Pedagogy: What Our Students Should Know, Revisited

I blogged last week about the skills that our students develop in the political science major. Subsequently, I read Stephen Walt’s “Top 10 Things That Would-Be Foreign Policy Wonks Should Study” on his blog at Foreign Policy with great interest.

Walt’s list consists of the following items:

  1.  History
  2. Statistics
  3. Foreign Language
  4. Economics
  5. International Law
  6. Geography
  7. Culture
  8. Communication
  9. Science
  10. An Ethical Foundation

Walt’s list seems pretty thorough, and it’s hard for me to disagree with anything he includes. However, I might also add some of the “soft skills” that are often taught in political science but which often remain unspecified or covert. These include networking, team work, and writing and critical thinking.

Networking. Students are often surprised to learn that the vast majority of jobs are not found via the want ads or online, but through personal networks. Teaching our students how to network thus increases their post-graduation job prospects dramatically. Internships provide outstanding opportunities to develop a wide array of soft skills while simultaneously developing individual networks. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that students who have an internship as part of their undergraduate program are far more likely to secure a job upon gradation.

Team Work. A job candidate goes into an interview and says they want a job working with people. The interviewer responses, “That’s great, because all our jobs working with rocks and trees are taken.” It’s hard to imagine any job that doesn’t require working with people. But our students are often unable to articulate this skill in a way that doesn’t come across as contrived. In most political science programs, though, team assignments are common, and opportunities for team-based activities (like Model UN, Mock Trial, etc.) abound. Getting our students to think about the skills that they are developing will help them to be able to clearly articulate their skillset for future employers.

Writing and Critical Thinking. Perhaps more than any other area, this is a skillset developed in the liberal arts. It’s also one in high demand by employers.

Now its your turn. What skills do you think every political science major should have? How do you teach them in your class? Share your thoughts below.

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