With its focus on social science research and quantitative data analysis, some may wonder whether political science qualifies as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) major. While degrees like physics and computer science are squarely in the STEM category, political science encompasses a blend of qualities that put it in more of a gray area.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Political science is generally not considered a pure STEM major, but it does incorporate some STEM-related skills and areas of study. So it may be classified as a “soft” or “applied” STEM major by some institutions.
Defining STEM Majors
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It encompasses a range of fields that are centered around scientific inquiry, problem-solving, and critical thinking. While the term is commonly associated with technical and quantitative disciplines, there is ongoing debate about whether political science can be considered a STEM major.
Scientific fields and empirical research
One of the defining features of STEM majors is their emphasis on scientific fields and empirical research. In disciplines like biology, chemistry, and physics, students engage in hands-on experiments, collect data, and analyze results.
Political science, on the other hand, focuses more on the study of political systems, institutions, and behavior. While it does involve research and analysis, it may not fit the traditional mold of empirical scientific research found in other STEM fields.
Technical and quantitative skills
Another characteristic of STEM majors is the development of technical and quantitative skills. Students in these disciplines learn how to use specialized tools, software, and methodologies to solve complex problems.
While political science does involve data analysis and statistical methods, it may not require the same level of technical proficiency as fields like computer science or engineering. However, political scientists still utilize quantitative skills to analyze survey data, conduct experiments, and make evidence-based arguments.
Practical applications of science and math
STEM majors often have direct applications in the real world. For example, engineering students design and build infrastructure, while computer science students develop software and applications. Political science, on the other hand, may not have as direct of a practical application.
However, it is important to recognize the impact of political decisions and policies on society. By studying political science, students gain a deeper understanding of political systems, governance, and the ways in which political choices shape our lives.
Preparing students for STEM careers
While political science may not be considered a traditional STEM major, it can still prepare students for careers in STEM-related fields. Many political science graduates go on to work in government, public policy, and research institutions where their understanding of political systems and policies is invaluable.
Additionally, the critical thinking and analytical skills developed in political science can be applied to a wide range of professions, including those in STEM fields.
Typical Characteristics of STEM Majors
Heavy focus on science, math, and laboratory courses
STEM majors, including fields like engineering, computer science, and physics, place a strong emphasis on science, math, and laboratory courses. Students in these majors are required to take a significant number of classes in these subjects to build a solid foundation of knowledge.
These courses often involve complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and data analysis skills. By mastering these subjects, STEM majors develop the analytical mindset necessary to tackle real-world challenges.
Emphasis on hands-on problem solving
STEM majors are known for their hands-on approach to problem solving. Whether it’s conducting experiments in a chemistry lab, building circuits in an electrical engineering class, or writing code for a computer science project, students in STEM majors are constantly engaged in practical applications of their knowledge.
This focus on hands-on problem solving helps them develop critical thinking skills, attention to detail, and the ability to work collaboratively in teams.
Courses in physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, etc.
STEM majors typically include a wide range of courses in various scientific disciplines. Students may take classes in physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, and other related subjects. These courses provide a comprehensive understanding of how the natural world works and how technology can be used to solve complex problems.
The interdisciplinary nature of these majors allows students to gain a broad knowledge base and develop a holistic perspective on scientific inquiry.
Developing technical and programming skills
One of the distinguishing features of STEM majors is the focus on technical and programming skills. Whether it’s learning to code in Python, mastering data analysis in R, or understanding complex algorithms, students in STEM majors develop a strong foundation in technical skills.
These skills are highly sought after in today’s job market, as they are essential for careers in fields like software development, data analysis, and engineering.
Preparation for engineering, IT, or scientific research careers
STEM majors are often seen as a pathway to careers in engineering, IT, or scientific research. The rigorous coursework and technical skills acquired during these majors prepare students for these competitive fields.
Graduates with STEM degrees are in high demand and often enjoy greater job prospects and higher salaries compared to graduates in other fields. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in STEM are projected to grow faster than average in the coming years, making these majors a smart choice for those interested in pursuing a rewarding and well-paying career.
Overview of Political Science Degree
Political science is a fascinating field of study that delves into the intricacies of politics, government, and public policy. It offers students a comprehensive understanding of political theory, government structures, political behavior, comparative politics, research methods, and more.
A degree in political science equips students with critical thinking, analytical, and research skills that are highly sought after in various professional fields.
Political theory and philosophy
One of the key components of a political science degree is the study of political theory and philosophy. Students explore the influential ideas and ideologies that have shaped political systems throughout history.
They delve into the works of renowned political thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Rousseau, gaining a deeper understanding of the foundations of political thought.
Government structures and public policy
Understanding the structures and functions of government is crucial in political science. Students learn about different forms of government, such as democracies, monarchies, and authoritarian regimes, and analyze how they operate.
They also examine public policy, studying how governments make decisions and implement policies that impact society.
Political behavior and demographics
Political science majors study the behavior of individuals and groups within political systems. They explore topics such as voting patterns, political participation, and the influence of demographics on political outcomes.
This knowledge helps them analyze and predict political trends and understand the dynamics of elections and public opinion.
Comparative politics and international relations
Comparative politics involves the study of different political systems and their interrelationships. Students analyze the similarities and differences between countries, exploring topics such as political ideologies, institutions, and policies.
International relations, on the other hand, focuses on the interactions between nations, including diplomacy, conflict resolution, and global governance.
Research methods and statistics
Political science is a data-driven discipline, and students are trained in research methods and statistical analysis. They learn how to collect and analyze data, conduct surveys and interviews, and interpret statistical findings.
These skills enable them to conduct original research and contribute to the field’s knowledge base.
Public administration, law, and ethics
In addition to political theory and analysis, political science degrees often include courses in public administration, law, and ethics. Students gain an understanding of how governments function, the legal frameworks that guide their actions, and the ethical considerations involved in political decision-making.
This knowledge prepares them for careers in public service and policy-making.
STEM-Related Areas of Political Science
Statistical analysis methods
Political science has increasingly incorporated statistical analysis methods to draw meaningful conclusions from data. By utilizing statistical techniques such as regression analysis, hypothesis testing, and data visualization, political scientists are able to analyze complex political phenomena.
These methods allow researchers to identify patterns, relationships, and trends within political data, providing valuable insights into various aspects of politics. Websites like stats.org offer resources and tutorials on statistical analysis methods for political science research.
Survey design and data analysis
Surveys are a common research method in political science, and designing effective surveys requires a strong understanding of data analysis techniques. Political scientists must carefully craft survey questions to elicit unbiased responses and then analyze the collected data to draw meaningful conclusions.
They use statistical tools to analyze survey responses and identify trends, preferences, and attitudes among different groups of people. Resources like Pew Research Center’s methods section provide valuable insights into survey design and data analysis techniques used in political science research.
Geographic information systems (GIS)
Geographic information systems (GIS) play a crucial role in analyzing spatial data in political science. By mapping political boundaries, demographic information, and election results, political scientists can gain a deeper understanding of how geographical factors influence political outcomes.
GIS technology allows researchers to visualize data and identify spatial patterns, helping them make informed decisions and predictions. Websites such as GIS Lounge offer tutorials and resources on using GIS in political science research.
Research design and methodology
Research design and methodology are fundamental aspects of political science. Political scientists employ various research designs, such as experimental, comparative, and case study approaches, to investigate political phenomena.
They also utilize rigorous methodologies to ensure the validity and reliability of their findings. Understanding research design and methodology is crucial for conducting credible and impactful political science research.
Websites like SAGE Research Methods provide comprehensive resources on research design and methodology in political science.
Game theory and modeling
Game theory, a branch of mathematics, has become increasingly relevant in political science. It provides a framework for analyzing strategic interactions between political actors, such as governments, interest groups, and individuals.
Political scientists use game theory to model and predict political behavior, decision-making processes, and outcomes. This approach helps researchers understand the incentives and strategies that guide political actions.
Resources like Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offer in-depth insights into game theory and its applications in political science.
Data analytics and simulations
Data analytics and simulations have revolutionized political science research. Through sophisticated data analytics techniques, political scientists can process and analyze large datasets, uncovering hidden patterns and relationships.
Simulations allow researchers to model and predict political scenarios, test hypotheses, and explore the potential outcomes of policy decisions. These tools enhance our understanding of complex political systems and help inform evidence-based policy-making.
Websites like PolisciData provide access to political science datasets and resources for data analytics and simulations.
Reasons Why Political Science Is Not Considered a Pure STEM Major
No advanced science, computer science, math, or engineering courses
Unlike traditional STEM majors such as biology, physics, or computer science, political science does not require advanced courses in science, math, or engineering. Instead, the curriculum focuses on areas like political theory, comparative politics, and international relations.
While political science students may take introductory courses in these subjects, they do not delve into the same level of technicality as STEM majors do.
Focus is on social science, not natural/physical science
Political science is classified as a social science, which means its primary focus is on the study of human behavior, politics, and societies. This is in contrast to natural or physical sciences that concentrate on understanding the natural world through empirical observation and experimentation.
Political science students analyze historical events, study political systems, and analyze the impact of policies on societies, rather than conducting laboratory experiments or analyzing natural phenomena.
Skills apply scientific methods to humanities content
While political science may not directly involve the study of natural phenomena, it still employs scientific methods to analyze and understand human behavior and political systems. Political scientists use research methods such as surveys, statistical analysis, and case studies to gather and analyze data.
These skills allow them to make informed predictions, identify patterns, and draw conclusions based on empirical evidence, much like scientists in STEM fields.
Prepares for public policy and social science careers, not STEM research or tech jobs
Political science majors are typically geared towards careers in public policy, government, law, or social science research. They develop a deep understanding of political systems, policies, and societal dynamics, which enables them to contribute to public discourse and shape policies.
While some political science graduates may pursue careers that involve elements of technology or research, the focus of their education is not specifically on STEM research or technical jobs in the same way as traditional STEM majors.
Emphasizes critical thinking over technical skills
Political science programs prioritize the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and effective communication. While STEM majors also require critical thinking, political science places a greater emphasis on understanding complex social, political, and ethical issues.
Political science students are trained to analyze and evaluate different perspectives, assess the impact of policies, and make informed decisions based on evidence and logical reasoning.
Overall, while political science incorporates certain elements of scientific methodology, it is not considered a pure STEM major. Its focus on social science, emphasis on critical thinking, and career paths in public policy and social science differentiate it from traditional STEM disciplines.
Classifications as “Soft” or Applied STEM Major
Political Science, as a major, is often debated in terms of whether it falls under the umbrella of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). While it is not traditionally considered a STEM field, there are arguments to be made for classifying it as either a “soft” or applied STEM major.
A “soft” STEM that uses scientific approaches in a social science context
Political Science incorporates scientific methods and approaches to study political systems, behavior, and policies. It relies on data collection, analysis, and interpretation, drawing on quantitative and qualitative research methods.
While it may not involve the same level of technical skills as traditional STEM fields, it still employs scientific inquiry to understand complex social phenomena.
For example, political scientists often use statistical analysis to examine voting patterns, public opinion, and electoral outcomes. By applying statistical techniques, they can uncover patterns and trends that help explain political behavior.
This analytical approach is similar to what is seen in STEM fields, where data-driven research is crucial.
An “applied” STEM that uses technical skills for public policy analysis
Political Science can also be viewed as an applied STEM field, particularly in the context of public policy analysis. Political scientists who focus on policy research often use technical skills to evaluate the effectiveness of policies and propose evidence-based solutions.
These skills can include econometric modeling, cost-benefit analysis, and program evaluation. By applying these techniques, political scientists can assess the impact of different policy options and make informed recommendations.
This application of technical skills aligns with the problem-solving nature of STEM disciplines.
A social science major “with STEM components” relating to data analysis and research methods
While Political Science is primarily considered a social science major, it does incorporate elements of STEM through its emphasis on data analysis and research methods. Political scientists rely on rigorous methodologies to collect and analyze data, whether it is through surveys, interviews, or archival research.
By employing these research methods, political scientists can draw valid and reliable conclusions about political phenomena. This reliance on data and research aligns with the scientific approach of STEM fields, even if the subject matter differs.
In summary, political science utilizes some quantitative tools and empirical approaches that align it with certain STEM skills and methodologies. However, its primary focus remains on social scientific analysis of political behaviors and systems rather than technical or scientific disciplines.
So traditional classifications place political science among the social sciences rather than pure STEM fields, even if aspects of the major overlap with STEM areas relating to research and statistics.