Careers in Political Science
Undergraduate professional development in Political Science at UW-Madison encompasses a range of opportunities, resources, activities, guidance and specialized learning. These opportunities provide a host of excellent advantages for you, but they are only as good as the effort you put into your professional development and advancement. Professional development opportunities include internship programs, career exploration and networking events, alumni engagement including mentorships, and special career-oriented courses including Pol. Sci. 400 ‘Careers in Political Science’ and Pol. Sci. 315 ‘Legislative Internship.’
While professional development in Political Science is about career exploration and preparation, it is also much broader to include resources and programs to facilitate your applied research and writing skills, specialized training and learning, and preparation for graduate or law school should you choose that route. It is never too early to start on your professional development while a student at UW-Madison, so be sure to consult our 4-year career development plan and meet soon and regularly with your advisors.
The professional development programs offered in Political Science also build on excellent campus units and resources including Successworks, Morgridge Center, and the Career Exploration Center, among others.
What are some important attributes that will help me make the most of my professional work in the Political Science major?
Overall, as you advance your professional development through the Department of Political Science at UW-Madison, we encourage you to be:
Open-minded about your professional aspirations. While it’s a good idea to make plans and strategize, be open to new ways of thinking, learning and exploring so that you are also open to unexpected opportunities.
Proactive in utilizing the vast resources available in the Department, College of Letters & Science, and UW as a whole. Do not wait until your senior year to consider and act on your future. There are various things you can start doing NOW.
Thoughtful and deliberate in how you set goals and take steps to achieve them. In addition to meeting regularly with your advisors, faculty, and other academic staff, be open to learning from alumni, employers, and your fellow students. And, make a point of planning to make the most of every class, event, and workshop, and other type of professional development opportunity.
Professional in how you engage faculty, academic staff, alumni, and your fellow students. It is best to erase now the common mindset that you are ‘just a student’ (or just an intern for that matter). Approach all your explorations and encounters with others in a professional manner, and you will be treated professionally.
Political Science Career Paths
As a Political Science major, what skills and experiences can I develop? What career paths are open to me? And, what can I offer others as a young professional soon to embark on my chosen early-career path?
Poli Sci majors learn quickly, work well in teams, and have a basic understanding of the policy process and the operations of government; they are not just ‘critical thinkers,’ but ‘active thinkers’ who question simple assumptions and can back up their positions with documented research and statistics. Poli Sci majors understand that for every endeavor, no matter how important, there is a mountain of ordinary grunt work that has to be done. Poli Sci majors can be counted on to do the foot-work, make the face-time, and endure the slog necessary of everything of consequence. What drives Poli Sci majors is a keen interest in government and politics, public policy, and civic engagement, and a commitment to issues and projects that are important to them.
This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.
Local, State, and Federal Governments
Poli Sci majors go on to work in all levels of government. Local, state and federal governments have a direct impact on the quality of life of all Americans. Courses on state and urban government, public policy, administrative law, and public administration are especially valuable. Quantitative and statistical skills developed in these courses and applied in internships can provide a powerful combination. One or more internships in legislative affairs (e.g., Wisconsin State Legislature) or executive governance (e.g., Governor’s office, Wisconsin State Agencies) or government relations (e.g., lobbying) can help you apply learning you gain in your classes. Pol. Sci. 315, Legislative Internships, is a great way not only to gain credit related to your internship work, but to reflect upon your experiences in the workplace and distinguish yourself as a thoughtful and capable intern.
Poli Sci majors go on to work in a wide range of International careers, in business, Foreign Service, and non-governmental organizations. Political Science offers a wide variety of courses in comparative politics, international relations and organizations, public policy, political development, and interest group politics. These courses can be taken in combination with economics, statistics, computer science, and international trade. The Wisconsin in Washington, DC program, for example, which is co-coordinated by the Department, offers an impressive array of internship and applied research opportunities for students interested in international career paths.
Campaign Management, Political Polling, National Political Committees, and Consulting
Poli Sci majors pursue careers in campaign management, political polling, national political committees, and consulting. They will have taken multiple courses in the American political system, comparative political parties, elections, public opinion, and voting behavior; as well as committing themselves to developing their writing and data analysis skills. There are over half a million campaigns in the United States annually, and while entry level jobs have long hours, low pay, and enormous demands they are places to ‘cut your political teeth’ as you distinguish yourself in preparation for higher-level responsibilities and positions. Local campaigns lead to statewide or national campaigns, and then perhaps to consulting and polling if that strikes your interest. The Elections Research Center, a UW center located within the Department, offers cutting-edge research and programs of interest to students, policymakers and the larger electorate. Many Poli Sci students at UW also work in campaigns and elections, or for political parties, as interns or volunteers.
Poli Sci majors have also traditionally gone into law. Some lawyers are litigators while others are employed by corporations, government, and other organizations. Political Science fits nicely for students seeking law degrees as official credentials to ‘practice law’ and those students who seek a law degree as an additional ‘tool’ to make positive impacts in their professional areas of interest. Some individuals with legal training work in other areas such as corporate or public management. The Department offers a wide variety of Political Theory, Constitutional Law, and Public Policy courses that will help you explore the interaction between law, politics, and society. Affiliated organizations and student groups that involve law and legal issues include Mock Trial and the Pre-Law Society. These can help you develop your interests and capabilities in the areas of law.
Poli Sci majors have pursued fulfilling careers in (and made important contributions to) the vast world of nonprofits, which are tax deductible or charitable organizations that are mission-driven. Nonprofits come in all shapes and sizes, domestic and international. They advocate and serve a number of missions involving just about everything imaginable: education, the environment, democratization, human rights, the sciences, and social services are just a few identifiable categories of nonprofits. Poli Sci students interested in nonprofit management will benefit from many of the courses and programs offered in Political Science listed above, and should explore further opportunities found in the Successworks Nonprofit Management and Education Career Community, and explore programs and opportunities offered through the UW Morgridge Center and at the fall Non-profit Career and Internship Fair held at UW.
Political Science Four-Year Career Planning Guide
Students who delay thinking about (and taking action on) their professional development and potential early career paths until their senior year are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to competing with their fellow graduates for good job opportunities. Instead, we strongly urge students to take directed steps toward their professional development starting in their freshman year. This guide serves as one way to begin and continue this path. It is intended to assist students in charting their own unique academic and professional course, which will vary from student to student.
Career Exploration and Early Planning
To explore potential careers, but also second majors, certificates, etc. visit the UW-Madison CAREER EXPLORATION CENTER. You can also take standardized work values inventories at the center and meet with a career development counselor.
If you’ve declared your Political Science major, visit with the PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT ADVISOR located in North Hall. This early meeting can help you map out steps to consider throughout your four-year degree plan. Also, the meeting can inform you about pacing out and tentatively scheduling semesters where you may want to study or intern abroad, or do study/work-away programs such as completing the Wisconsin in Washington, DC program.
Visit your other ACADEMIC ADVISORs, AND PROFESSORS AND TEACHING ASSISTANTS during their office hours to introduce yourself and to begin conversations about possible fields of study within which you might specialize (including adding certificate programs of study), potential future applied research opportunities, and tips for how to expand on your current interests through coursework, clubs, and event opportunities.
Testing Your Early Interests and Assumptions
To test your early career ideas and further talk career-development paths, meet with a career consultant at SUCCESSWORKS, which is the L & S central career services unit.
Consider taking LS 210 CAREER DEVELOPMENT COURSE: TAKING INITIATIVE, offered by Successworks. This 1 credit course connects liberal arts and sciences to career preparation, practical internship application skills, goal-setting, and reflection.
Attend a career and internship fair
Attend departmental and college-wide CAREER AND INTERNSHIP FAIRS, WORKSHOPS, and EVENTS to experience the process first-hand, even if you are not quite ready to apply for a position. These are good ways to see what’s out there but also to find out from employers what you can do to position yourself for future internships and jobs. Examples include the Kohl Center Career Fair and the Non-profit internship and Career Fair, held each fall and spring respectively.
Attend campus ACADEMIC TALKS, CONFERENCES, PANELS to see first-hand what academics do and to consider whether graduate or law school is something you want to seriously consider in the future.
Continue to meet periodically with your department academic and professional development advisors, and be sure to visit all your professors and TAs in their office hours at least once a semester.
Join and begin reviewing HANDSHAKE to begin exploring internship and future job opportunities, and LINKEDIN to start your professional profile and to peruse the UW-related professional groups you can begin to access in the months ahead. Once on Linkedin, be sure to join the Political Science Department Group.
It is not too early to plan for your first college-level internship, if you haven’t completed one yet. In addition to meeting with your advisors, etc. update your resume and work to polish what you have by meeting with your professional development advisor and visit Successworks to have your resume reviewed. Be sure to include on your resume any part or full-time jobs you are (or have been doing), even if they are in retail or food services. Employers confirm that they value such experiences and credit them on a student’s application.
Consider applying for a part-time internship. The Political Science Department offers assistance year-round for locating and applying to internships. Summer internship help is also available for students looking to intern in their hometown, or elsewhere including Washington, DC, Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities. The Department’s Legislative Internship course, POL. SCI. 315, offers credit related to your internship work and an online course option.
Join one or more clubs, organizations, and issue-advocacy networks or campaigns to meet fellow students and to gain applied organizational and other skills that employers later will credit. Examples include the Political Science Students Association (PSSA), Pi Sigma Alpha, Alexander Hamilton Society, and College Democrats or Republicans, among many others. A good place to start is the campus CENTER FOR LEADERSHIP AND INVOLVEMENT and the MORGRIDGE CENTER FOR PUBLIC SERVICE.
Next Steps in Implementing Your Professional Development Plans
Junior year is the usual time when many students complete a STUDY ABROAD program. There are many programs to choose from through International Academic Programs. You might also consider an INTERNATIONAL INTERNSHIP experience. To find out more about international internship options visit International Internship Programs.
Continue to cultivate contacts and relationships with your professors, TAs, and academic, career and club/organization advisers. This is a good way to stay current with new opportunities, but also when you need letters of recommendation it will be easier for you to gain good letters from the people who know you well.
Continue to build your professional networks, including those involving Political Science and UW ALUMNI. A great place to reach out to alumni who have expressed an interest in helping current students is through UW BADGER BRIDGE.
Considering graduate or law school after you graduate? Attend the GRADUATE SCHOOL FAIR held each year. Also consider taking a GRE or LSAT PREP TEST class to gauge your strengths and work on areas in need of improvement.
Continue to pursue internships. Sometimes it’s better to do more than one internship versus staying in the same internship for two or more semesters. Regularly visit the UW STUDENT JOBS CENTER to explore paid internships or part-time jobs that can bring in funds but also continue to build your applied work experiences.
If you are a political science major studying in Madison, then an internship in the WISCONSIN STATE ASSEMBLY OR SENATE is almost a MUST. Students can start with their local representative from their home-town area first, then, depending on partisan or issue interests, branch out from there. STATE EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES (including the Governor’s Office) are also great opportunities.
Consider applying to the WISCONSIN IN WASHINGTON, DC PROGRAM. Options include the full DC academic internship program for either fall or spring of your Junior or Senior year, or the shorter DC program during the summer. Students who complete this program in their junior year often seek to build their DC program experience to enhance their academics and professional development path for their Senior year back on campus.
Continue to attend career events at the university, college and departmental level. Sign up to do MOCK INTERNSHIP/JOB INTERVIEWS through SUCCESSWORKS, and/or arrange with them or your department to complete one or more CAREER INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS with participating alumni.
Take the POLITICAL SCIENCE COURSE: CAREERS IN POLITICAL SCIENCE. (Pol. Sci. 400.) This 1-credit course builds on your work to-date and provides an advanced overview of labor trends affecting Political Science majors. Work with your student peers to polish resumes, cover letters, writing samples, elevator statements. Complete a required informational interview and compile a professional portfolio. The course also helps you sharpen your individual professional ‘brand’ that encompasses your work to date and your specific interests and goals, and that synchronizes your professional online persona to include e-portfolio and LinkedIn profile.
Instead of applying to WISCONSIN IN WASHINGTON, DC for your Junior year, consider applying to complete the DC program in your senior year. Students who complete the program in senior year (especially their last spring, or in summer after they ‘walk’ in spring graduation), are best poised to position themselves for DC job opportunities (and often job offers) once they graduate.
Begin exploring possible GRADUATE OR LAW SCHOOL OPPORTUNITIES now to begin preparing for the complex application processes that will begin in your Senior year. Attend GRADUATE OR LAW SCHOOL FAIRS OR PANELS whenever they are held. Talk to admissions counselors at those events to gain further insights into their preferred candidates’ strengths and profiles, and to ascertain whether their programs are right for you.
Are you interested in PURSUING GOVERNMENT EMPLOYMENT (state or federal), make an appointment with the government advisor in SUCCESSWORKS.
If you haven’t started yet, now is the time to conceive and begin building your PROFESSIONAL E-PORTFOLIO to showcase (in progress), you applied learning, workplace skills and achievements. To begin, consult the ‘My e-Portfolio at UW Madison’ resource guide and toolkit found on the Political Science Department Website.
Begin perusing JOB APPLICATION WEBSITES, such as UW HANDSHAKE, Indeed.com, Idealist.org, etc., to scope out types of opportunities you will want to pursue as you get nearer to graduation. It is not too early to begin seeing what employers are seeking, and what they are requiring of competitive candidates for the kinds of positions that interest you.
Building On Your Progress, Increasing Your Employment Prospects
Continue to build your professional networks by attending career events, workshops and panels. These are good places to employ your ELEVATOR PITCH and to TELL PEOPLE WHAT YOU ARE SEEKING. Be prepared by bringing copies of your updated resume, dressing professionally, and going prepared with specific goals/ strategies for making the most of each event. Consider creating your own ‘business card’ to hand out to the contacts you make at these events. Email your contacts periodically with updates. Visit faculty and advisors’ offices. The more you do these things the more your contacts can help in some way.
Join the UW Badgers FACEBOOK AND LINKEDIN GROUPS if you haven’t done so already. If you have already joined LinkedIn, be sure to update your profile. Also consider adding ‘artifacts’ to your profile such as a link to your ‘e-portfolio’, or to presentations or other examples of your work and achievements.
Continue to seek feedback on your resumes, cover letters, etc. as you can never have too many people review your application materials.
Continue to do practice internship and job interviews, or consult with the professional development advisor, instructors, and others on practice techniques for actual upcoming interviews.
START APPLYING FOR JOBS NOW. While you may be graduating in May or summer it’s not too early to start canvassing what’s out there and even applying to some openings that specify they are looking for upcoming graduates. For government applications you should start the application process 6-8 months ahead of graduation. To set up your FEDERAL GOVERNMENT JOBS PROFILE, go to USAJOBS. For WISC. STATE GOVT. JOBS, go to WISC.JOBS.
Seek out traineeships or management recruiting efforts among government agencies, nonprofits and corporate entities. Deadlines for these opportunities are often in mid to late fall.
Consider applying for ‘gap year’ or ‘year-of-service’ programs like AMERICORPS, TEACH FOR AMERICA, PEACE CORPS or CITY YEAR. These and similar opportunities can be found through the UW MORGRIDGE CENTER.
Join the UW MADISON ALUMNI ORGANIZATION and, if you haven’t done so already, begin reaching out to alumni on Facebook and LinkedIn and through Badger Bridge where you can meet alumni who want to help you explore careers, polish your application materials, provide other alumni contacts, and point you to opportunities that may not be regularly advertised. Ask for advice such as strategies for finding job listings in particular cities or work sectors.
This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.
PS 400: Careers in Political Science
This one credit course is open to students in all majors and class levels, but is particularly aimed at juniors and seniors majoring in Political Science. Are you wondering what career paths might be available to you upon graduation? How you can apply your current learning and applied skills and experiences to realistic strategies for professional success? Through targeted readings, in-class group activities, peer support and one-on-one tips from the instructor, students will develop realistic strategies (including networking and interviewing skills) and artifacts (including, resumes, cover letters, writing samples, e-portfolios) to effectively market themselves for jobs, graduate/law school, or other opportunities while they are in school and beyond.
Inter-LS 210: Career Development, Taking Initiative
This one credit course is a good fit for first year students, sophomores, and juniors. The course will help you explore and build on your strengths and interests. You’ll develop the skills and confidence you need for a lifetime of success, including how to: write a great resume and cover letter, explore different fields and careers that match your interests, get the most value from your major and degree, and create a supportive network of professors, TAs, alumni and peers. Learn More
–Photo by Claire Cooper
Internships are an important option for professional development at most schools in the U.S., and increasingly throughout the world. Each year majors in Political Science work as interns in a variety of places including governments (legislatures, executive agencies, courts), politics (political parties, campaigns, political advocacy organizations), interest groups, nonprofits, law firms, research organizations, k-12 schools and universities, and museums and historical sites.
By definition, internships are a way to learn by doing. This is important as today’s employers rank ‘workplace skills and experiences’ very high on their list of preferable college grads who are applying for jobs . But how can you develop your workplace skills and experiences as a college student? Internships are one, major tool for you to do so. There are many sources in Political Science, and at UW-Madison in general, that can help you explore the value of internships, research possible workplaces, effectively apply to internships, and make the most of the internship experience once you start work.
Here are some important considerations as you decide whether or not to seek an internship, and to help you determine what type of internship might be right for you.
Why should you work as an intern during your college years?
This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.
Gains Skills and Experience
Internships offer a relatively quick way to gain relevant workplace skills and experiences
Try this exercise. Scan one or more of your preferred job search sites, such as Handshake, Indeed, Idealist, UW Student Jobs, or even the Sunday want ads of a major metropolitan news source. Choose a range of very interesting positions that you would consider taking. Even include positions on your someday ‘wish list’ that you know are currently out of reach. Make a list of the desired or required skills and experiences specified in the ads. How many of these skills and experiences do you currently possess?
You are now facing a dilemma confronted by literally millions of students before you. Although you are prepared to start at the bottom of your preferred career field, you likely don’t meet all the prerequisites to compete for jobs at the entry level. The growing reality is that even entry-level professional positions often requires skills and experiences that colleges and part-time jobs don’t provide. An internship may offer a way out of this common dilemma by providing you relevant training and accumulated hours in your prospective career field while you are still in school.
Explore a Career
Internships offer a relatively risk-free way to explore a possible career path.
Believe it or not, the best internship may be the one that tells you want you don’t want to do for the next ten or twenty years. Think about it. If you put all your eggs in one basket, what
happens if your dream job turns out to be the exact opposite of what you want, or who you are? You may have invested several years in a career field that turns out to be wrong for you. No career guide or diagnostic test can substitute for first-hand experiences gained in your prospective career field.
Internships offer real opportunities to do career networking and can increase your chances of gaining a full-time position upon graduation.
You likely have heard the saying: ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know.’ For good or ill, the reality is who you know (and, equally important, who knows you) can make a big difference in you getting the job you want. Put yourself in the place of a busy supervisor who must hire for a vacant position. You can advertise the position, which requires a formal job announcement, review of resumes, and formal interviews. Or, you can rely on colleagues and subordinates to identify interesting and qualified applicant prospects. Often, supervisors and hiring managers will prefer candidates who are referred by someone they know and trust, or even those candidates who they already know as they are working in the organization. Even employers that do advertise a position don’t always conduct a thorough, full-blown job search. Instead, they employ shortcuts or coping mechanisms to streamline the process. The internship selection and hiring process, and the weeks you actually spend on the job can provide excellent opportunities to talk to professionals about careers and what you hope to do, your skills and traits, and ways to achieve your goals.
Credit for Internships
- Wisconsin in Washington
- PS 315: Political Internships
- Inter-LS 260: Internship in the Liberal Arts & Sciences
Offered in partnership with UW-Madison office of International Academic Programs, the Wisconsin in Washington DC Internship Program provides an academic framework for you to to intern in Washington D.C. with various hosts including U.S. Congress, the White House, executive departments and agencies, public policy advocacy and lobbying firms, think tanks, non-profits, law firms and legal institutions, print and broadcast media outlets, marketing and public relations firms, historical sites, and political organizations among many other possibilities. Internships provide effective ways for you to build necessary skills and work experiences in your prospective career fields. Research shows that students who intern through academic internship programs gain more from the experience than students who intern on their own. Through this academic internship program, you will gain first-hand experience in the workings of Washington, D.C and connect with UW alumni and other DC professionals while benefiting from an academic program that allows you to critically reflect on your intern experience and the political and cultural nuances of Washington D.C
Poli Sci 315 is a 3-credit course with weekly readings, as well as written assignments. The material covered in the course is designed to be relevant to students who are concurrently serving in legislative or agency internships.
- This class will have weekly meetings.
- It is necessary to have secured an internship before applying for the course.
- Internships do not necessarily have to be in a legislative setting, but do need to be politically related and pertain to legislative issues to be eligible, specifically in one of the following:
- the governor’s office
- the lieutenant governor’s office
- the state legislature
- state agencies
- federal legislative offices
Contact Amy Gangl (firstname.lastname@example.org) for questions about the course and appropriate internships.
Admission to this course is by application only. Please email Prof. Amy Gangl (email@example.com) with the following information: 1.Name of internship 2.Hours you will work per week during the term and 3.Name and email contact of internship supervisor.
The Internship in the Liberal Arts & Sciences (Inter-LS 260) online course provides UW students who have found internships an opportunity to earn academic credit in connection with their work experience. Students will analyze their professional training experiences in the context of the goals of a liberal arts and science university education, by practicing critical reading, writing, and observation skills.
- This UW online internship course (Inter-LS 260) includes weekly readings, weekly online writing assignments, and a final reflection paper.
- It is worth 1 credit, and students may repeat the course up to three times.
- Grading is on the standard A-F system
Visit SuccessWorks’ website for more information and how to apply: Inter-LS 260