There is some good news out there about the job market…sort of. A new study conducted by the American Political Science Association reports that number of jobs in political science improved by 11 percent. The APSA study was an analysis of jobs advertised in the 2009-2010 academic year. (The APSA studies of the job market always report events after the first year of employment. Even better, there were more jobs than candidates. “It appears that despite economic difficulties, political science has not experienced the severe supply and demand problems that other disciplines, such as history face.” The most popular jobs are in sub-field of international relations. Until two years ago, the sub-field of American politics had more openings.
Now there are some qualifications that need to be made. First, only about sixty percent of Ph.D. granting departments in political science contributed to this study—so there could be a large mass of unaccounted for Ph.D. candidates. In fact, that is probable. If you are the chair of a department that produced eight Ph.D.s and none of them found a job, would you advertise that type of failure? Second, the study also includes non-academic jobs and it is a lot easier for political scientists to find jobs outside of academia than it is for historians. Finally, this study includes temporary positions and post docs. Only 49 percent of Ph.D. candidates found tenure track jobs and only half of that number—which is a confusing way of saying 25 percent—ended up a t research universities.
With all those qualifications in mind, these numbers suggest that some historians working in like minded sub-fields should consider building bridges to political science. What you do in graduate school, will determine what type of jobs you can apply for as a finished Ph.D. If you are a historian of fur trapping in the Canadian Rockies during the 1830s, then you are going to have little to do with political science, but if you are in training to become a diplomatic historian, then talking to the international relation types in the political science department is a bit easier. A smart, forward thinking graduate student should take enough graduate classes in political science to claim it as a field for their Ph.D. That will bear fruit later on if you decide you want to apply for a job in a political science department. Search committees will pay attention to transcripts to see if you have the credentials to teach the classes they need to be filled. More import is you dissertation topic. If you can develop a topic that address concerns in history but also political science, you are even more viable as a candidate. A group biography of the nuclear war strategists, people like Herman Kahn and Henry Kissinger, who dominated the field of international relations and security studies in the 1950s, might make a historian a strong candidate for a job in a history department, political science department, and even a public policy school. That is another something to think about when it comes to deciding your dissertation topic.
Finally, for those of you interested in reading the original: Jennifer Segal Diascro, "The Job Market and Placement in Political Science in 2009-2010," PS: Political Science and Politics vol. 4, no. 3 (July 2011), 597-603.