Political Science

Major Handbook

Everything you need to know about being a Political Science Major at Reed College. Also see the Library Subject Guide for helpful resources for research.

Table of Contents

The Nature Of The Discipline

The intellectual scope of Political Science is unusually broad, since it relies on the analytical resources of so many other fields. Thus, a well-trained political scientist must be knowledgeable about a wide variety of powerful and compelling intellectual perspectives. This kind of broad knowledge is, on some influential accounts, a virtual definition of what it means to be an educated person.

It is also a source of great pleasure. Political scientists are always conscious and critical of their own intellectual tools. They are perhaps uniquely equipped to approach a problem from a variety of perspectives. And they understand especially well the strengths and weaknesses of various intellectual traditions as manners of thinking about the real world.

Political science is fun because most of us are "political junkies"—we just like to talk about politics! In this respect, our interests often overlap. For example, all of us are interested in power, though some of us think about it mainly in terms of the state, while others marriage, and others torture, elections, or nuclear weapons. Not surprisingly, we have fabulous arguments because these give us different vantage points on what power and politics is about.

Naturally, this means we all learn how to recognize good and bad arguments, even as we learn about the world. Political scientists also quickly learn how important it is to be familiar with statistics and economic arguments. Good and bad arguments also come in numerical forms. And we encourage our majors to learn languages and collaborate with faculty on summer research projects.

See Appendix: The Three Reed Political Science Faculty Traditions for more.

The Political Science Program

The Political Science program at Reed offers students a theoretically, empirically and conceptually oriented course of study within the context of a traditional liberal arts education. The focus is on political science as a manner of thinking, rather than an accumulation of facts. The breadth of the program lies in the variety of intellectual strategies that are utilized in trying to understand the world of politics and public affairs. The faculty represent a diversity of interests and professional specialties, but all share a deep commitment to understanding and clarifying the intellectual and theoretical foundations of the discipline.

What we will teach you are all the ways political scientists think about politics. Politics itself is a vast field of study, and your specific interests are likely to range far beyond the course offerings of the department. This is why, from freshman to senior year, we try to provide many opportunities for you to initiate and pursue what interests you in the study of politics. To take advantage of the many opportunities available for independent research, you do not have to be an upper class person or for that matter, a major. Rather, the earlier you begin planning ahead and discussing potential projects with faculty, the more opportunities you will have to engage your interests in-depth. Here are some of the possibilities:

Class Projects. We specifically shape our classes so you can do detailed research on projects of your own choosing. Many of the upper-level courses offered are taught as 'seminars,' where students work on a single research project within the course's subject matter for a substantial part of the term, eventually presenting their work to the class, and receiving feedback from their peers as well as their professors. Professor Paul Gronke guides students through designing a public opinion poll of the Reed student body in Public Opinion. Students in most of Professor Gronke's classes work with public opinion and congressional voting datasets as well. Professor Alexander Montgomery combines his two sections of Introduction to International Politics class into a single three-day nuclear arms control negotiation; students are assigned to a bureaucracy within each of the ten countries and must research and attempt to enact their particular country and bureaucracy's position on a contemporary nuclear arms control issue.

Working on a Grant. We are often applying for grants to study things that interest us, and if these interest you too, you might find a great opportunity to work with a professor on a major research grant. Here are some recent examples. In 2003, Professor Darius Rejali was named a Carnegie Scholar and awarded a grant to support the development of his forthcoming book, Approaches to Violence, to be published by Princeton University Press. Paul Gronke has established the Early Voting Information Center at Reed, conducting research on and about American voters who vote before Election Day. In 2007, he received a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to act as a consultant to electionline.org and to study over- and under-voting in American elections.

Studying Off-Campus. Sometimes, a student's research interests are better satisfied by spending a semester at another institution. With careful planning, you can study off-campus on a number of the College's approved programs, including Oxford University, the University of East Anglia, Sussex University and Trinity College Dublin—all of which offer political science courses in English. Students have also studied off-campus at Sarah Lawrence College and Howard University in the United States. Political Science students with foreign language proficiency can take a wide variety of coursework in political science from Reed's programs in Morocco, Costa Rica, Germany, France, Egypt, Ecuador, Italy and Israel. The Office of International Programs (E-203) has full information on all of these and other programs.

Junior Qual. To become a senior in Political Science, a student must pass the department junior examination, which consists of writing two critical essays. Each of the two critical essays should be about 1,500 words in length. Students will be expected to write their examinations over any seventy-two hour period of their choosing – from pick-up to submission – during an eighteen-day window that begins on the Friday immediately before Spring break and ends two weeks after the Monday of Spring break.  (The equivalent schedule will apply in the Fall for Fall-semester second-semester juniors.) Examinations will be picked up and submitted electronically, and compliance with the seventy-two hour time-frame will be monitored and certified by the department’s administrative coordinator.

Senior Thesis. The senior thesis in political science at Reed is designed to flow out of the curriculum and requirements completed in the first three years of study. Research and analytic skills cultivated in coursework and other departmental requirements (such as the junior qualifying exam), are given their fullest expression (and test) in the senior thesis. In addition, students often choose to research questions for their thesis that arose out of political science coursework.

The thesis is, in many ways, the broadest test of both the students' abilities and of the department's success at teaching and preparation. Students are tested through the thesis on their ability to pose important but researchable questions about politics, and then attempt to answer that question in a significant piece of research and writing. Defining the project is often as difficult for students as conducting the research and writing the final product. All are important skills that the department aims to cultivate in the preceding years. The department matches students to appropriate faculty advisors to the greatest degree possible, and monitors their progress carefully over the year. The processes and products that emerge from each year's thesis projects are good indicators of what the department is doing well and where it needs to improve.

The department's curriculum is designed to prepare students for senior thesis. The course requirements for the major are organized methodologically, not substantively, so that by their senior year all students have been exposed to the tools for conducting research in introductory courses. In addition, the department requires a course on the use of statistics, although it is not offered within the department. Finally, the department requires all majors to complete a junior qualifying examination, which is an important skill-developing requirement prior to the senior year.

The college and the department offer a range of resources for students writing thesis. All seniors are given thesis desks in the library, which are theirs for the senior year alone, and extended check-out time for library materials. In addition, the college has funds to which seniors may apply for financial assistance with research needs, such as telephone calls, travel, survey data collection, and the like.

See the Political Science Senior Thesis page for more information.

Research Funds. The College has the Initiative grant, which is specifically for thesis-related research administered by the Undergraduate Research Committee. The Department of Political Science also has limited funds available to aid students conducting research in political science. The Department requires that the student apply through regular College channels (e.g. the Initiative Grant) before or in conjunction with applying to the department.

Aid is available only to political science majors (that is, students who have already declared their major) and must have relevance to coursework (including thesis work) being done in political science. Examples of such aid may include bus or train tickets to nearby research libraries or government in Oregon and Washington, aid to conduct surveys and experiments, and registration for students who participate in a conference as panelists. Aid will not be provided to students for the purchase of regular class materials, internships at other organizations, room and board during trips, travel to conferences for the sake of interest, or summer research (which by definition is not course-related). The Department evaluates applications for such aid on an ongoing basis. Interested students should write a letter of intent outlining what the request is for, how it relates to coursework in political science, and a proposed budget.

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Political Science As A Community

The Political Science Department engages a wide variety of students who are interested in politics, some of whom aren't political science majors, but who nevertheless are political science junkies: they take lots of our courses. We love this! We like to encourage broad interest in what we do.

Special Lecturers. The department brings a number of speakers to campus each year from all over the United States and beyond. While many of these lectures are selected for their relevance to current events of political interest, they are also meant to show you what it is that practicing political scientists do. To this end, the department attempts to bring a mix of speakers, from distinguished academics to activists and politicians who show you other ways of being involved in the world of politics. Examples include Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, Ambassador Dennis Ross, author (and alum!) Tamim Ansary, Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, and scholars such as Francis Fox Piven, Larry Diamond, Joseph Nye and Robert Putnam. The Munk-Darling Lecture in International Affairs brings to campus someone engaged in international affairs.

Mailing List. We keep a group email list (updated each semester) for all students, from freshman to seniors, whether majors or just want to know what's going on in the Political Science Department. We post to this virtual bulletin board lectures, open houses; visits of departmental job candidates, as well as important deadlines and events for majors. If you are a freshman or sophomore, it will give you a sense of the Department, its rhythm, and requirements. It has been enormously successful in that even students who choose to major in another department stay on the list until they graduate. The Department also has a REAL bulletin board where we post information and incriminating photographs from Department events. This is located on the second floor of Eliot.

Open House. Twice a year we have an open house.

Other Events. The Department occasionally interviews job candidates for faculty positions. Students, whether they are majors or fellow travelers, are asked to attend these talks and give us their written feedback, which we take quite seriously. At Renn Fayre, students organize a softball team. Political Science is a force to be reckoned with in the softball tournament. We won the championship in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Summer Opportunities. Reed College is a very different place in the summer months. A temporary reprieve from teaching duties allows faculty to devote time to research that goes beyond the course reading list. This focus also presents a unique opportunity for political science majors, as many faculty members employ student research assistants to lend a hand with their projects. Working side by side with a professor in this manner provides an insight into the activities of a Political Scientist that is rarely found in the classroom.

Alumni. We are pleased that many alums stay in touch with us. As your interests become clearer, we are more than happy to direct you to people whom we think would really interest you. Alums can be sources of inspiration, not to mention networking.

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Majoring in Political Science

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I declare my major? Students may declare a major any time after completing 13 Reed units (excluding PE), preferably at the end of the second year, and must declare after completing 16 units. At the end of your sophomore year is ideal, but you should start thinking about majors you're interested in before that. It is always helpful to speak with department faculty, even if you haven't taken courses with them. Even if you haven't taken a PoliSci course, but plan to, we are always happy to talk to students and walk you through the process.

What is your waitlist priority policy? All Political Science courses are taught as conferences; in order to ensure that students who need to take particular classes to satisfy requirements, we apply priority criteria to all POL classes when enrollment exceeds 24. Generally speaking, POL, ES-POL, and ICPS-POL majors have priority over other majors. Note that Reed does not allow for an official declaration of major until after completing 13 units. Sophomores and Freshmen who intend to declare as POL, ES-POL, or ICPS-POL majors may change their (unofficial) major status on IRIS before that time by visiting the Registrar's office in person. There is no official form to change this status. See Department Policies.

What is your policy towards AP/IB Credits? The Political Science Department will consider requests for awarding credit to students entering Reed who receive either 4 or 5 on the comparative or American politics advanced placement exams or a 5 or higher on the IB Global Politics HL exam. All petitions must be submitted by the end of the sophomore year. The department will not consider AP/IB petitions after this point. See Department Policies.

What is your policy towards transfer of credits? The Political Science Department's Policy for transferring credits differs if you are a transfer or a non-transfer student. Transfer students are students who have attended some university or college prior to enrolling at Reed and who are transferring credits from that university. Non-transfer students are students who began and are continuing their studies at Reed but who plan to take classes elsewhere (while on leave or over the summer). See Department Policies.

What is your policy towards ad hoc majors? Requests for ad hoc interdisciplinary majors will require a clear and compelling rationale, and will not normally be approved. Students requesting them must not only find two advisors from the participating departments, but must also receive written approval from both departments as specified in the Faculty Code. In order to receive such approval, the student must formally petition the department. See Department Policies.

When should I change my advisor to a PoliSci Department member? Certainly by the time you declare, if not earlier. Remember that PoliSci introductory courses are capped and prospective majors have priority. One way the Registrar can tell if you are prospective is by your advisor. Another way is if you go to the Registar and have them change your "proposed major" to Political Science from whatever it was you designated before you came to Reed (which is there automatically). These steps will put you ahead in the priority line for capping, and you should do these as soon as you know you plan to major in Political Science.

Is there a form for declaring a major? Yes, it is called a Declaration of Major Statement and it is available at the Registrar's Office. When you fill out this form and your advisor signs it, you're formally a major in your department of choice. It's not a formal contract by any means, not even the major, but it is a serious planning process and usually does mean plotting a road map to your graduation. Everyone wants to make sure all will turn out well.

Requirements For The Major

See the catalog entry for Political Science.

Political Science Requirements Elaborated:

In drawing up your schedule here are some things to think about:

  1. Are you taking two introductory empirical courses in political science by the end of your junior year so that you can take the junior qual?
  2. Are you taking an upper level political science course in the second semester of your junior year? Remember every major must take a junior qualifying examination in the second semester of their junior year. In political science, this is usually tied to a course in the department, and so you should if possible be registered for an upper level course. You cannot do your junior qual based on an introductory course.
  3. Do you plan to go on leave? If so which semester? Speak about this with your advisor. Keep in mind that the Office of Off Campus Programs also has sample schedules for each major, including political science, showing you how to plan if you are going on leave in your sophomore or junior year.
  4. Don't forget your statistics requirement. The purpose of the statistics requirement is to ensure that our majors have a basic grasp of the statistical techniques that are now widely employed in political science and related disciplines. You can meet your statistics requirement in several different ways, and if you are unsure which way is better for you, consult your advisor. Different statistics courses at Reed have different priorities and some may be more suited to your needs.

Divisional and College Requirements

For the official divisional and college requirements, see the College catalog. In drawing up your schedule here are some additional things to think about:

  1. Make sure that you have covered your divisional as well as group requirements. The Division of History and Social Sciences requires that all students complete two units in three fields within the Division (one of which can be political science). There are restrictions on which courses fill this requirement in each field, so students should consult the College Catalog carefully. Some requirements for the major may double as meeting group or divisional requirements. Remember to ask your advisor. Also remember, that even if you're unsure you will be a political science major, but you KNOW you will be in the Division of History and Social Sciences, you will still need to complete all your divisional requirements. So all things considered, it is important to put a priority on meeting these.
  2. Students should consult the Catalog or the Senior Handbook published by the Office of the Registrar for complete details details on College requirements. Remember that in your senior year, you must pass a minimum of six units. This includes the 2 units for Thesis, POL 470.
  3. How many group requirements have you completed? What remains? Remember no senior is happy taking "intro Anything" so it is best to put a priority in getting these out of the way as well.
  4. In counting your courses, consider that you need 30 units to graduate. About 11 of these are group requirements, and about 11 are PoliSci (2 empirical intros plus political theory, four upper levels, plus statistics, junior seminar, and 2 for thesis). So at a minimum you have 8 electives, which is a full year of electives. Ask yourself how you want to distribute these across the years (for example, all at once, say during your leave in Florence?) In practice you are likely to have more space than this because some courses may meet two requirements.

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Life After Political Science At Reed

Reed College is an undergraduate institution that offers an education in the liberal arts and sciences. Its purpose is to help produce people who are broadly educated, not narrow specialists. The Political Science Department aims not to create political scientists, but rather, liberally educated individuals who happen to have majored in political science. In a sense, it doesn't matter what your major is or what you do with your life after Reed. We believe that all subjects are equally interesting, that all majors are compatible with a wide variety of career options all of which are legitimate and praiseworthy. You do not have to major in political science in order to become a political scientist, go into politics or government, go to law school and the like. Of course, we regard advising on curriculum choices, as well as any career and other personal decisions you wish to raise as fundamental parts of our roles as teachers, and welcome such conversations anytime. The point is that these are choices each student controls. We will help in any way we can, but in the end, you are the responsible party.

It is nonetheless true that political science graduates tend to follow certain career tracks. Reed is nationally known for having lots of students who choose careers in academia and political science is no exception. Recent graduates enrolled in Ph.D. programs at Harvard, Brandeis, Berkeley, University of Michigan, UCLA, Duke, Illinois, McGill, Johns Hopkins, York, Northwestern, Chicago and Massachusetts.

While we are proud of these students, we are also proud of the Reedies who have chosen quite different careers. Although majoring in political science is certainly not necessary for law school, that is what many of our graduates choose. Our grads have enrolled at many law schools, including Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley), Chicago and Harvard. A number of other students have pursued advanced degrees in public policy. Schools of public policy—e.g., the Kennedy School at Harvard and the Wilson School at Princeton—generally offer Master's degrees (and Ph.Ds) that often lead to excellent policy analysis jobs in both the private and public sectors, as well as academic appointments. Still other students have pursued graduate degrees in business administration. And, of course, many political science graduates have gone directly into the (more or less) real world—in business, government, journalism, computers, bartending, ceramics and the like. Political activism seems to attract quite a few with internships or other positions with advocacy groups of various kinds. We hope, and believe, that all of them have learned how to think at Reed College, and have used the ability to good advantage in their lives after Reed. Many of them report that this has, in fact, been the case.

The Department has surveyed as many of our graduated majors as possible to find out where they have gone, what they have done and what advice they have to offer current majors. While a statistically valid picture is not feasible, we can pass on a bit of advice from two of our respondents. First, two pieces of advice from a student who went on to do a Ph.D. at Cornell University's School of Government, for those thinking of pursuing an academic path:

Learn statistics while you are at Reed: Most political scientists crunch numbers. Even if you don't plan to be that kind of political scientist, in the profession, everyone around you will be a 'quantoid.' Like it or not, you need to talk to these people. That means learning their language.... Grad school is a bad place for liberal artists to learn basic math. Take your lumps now in the relatively forgiving environment at Reed."

Learn a language at Reed: Except for Americanists, most political scientists use a second language as part of their work. Indeed, I think many Americanists are Americanists because they only speak American. This is a bad reason to circumscribe your intellectual and professional development. Language classes are a pain. But the sooner you can claim fluency in another language, the sooner you can get grants to travel to cool places and do research. Think about it—do you want to spend your summers in the archives at the University of Virginia or do you want to be in Berlin?"

Second, these encouraging words from a Reed Pol Sci major who went on to work in a variety of education-related jobs in Washington, DC, and then as Education Program Manager for the San Francisco Conservation Corps: "As a political science major, your options are really more numerous than you think. Don't think you'll be relegated to menial work. As a political science major, I was taught to think critically and analytically about all the various systems that involve human interaction and the art of creating policies and decrees that dictate or lead the lives of others. It has also taught me to be confident in pursuing any field I want, in other words, you're not doomed to one and one 'techne' alone (see Darius for a better explanation).... In my case, the system that dictates educational standards for the young people of this country is the one I've decided to focus on."

Thesis and "After Reed." There is no necessary connection between what you do for thesis and what you do afterward. Perhaps that is as it should be. Thesis is a wonderful opportunity for you to explore what really interests you without constraints; those kinds of opportunities are rare. Sometimes, looking back, there was something in a thesis topic that turned out to be powerful in shaping your subsequent life. It would have been difficult to see it at the time, but it was there nonetheless. Sharing some recent alumni case histories may give you an idea of how things can happen. The cases are students whose subsequent career bears a clear yet unexpected mark of their work as political science majors. In the cases below, there seem to be a lot of messages: Do what you are passionate about. Use thesis to learn new skills. Don't rush yourself into doing what you feel you have to do. Get to know yourself through your thesis. Here are a few:

  • ET wrote her senior thesis on the social and political significance of anorexia, drawing heavily on the work of Giddens to analyze the political significance of bodies. After a brief period of sheep farming in Germany and some paralegal work in Portland, ET enrolled in one of the leading nurse/midwifery programs in the country. She plans to start her own midwifery organization, and she credits her interest in organizational management and public health policy to her thesis.

  • MV came to Reed at 16 and graduated at 20. He was fascinated with postmodern theories of communication and computers. For his thesis, he decided to write on the Freedom of Information Act, that is, the extent to which government could withhold information from the public on the basis of national security. After some six years working in theater management, MV enrolled in law school and became a legal specialist in computer programs as intellectual property.

  • JM was quite philosophically oriented and he wrote his thesis on Habermas' theory of communication and particularly on the idea of ideal speech communication. After graduation, JM took various jobs, most recently as a fundraiser for a local community radio. This year, he decided his real passion was in being a conflict mediator, and he enrolled in a graduate conflict mediation program. He attributes his interest in this area as a direct outgrowth of his interest in ideal speech communication.

  • BM was an uncertain political science major. He returned from his junior year in Japan with a curiosity about copyright theft in Asia. This he turned into his thesis on intellectual property rights and conflicts between Asia and the United States in this area of trade policy. After graduation, he was immediately hired by a consulting firm in Washington, DC that specialized in intellectual property, and he then went to become the firm's Southeast Asia representative.

  • JM did his thesis on the initiative process in Oregon, which required him to do a great deal of open-ended interviewing and to master qualitative research techniques. He became an investigator for a Portland law firm utilizing essentially the same methodological skills he learned in his thesis experience.

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Appendix: The Three Reed Political Science Faculty Traditions

There are three traditions of Reed political science, the "McKinley tradition," the "Noble tradition," and the "Goldschmidt tradition." Charles McKinley, a professor at Reed from the 1930s to the 1960s, was a distinguished figure who served a term as President of the American Political Science Association. He was an expert in nuts-and-bolts policy analysis and public administration, and made his reputation less as a traditional publishing scholar than as a consultant and advisor. The McKinley tradition emphasizes practical, hands-on engagement with public affairs.

George Noble represents the faculty's long involvement in international and comparative politics. Noble, who was a Rhodes Scholar, taught at Reed from 1922 to 1946. He focused on international organization and law in the contemporary world. In 1919, after he finished his scholarship at Oxford, he served on the U.S. Peace Commission of Paris. These experiences served as part of his later book, Policies and Opinions at Paris 1919 (1935). Noble was selected as a Carnegie Fellow in International Law and during World War II, served on the War Labor Board. The Noble tradition emphasizes both scholarship and practice and, in particular, the relevance of political theory to the pressing concerns of world politics.

Maure Goldschmidt was a Reed alumnus and Rhodes Scholar who taught at the College from 1946 to 1977. Like McKinley, he was not really a publishing scholar. Nonetheless, he had a national reputation as a teacher and once served as Vice President of the APSA. He was an expert on Rousseau, and was generally and widely knowledgeable about philosophy. The Goldschmidt tradition emphasizes political theory and the history of political thought, and casts a quite critical eye upon the behavioralism and scientism of post-war American political science.

All three traditions are alive at Reed today. Our intellectual differences are based on a deep mutual respect, and contribute constructively to the curriculum. We are all proud to be faculty members at Reed. We think we compose a strong Department of scholar/teachers, but that's ultimately up to our students to decide.

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