Political scientists pursue wide-ranging and diverse career paths. This interview series, developed by the APSA Professional Development Program, highlights the many different ways political scientists carry their skills and expertise into the workforce. For more information, including resources on career options outside of academia, visit APSA’s career page.
Dr. Jessica C. Gerrity serves as Managing Director in the Higher Education practice at McAllister & Quinn, a consulting firm in Washington, DC.
Before joining McAllister & Quinn, Dr. Gerrity was the Research Manager for the Congress and Judiciary Section in the Government and Finance Division at the Congressional Research Service (2010-2014) where she led research and consultative work.
Prior to her work at the Congressional Research Service, she was Assistant Professor of Political Science at Washington College (2007-2010) where she taught courses in American politics and public policy.
Dr. Gerrity was an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow in the office of Senator Jack Reed, specializing in healthcare policy. She has received several competitive grants and fellowships and her research is published in a number of scholarly journals and books such as The British Journal of Political Science, Politics and Gender, Politics and Policy, Congress and the Presidency, and White House Studies (forthcoming). Prior to earning a doctorate, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Center on Congress at Indiana University and as Senior Research Assistant at The Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.
Dr. Gerrity teaches courses on public policy and American politics in Boston University’s Washington, DC Internship Program and the University of Colorado’s CU in DC program. She holds a PhD in political science from Indiana University, a MA in sociology from George Mason University, and received a BA in political science from the University of Rochester, where she graduated cum laude.
What did you study in graduate school? Can you say a bit about your research?
I studied public policy and American politics at Indiana University. My dissertation research assessed interest group influence in three domains: congressional behavior, journalistic coverage of policy issues, and public opinion. I employed both quantitative and qualitative methods and was funded by a Dirksen Center grant and Indiana University grants.
What was your first post-PhD job? What did you do in this position?
I was an assistant professor at a liberal arts college on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Washington College. I prepped and taught eight different courses on American politics and public policy—social welfare policy, the public policy process, elections, the American presidency, Congress, interest groups and political parties, research methods and introduction to political science. I also advised students and thesis writers, served on faculty committees, and researched and published. This work has served me well, as I know a little about a lot of topics in American politics and public policy.
What do you do now and what is a typical day like?
As Managing Director at McAllister & Quinn, I work with higher education clients—college and university presidents, provosts, deans and faculty and staff—to identify strategic opportunities for federal and foundation funding. I manage project teams consisting of writers, reviewers, editors, faculty members and campus administrators. Every day is different, which makes it an exciting position. Sometimes I am focused on the big picture, advising clients about short-term and long-term decisions. Other days I focus on research and writing by helping teams conceptualize and operationalize ideas and research and evaluation designs. I travel domestically to visit clients about once a month, which is an ideal amount to get in touch with clients without it being too taxing on my family. It is very rewarding to see faculty and institutions receive well-earned funding for research and institutional priorities due to the efforts of the firm I work for.
Why and when did you choose to pursue a career outside the academy?
Before I started teaching at Washington College I was an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow in Senator Jack Reed’s office. It was an incredible experience—after studying Congress for years I was a Senate fellow for ten months working on health care policy and soaking up life in a Senate office on Capitol Hill. In the course of those months I interacted with the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress and was impressed by the dedicated analysts and work CRS produced for Congress. About two and a half years into my time at Washington College an acquaintance at CRS encouraged me to apply for a section research manager position. I was intrigued because it married two things I love, research and Capitol Hill. The compensation was also substantially more than my liberal arts college salary. My first interview for the job happened when I was nine months pregnant and the second two weeks after my daughter was born. It seemed like a great time for new beginnings in my life, so I took the plunge out of academia. It wasn’t without a lot of angst and hand wringing, because I loved being a professor and I was very fond of my students and colleagues at Washington College. CRS introduced me to a whole new skill set managing high level analysts and research and being a part of large legislative branch agency.
How has your doctoral training helped you in your career?
My doctoral training has been invaluable, as my life outside of the academy also requires that I write well, formulate clear and testable research questions, and evaluate others’ work. I tend to see the world through a social science lens, which enhances my work with an analytical and critical eye. I also continue to teach as an adjunct professor and occasionally publish and present at conferences keeping me engaged in the academic world. More than anything, my doctoral training and time as an academic has taught me how to pursue many projects at once, a critical professional skill integral to managing people and processes.
Do you have any advice for PhD students considering a career outside the academy?
Network, then network some more. Contact students in your doctoral program who have landed in interesting positions outside of the academy, talk to your professors who no doubt have connections to interesting organizations inside and outside of the academy, and tap all of your networks to see if there are opportunities for you to work on short-term projects for an organization you are interested in working for or learning more about. Unfair or not, there is a perception that academics cannot say things concisely and clearly. Prove them wrong by preparing some writing samples that explore a topic in a compelling and concise way. Washington, DC is a place that runs on information, but people are busy, so clear, concise and compelling writing rises to the top.
Why have you continued to be a member of APSA?
I enjoy supporting the association that supports and advocates on behalf of political scientists. When I am able to attend the annual conference I invariably learn new things about the field and higher education. Doing so keeps me in the loop on issues of concern to my clients and I enjoy maintaining connections to my friends in the academy.