« Robert Gordon on Productivity | Main | Something Else I *Need* to Be Reading: Lowest Deep »

December 19, 2004

Cognitive Dissonance

Academia als Beruf has a problem:

This Academic Life: Certification: It may be a failure of understanding on my part, but I cannot for the life of me wrap my brain around the concept of a terminal MA degree in international relations. This despite the fact that I teach in a program where the MA program is the center of gravity, both in terms of population and in terms of our intellectual life; we hire faculty to teach MA students, get speakers who are largely practitioners and government officials rather than scholars, and generally devote more resources to the MA program than we devote to either the undergrad or the PhD program. In fact, both of those other programs are often folded into the MA program in various ways: many of our undergrads are basically doing pre-MA work, with a not insignificant proportion of them deciding after three years to enter the five-year BA/MA program and this end up with an MA anyway, while about half of our PhD students in any given year are actually doing MA work -- policy analysis, advocacy, etc. -- instead of PhD work (academic research, negotiating theoretical debates within the discipline, and so on). So I find myself in the rather odd and sometimes uncomfortable position of teaching in a program that I do not really understand, and teaching students who I understand even less...

If it's any consolation, I find the idea of a terminal B.A. in international relations even harder to wrap my brain around than a terminal M.A. Design your own major, yes; interdisciplinary social science, yes; poli sci, yes; but IR as a major in itself?

Posted by DeLong at December 19, 2004 05:15 PM


Several administrations ago, it was "common knowledge" among the IR people that you couldn't get a government job if you were a Ph.D. (ABD was ideal, MA acceptable).

So the purpose of stopping at Masters was driven by the potential to gainful employment.

Can't guess how that has changed since then.

Posted by: Ken Houghton at December 19, 2004 05:52 PM

My office (in a federal agency) recruits staff with a Masters in International Relations, and other agencies (e.g., the State Dept., USAID et al) would have similar interst in students with that credential. The work that we do--analysis and reporting of federal programs that have international aspects (trade, finance, aid, military programs, diplomacy, etc.)--attracts those with exactly the academic background that your school provides. In addition, we also want students to have some experience in foreign cultures and one or more foreign languages. The core competencies needed are analytical rigor (economics, statistics, public management, government) and broad exposure and understanding of current events, history, and political movements to provide sufficient grounding in understanding foreign countries' priorities, governments, international agreements, etc. BTW,although we also employ PhDs, I agree with Mr. Houghton that a PhD in a non-specialist capacity (i.e., as a professional economist) are seen as being over-specialized for our needs. We are not competitive with the market for PhD economists and other social scientists. However, even some PhDs are willing to shift into "line" responsibilities for a more varied career.

Posted by: JKnepper at December 20, 2004 06:40 AM

My university (York University in Toronto, Canada) Offers an MA in International Relations, however, being that this is Canada and not the U.S., our "IR" degree includes a good deal of International Political Economy with a focus in versing students in heterodox models of the international political economy as well as the standard models taught in IR so as to give students perspectives ranging from neoliberal to neo-marxist, neo-gramscian and other heterodox IPE schools.

As for the U.S., well, they don't teach IPE in the U.S. as heterodox models of the global political economy are verboten and may get you sent to Guantanamo Bay.

Posted by: Lorenzo at December 20, 2004 05:33 PM

I just got around to posting a graphic which should make my argument about orientations towards politics somewhat easier to follow.

Frankly, I think of a degree in IR as a degree in interdisciplinary social science with an empirical focus on global issues. I teach and practice IR scholarship as applied social theory -- applied to a very broad canvas. What continues to baffle me are people who try to use that preparation as a launching-pad for a career in practical politics -- although it's probably no sillier than using any other liberal arts degree as a launching-pad for a career in anything "applied." The difference is that one doesn't normally expect to learn anything directly career-relevant in a history class or a literature class or a sociology class. IR, somehow, has a different reputation; the MA in IR is, in this sense, just another manifestation of the same syndrome.

Posted by: 21stCWeber at December 20, 2004 06:01 PM