Please share your thoughts in the comments. A reader writes:
I graduated from the University of ____ two years ago with degrees in History and Political Science, after which I began working at a local economic think tank that focused on [my state’s] issues from a very broad free market perspective–oftentimes I felt I was the only one who believed in the free market at all. I had always intended to go back to graduate school, but I had significant difficulty deciding what to study, my first choice was political theory, but after seeing how few political theorists were finding jobs I was dissuaded. I considered economics but my math background is fairly weak, and it seemed to me that the heavily mathematical bend of modern economics programs might be a little too much for me.
So, because I was already doing rudimentary policy analysis, and I was still close to my alma mater, which has a decently ranked Public Policy concentration in their Public Administration program that would allow me to continue working while I went to school, I entered this program with the thought that this would at least give me some help in my policy analysis and more exposure to the quantitative research methods I need to improve upon, as well as leave me in a decent place financially as I continue to work full-time. I should note that I have left the think tank and now work in private industry, but I continue to do contracted research for the think tank writing policy articles.
Since entering this program, however, I cannot help but feel it conflicts with my libertarian principles, although I have been careful not to let that show. The teachers are more pro-government than I anticipated and most of the students seem set on becoming professional bureaucrats (there is a minority contingent there for the non-profit management concentration, but it is fairly small). Despite my misgivings, I have proven to be successful in the program thus far, and one of my professors is already encouraging me to continue in the school’s Ph.D program and concentrate in administrative theory or public policy, the former of which apparently has some significant overlap with political theory. According to her it would also allow for fairly interdisciplinary research and does not emphasize the quantitative approach as much as normal political science and economics programs. The fact that this program has also placed all of their graduates in academic positions since it began and would allow me to be near my friends and family while I studied has also made this course of action extremely tempting.
Of course, staying in this program that focuses on making government efficient and justifying its actions does not coincide with my libertarian principles. Any research I do would probably be far outside the mainstream of this field since I would likely focus on voluntary governance and how allowing individuals to govern themselves and interact voluntarily is far superior to the actions of a coercive state, which seems antithetical to normal Public Administration research. So I suppose my question to you is whether staying in a Public Administration program is ideologically possible for a libertarian, or would my goal of being “an academic who also happens to be a libertarian” like yourself be better served by going into a political science, economics, or even history program? My main concerns remain my weakness in math when going into quant-heavy fields like economics and–to some degree–political science, but also the job market, which has been very hard on academic historians, political scientists, and–I assume although I have not done as much research–economists.