The Washington Post and Newsweek, Time Magazine, and is the author of several bestselling books. He serves on several political boards and is considered a go-to expert for current political commentary. People like Zakaria are intelligent, well-spoken, and in high demand for their expertise. When something happens in the world, you could be the first person the media looks toward to explain what is going on to a riveted nation in a way they can understand.

Some political scientists, like Maurice Duverger, are also sociologists who create political theories so compelling and logical that they become law—like his principle stating that plurality-rule elections favor a two party system. If you developed such an important concept that it became an accepted tenant of political theory, students could be studying you and your ideas for years to come.

Women like Condoleezza Rice also have also used a political science degree to their advantage in the political world. Rice, who went from teaching political science at Stanford to become the National Security Advisor as well as Secretary of State to President Bush. Under her advisement, the United States changed many policies regarding international relations and she increased hands-on diplomacy throughout the world; she travelled more in her position as Secretary of State than any of her predecessors. Having the knowledge and the power to create real, lasting change is always a worthwhile endeavor no matter what job you find yourself in.

These are only a few of the many political scientists who have, and continue, to create change and inspire others to do the same. For a more detailed list, check out this Wikipedia page.

I Just Received a Political Science Degree. Now What?

Political Science Degree

It is a pretty common misconception that all you can do with a political science degree is go into government service. While, yes, you will be qualified for a myriad of government jobs, there is so much more available to you. Believe it or not, you have received a well-rounded education that will be put to good use in a variety of jobs in almost any career field.

Your education will have taught you much about the world at large and the impact of actions both taken and missed. Many financial companies will hire forecasters, who are expected to study markets, both foreign and domestic, and then predict future financial impacts on investments. If you have studied international relations or foreign politics, you will have invaluable insights into the political and socio-economic decision making process.

With the writing skills you’ve honed doing all those research papers, you have yet another option. You could make a well informed political journalist, covering everything from presidential and foreign elections to peace treaties or international conferences. You could be a political correspondent for a major newspaper, political blog, or television news network. Imagine being the face or voice of an important historical event.

Many people move on from a bachelor’s in political science to law school. Studying government so closely can give students a great knowledge base to draw on while studying law. Once they complete law school and pass the bar exam, their experiences will allow them to be excellent advocates for their clients. They can also go on to be the lawyer on retainer for various politicians or other high profile clients. Additionally, their skills will make them excellent policy advisors or analysts at anywhere from the local politics all the way up to the highest levels.

Still others will work with various agencies as intelligence analysts or in conflict resolution. Their extensive exposure to the workings of other nations and outside ideas will benefit them greatly while interpreting intelligence data or solving company or even national disputes.

The time spent studying foreign governments and their financial markets can also pave the way for an exciting career in financial planning. Understanding the global market’s history and the culture surrounding it will serve you well here, whether you are an advisor on a corporate, political, or personal level.

Then, of course, there is actual politics. You can start at the local level as a civic worker or a city planner, or go right to running for congress, or even be appointed as a diplomat. Or work on the staff of any of these professionals. You can be a lobbyist or a campaign worker, or do research for a congressperson.

These are only a few of the varied careers you can look forward to with a political science degree. Through internships and mentoring, as well as interesting coursework, I am confident that you will find something to inspire you toward a fulfilling career.