It may sometimes feel like Irish politics is exclusively dominated by outgoing, high-profile personalities, but there is also room in the political world for people who wish to work in a more behind-the-scenes capacity. The area of political research is one that offers a more low-key route into the field, as it can groom students for important advisory roles, which need not require a significant public profile.
There are currently numerous postgraduate options in Ireland that can help prospective students to build a career in this area. One notable option is the Integrated Doctorate (MPhil/PhD) offered by Trinity College’s Department Of Political Science. It is a four-year course that, for its first two years, contains modules and taught components (alongside thesis work). Students also have to complete a dissertation, which provides their main focus in the two subsequent years.
The course generally paves the way for a career in either political research or academia, though – as course co-ordinator Dr. Robert Thomson explains – students’ options are not solely limited to those areas.
‘We’re really providing people with a training to become researchers, or professional political scientists,’ he explains. ‘22 people have gone through it so far, and they’re all doing very well. A number of things are open to them after they go through our programme; if you’re good at research, and especially quantitative research, that can be applied in different areas.’
Thomson believes that the programme offered in Trinity is particularly well suited to those who wish to pursue a subsequent career in academia, as the course has established a considerable reputation among its European contemporaries. The strong standard of instruction in the Department combined with the challenging course requirements, open up strong possibilities in the academic world. Indeed, around 50 per cent of those that have completed the course have gone on to pursue an academic career.
‘I think we’re in a stronger position than many Irish and British universities, in terms of the standard of methods that we bring students up to,’ Thomson explains. ‘The programme encourages them to write a number of pieces of research that can be turned into published articles, and that’s one of the most important factors in getting an academic job afterwards. Often, people who have finished have already had a couple of publications, and that puts them in a really strong position.’
Although a large chunk of the course is devoted to a dissertation, great care is taken to ensure that students don’t focus solely on their chosen thesis topic.
‘We have a number of more substantive courses about various aspects of politics,’ Thomson explains, ‘so that students don’t just become good at the particular area they’re focussing on in their dissertation. They have a wider view of the discipline and the variety of things that fall under the study of politics; from international relations, to political decision-making.’
There are several other colleges that offer postgraduate options in politics and political research. The University of Limerick’s Department Of Politics and Public Administration offers prospective students the opportunity to pursue postgraduate research, culminating in a written thesis. Like the Trinity programme, it also provides seminars that help students to hone their skills in other areas, such as Research Management and Academic Presenting.
Of course, there are other political postgraduate options that are not so centred on a dissertation or thesis. UCD’s School of Politics and International Relations, for instance, offers a range of taught-module-based one-year courses in political topics (though the completion of a dissertation is also a programme requirement, in addition to the continuous assessment); MSc’s in Human Rights, International Relations and Nationalism and Ethno-Communal Conflict are available in this format.
Also, the Dublin Institute Of Technology offers a full-time one-year MA in Public Affairs and Political Communication, which offers a slightly different range of career options to the aforementioned courses. Upon completion of this programme, students will be qualified to ‘take up full-time employment as liaisons between private, public and not-for-profit organisations, and governmental or political persons and organisations’. They may also work as providers of communication services for people working in the world of politics, and some graduates can even embark on careers as consultants, offering public affairs services. Modules in this programme include Public Affairs, Political Marketing, Political Structures and Public Affairs Writing.
Political postgraduates are a well-established and respected qualification, rather than a rising phenomenon. When asked if political research is facing a growing demand for study positions, Robert Thomson is hesitant to say that it has had any recent popularity boost. However, he does believe that the methods for training PHD researchers have undergone something of a sea change in recent times, and that his own Department have been at the forefront of this.
‘One new trend is the professionalisation of the training of PHD researchers,’ Thomson explains. ‘In the past, there was what is referred to as the “apprenticeship model”, where students just sit at the feet of some grand gentleman or lady, and somehow absorb their knowledge. This programme is moving towards a system where there’s a more structured, taught component to courses. That becomes important, as methods become a bit more formalised in a particular discipline.’
So, with these significant recent developments in the area of political research instruction coming into effect, now may be the ideal time to pursue a postgraduate study option in this field. A career in politics does not necessarily entail the pursuit of votes; the wide array of courses currently available in Ireland ensures a rich variety of politically focused job possibilities.