What exactly do political scientists do? Well, it depends. There are those folks who are interested in the study of government and all the theories that go along with it, including how, exactly, that Sauron guy came up with the idea for the one ring to rule them all. Political scientists of this stripe have doctoral degrees in the field and specializations in terribly interesting subtopics like political theory and research methodology.
Then there are the political scientists who take the theories and put them into practice. You can find these guys everywhere, at the national, state, and local levels. They may be elected politicians, campaign staffers, or legislative aides. They may be policy analysts, project managers, or professional bureaucrats. They may be lobbyists, fundraisers, public relations specialists, or political activists. They may be journalists or researchers. They may be gofers at non-profit organizations, think tanks, or the United Nations.
These practicing political scientists are likely to have master's degrees in political science or a related subfield…but, more importantly, they have experience. They had to start at the bottom (or near the bottom) of the food chain, and work their way up. You don't just wish yourself into the position of the President's chief of staff, after all.
So, how do you get in on the political science game? Armchair quarterbacking elections won't cut it. You need to be ambitious—a cutthroat competitor. There are hundreds of positions available for political scientists, but tens of thousands of people who can see themselves as power players on Capitol Hill. Whether your plan is to be a theoretical or a practicing political scientist, you have to know exactly where you want your career to end up, you need to have a strategy on how to get there, and then you have to work really, really, really hard.
There are lots of perks to being a political scientist. The coolest part of this gig is that you get to come up with or implement solutions to the problems that have plagued humanity since the dawn of time: poverty, inequality, injustice, redistricting, how to find a decent meal while road-tripping across Kansas…you get the gist.
The flip side of political science is that people tend to get really riled up in this field. Like, really riled up. The screaming, shouting, and hair-pulling can get so bad sometimes that you, as a political scientist, may find your chosen career an exercise in frustration. But you have to remember that every war, revolution, or government shutdown is really an opportunity in disguise: an opportunity to discover why people and governments act the way they do, and an opportunity to theorize or design a way to a better future.