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UI poli-sci grads enter better job market

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | SEPTEMBER 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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Spencer Willardson is confident in his ability to get a job after graduation.

The fourth-year University of Iowa political-science graduate student said he would like to work for a government agency after college and credits his education to get him there.

The job market for political-science graduate students seems to be improving, which follows a national trend, experts said. Since last year, 10 percent more UI graduate students went on to tenure-track positions.

“When I came in my first year [in 2008], the job outlook looked fairly bad after that year, just with the economic downturn,” said Willardson, 32. “I’m glad things are looking brighter in the future.”

Last year, four students graduated with Ph.D.s in political-science at the UI, said John Keller, the dean of the UI Graduate College. And three of those graduates went to tenure-track academic positions, which is typical, Keller said. The last student took a position as a visiting assistant professor in a non-tenure-track academic job.

“Our students are competitive for those positions,” Keller said.

UI political-science graduate students are more marketable than other students because the research they complete for dissertations is competitive and timely, and the university places a lot of emphasis on a “breadth of very current curriculum material,” he said.

Willardson said he agreed.

“It’s always nerve-racking to go look for a job,” he said. “But coming from [the UI] makes it a little easier, I think.”

Job market prospects are also positive for political-science graduates across the country.

“There is some sign of overall improvement, such as an increase in the number of jobs advertised with the APSA,” said Jennifer Segal Diascro, the director of institutional programs for the American Political Science Association, in an email. “Particularly for academic assistant professors from 2009 academic year to the 2010 academic year.”

Segal Diascro said more data are needed to know if the job market is coming out of a slump, but a positive change of any kind is important.

“The increase isn’t big, but it’s an increase, and for these economic times, this may be a meaningful change,” she said.

But the job outlook for UI graduates has been looking up for several years.

Last year, Keller told the DI there were 25 political-science doctoral graduates from 2003-04 to 2008-09. More than 65 percent of those students went on to tenure-track academic jobs and 20 percent went to non-tenure-academic jobs.

In the past five years, Keller said, 78 percent of all UI political-science doctoral graduates went into academic positions.

Graduate students are not the only ones who can look forward to positive outlook after college — undergrads have reason to be positive, as well.

“It’s come to our attention over the last year or so that people with political-science majors tend to do really well [after graduation],” said William Reisinger, a UI professor of political science and the director of undergraduate studies, crediting the broad scope of skills learned.

And the potential salary doesn’t hurt, either. Reisinger said political-science graduates in 2010 made an average of $59,000 per year after joining the workforce — only economics students have higher salaries in the social sciences, he said.

But the progress may depend on what aspects one is taking into account, Segal Diascro said.

Although there are more jobs available, data do not yet explain specific demographics of those hired for those jobs.

“The short story is that one’s perspective of the job market and placement may depend on a variety of factors, some institutional and some demographic,” she wrote.


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