New Column Examining Various College Majors:
You Want to Major in Poly Sci?
Sarah N. Lynch
Summers was active in government affairs long before she
ever decided to major in political science.
sophomore at Barnard College, Summers began her involvement
in political events before she entered grade school. Most recently,
she was accepted into a winter internship program where she
will be working in New Hampshire for the John Kerry Demo-cratic
campaign. Su-mmers said her parents helped to cultivate her
feel like being political is the most basic level of self-determination,” Summers
said. “When I was like four, my dad and I were going to Dukakis
rallies in Boston. My parents are pretty political.”
always been very aware of human rights issues.”
working for the government is not the only option for political
science majors. According to Kimberley Johnson, an assistant
professor of political science at Barnard College, political
science is arguably one of the most versatile majors.
have (political science) majors who are pre-med,” she said. “Then
you have the standard people who go on to law school or business
school. A number of them become filmmakers. They might work
in government, non-profits, as activists, or in education.”
said that generally most people who major in political science
have a strong interest in current events.
suggest the major if you have an interest in current events
or if you’re interested in the age-old issues of inequality
and power,” she said. But what exactly is political science
and what kinds of courses does a student have to take?
defined political science as being the study of politics and
government. Although curriculums will vary from college to
college, students majoring in political science generally choose
a sub field within the major. The sub fields offered at Barnard
College and Columbia College includes American politics, which
focuses strictly on domestic political issues, comparative
politics, international politics and political theory.
comparative politics, you compare different political processes
or systems,” Johnson said. “So you might look at democratization
in Latin America and Eastern Europe, for example. What is it
about specific countries or areas? What are the different political
issues or processes?”
international politics, you’re looking at differences across
countries as opposed to understanding the differences between
theory is the most traditional sub field within the political
science major. In political theory classes, students read classic
texts that range anywhere from Plato and Aristotle to Marx.
Summers transferred to Barnard from the University of Santa
Cruz in California, she took her first class in political theory.
learned a lot of classical texts like Plato,” she said. “It
was really interesting because it didn’t talk about political
things—it talked about political freedoms and the quality of
being political in a completely nonpartisan manner, which is
very different from the way most college students think about
while Summers has chosen to concentrate in American politics,
other students find it more interesting to learn about political
processes outside of the domestic arena. For Mike Ren, a political
science and economics major at Columbia College, international
politics has proven the most interesting.
interested in how the countries balance power and try to survive
in this international anarchy,” Ren said. “It’s the idea that
governments don’t have an over-arching authority to reinforce
international rules, so everyone is just trying to survive
at the expense of everybody else.”
also I think it’s [international politics] more interesting,” Ren
added. “It’s very interdisciplinary. There’s a lot of economics,
a lot of sociology, and you learn about different cultures.”
said that one of the most important things students learn in
political science is how to write well.
is important in political science classes,” Ren said. “Political
papers have certain requirements that are different from other
majors. You have to think deductively or reductively.”
most importantly, Johnson emphasized that political science
majors will graduate from college understanding how to think
analytically. “In political science you learn to read for knowledge
and meaning,” she said. “You learn to use your time effectively
and you learn to put together all kinds of information into
a logical and coherent argument.”#
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